The Design Thinker Blog

Theory, practice, and stories from the field. 


Design Thinking is NOT…Three Misconceptions Addressed

Sep 26, 2018

Design thinking has become a familiar concept in the business world with more and more companies adopting this approach to improve innovation and drive change. Yet, there appear to be some misconceptions about design thinking. So, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about design thinking.

1. Design thinking is NOT about artistic skills. When I talk to clients about design thinking this is perhaps the number one comment I hear…”but I’m not artistic.” If you fall into the unartistic camp I have some really great news for you…you don’t need to be artistically talented to engage in design thinking.

The second most popular comment I hear is “but I’m not creative.” I am not sure how this happened but for some reason, creativity has been linked with artistic abilities. Yes, artists are very creative people but creativity isn’t just applicable to art. In fact, creative abilities are inherent in all of us but each of us uses our creativity in different ways. Creativity is also like a muscle the more you use it the better you become at it. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t been given the opportunity to develop our creative muscle so we continue to believe that we are not creative. We all use creativity in our everyday lives. For example, if you got yourself dressed this morning you engaged in a creative act. Think about it, the process of deciding what to wear requires matching a few items of clothing together and then pairing them with some accessories such as shoes or a tie. As another example, ever make a meal out of just what you had available in the house? This is a creative act.

2. Design thinking is NOT about abandoning analytical thinking or structure decision making processes. Using a design thinking approach doesn’t require abandoning analytical reasoning. In fact, design thinking calls for combining analytical skills with creative skills. Over the past five decades or so, there has been an emphasis on developing analytical skills and processes. Analytical capabilities are important they help us evaluate options to arrive at a logical an optimal solution. However, analytical capabilities are just one-half of the equation. There is a much needed second half. Today, organizations are faced with very complex problems and addressing these problems in a way that provides a competitive edge requires coming up with new options. Creating these new options is where design thinking comes in. Design thinking is an approach that can be used to develop new and innovative options which then need to be evaluated using analytical skills to arrive at an optimal solution. So the task at hand is to learn how to marry creative skills with analytical skills and design thinking offers a way to do that.

3. Design thinking is NOT just a nice to have. Every aspect of human life from–the economy, to the environment, to the food supply, to healthcare — is in need of solutions to alleviate a pain point. The challenge with the problems we face today is that they are emerging issues that do not have readily available solutions. The remedies that have worked in the past are ineffective for the challenges we face today and will likely be ineffective for issues that will arise in the future. If we are going to effectively meet the challenges of today and those that will emerge in the future, we must begin to expand our capacity for problem solving, we must begin to think differently. Design thinking expands our capacity for problem solving by asking us to reexamine our views of risk taking and failure, by encouraging us to ask “what if”, by teaching us to take a human centered approach, and by emphasizing the importance of collaboration.

Do you have any misconceptions about design thinking I haven’t addressed? Please share.


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