Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Case for Design in Business - Part 4

Businesses need Designers, not just Design Thinking

Design is a flexible discipline, displaying radical differences among philosophies, practices and designers themselves. This flexibility can lead to misunderstandings about the field by non-designers. Often, other fields (the sciences, engineering, business, the arts) that interact with design will view it as an applied version of itself. One might hear that "design is simply applied fine arts" or "design is simply applied social science." These misunderstandings leads to poor communications and failed attempts at simplifying the nature of design (Buchanan, 1992, p.19).

Design thinking can be a powerful tool. But the process of design cannot be simplified into a linear set of steps (Buchanan, 1992, p.15). Design thinking theories have attempted to simplify the process to allow non-designers to become design thinkers with all the creative capacity of a trained designer. By packaging the design process into a linear set of steps, design has been adopted with open arms by businesses and corporations. This has been a great success, giving design the recognition as a valuable and key player in corporations (Nussbaum, 2011).

The simplification of design into a set of business-friendly steps has removed the chaos and adopted the problems inherent in business systems. For example, businesses began using the design process to optimize rather than innovate, to validate rather than predict. While it is true that design can lead to optimal products that meet all the needs of the users, this is not all design is capable of. One of the main values of design is imagination and the creation of strategies/products that will lead the future (Ling, 2010).

"From the beginning, the process of Design Thinking was a scaffolding for the real deliverable: creativity. But in order to appeal to the business culture of process, it was denuded of the mess, the conflict, failure, emotions, and looping circularity that is part and parcel of the creative process." (Nussbaum, 2011) 

A further problem that occurs is that people then become dependent on the process outlined by design thinking. Design thinking may be the perfect strategy to follow for in depth problems, but failing to take the problem context into consideration can lead to lengthy design thinking decision processes being used to solved relatively simplistic problems (Haaf, 2014).

Theories of design thinking also often fail to account for the indeterminate nature of design. Design problems are limitless, they are known as "wicked problems" and it can be complex, non-linear process to identify the true issues that design can address (Buchanan, 1992, p.15).
As described in the first published report of Rittel's idea,wicked problems are a "class of social system problems which are ill-formulated; where the information is confusing; where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughlyconfusing." (Buchanan, 1992, p.15).
Designers specialize in the particular. Theories of design thinking often have to make generalizations about how design works, yet designs are particularly good at identifying the particulars of the problem and interpreting the detailed wickedness of a problem (Buchanan, 1992, p.17). A client brief often does not give all of the details the designer needs, yet the designer is trained to find the details and explore the particulars. Even if the client brief has attempted to remove the "wickedness" by providing a working hypothesis about the features of a future product, there are still often areas left unexplored and the initial concept is subject to change throughout the design process (Buchanan, 1992, p.17).

Designers are trained to do this. Trusting the designer to make decisions and guide the problem solving process may be the key to a good solution. Attempting to speed up the process by breaking down the process into three major step may actually lead to a longer process and a worse solution. "Classically trained designers have the ability to able to deal with chaos and manage risk; something the business needs help with. All the more so, as it is from within this chaos that paradigm-shifting ideas will come"  (Ling, 2010).


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design issues, 5-21.

Haaf, B.d. (2014) Design thinking Destroyed Us. Linked in. Retrieved October 21, 2014. From:

Nussbaum, B. (2011). Design Thinking is a Failed Experiement, So What's Next?. Fast Company Design. Retrieved October 21, 2014. From:

Ling, B (2010) Design Thinking is Killing Creativity. Design SoJourn. Retrieved October 21, 2014. From:

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