Design Thinking (Part II): When does it fail?

Design Thinking (Part 2): When does it fail?

Articles criticizing Design Thinking pop up every couple of months without fail. The critique is often flawed: the authors usually (a) fail to understand how the process can be applied, (b) overlook the value of applying it at the right time, or (c)  do not consider all the conditions of success.

Here are some thing to keep in mind to ensure sustained success when applying Design Thinking:

1- Design Thinking or human-centered methodology fails when the focus on the “human” factor, in other words learning to build empathy with the user, is not central to problem solving.

2- The process is not magic, and cannot produce results in a vacuum. The #1 ingredient should be a focus on understanding the business problem or user challenge at a deeper level. Exploring the challenge is worth investing sometime in. Shallow and vague descriptive masked as the problem is a non-starter.

3- Design thinkers are not David Blaine; they are creative thinkers who love to tinker with problems. Sponsors asking for a session may need gentle guidance on exploring the challenge. Be willing to say no if the ask remains vague and they cannot make time to explore the conversation.

4- Not having the right blend of stakeholders who have (a) a good grasp of the business problems and its implications, (b) ability to articulate their challenges and points of view,  (c) the willingness to work with different players and (d) the willingness to have their assumptions tested.

5- Right environment matters. A design session cannot be run in a staid conference with bad lighting, no food and fixed (not matter how fancy) conference room furniture.

6- Design coaches must build an environment that creates psychological safety and given the permission to fail or look stupid.

By Ruma Sumdani
Feb, 2019
(Ruma is Partner at Mentors Fund and a Design Thinking Expert at SAP)