November 18

How to avoid Design Thinking B.S.

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About a year back, the U.S. Department of Defense published their guide for detecting Agile BS. Within their guide they included a graphic I thought was so inspiring that I re-created it:

Although I remain sceptical about the explicit language used, I find the graphic to be extremely helpful.

Nassim N. Taleb once said:

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are fraud.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Author of the Incerto Series

Encouraged by his words, I am in favour of calling a spade a spade, and calling out BS. So by rephrasing what the DoD said about Agile, I arrived at my own statement for the Design Thinking context. I share it below in written and graphical form to enable detecting Design Thinking BS:

Why we need BS detection in the Design Thinking community

Design Thinking is a buzzword of innovation management, and currently many product-, process- and even strategy-development-projects are, almost by default, declared to be using Design Thinking.

Sebastian Rappen

"design sinking"
Running projects using a lot of Design Thinking buzzwords but not reframing the problem to a human centered design perspective and therefore mainly producing sunk costs.

The following questions and the below graphic provide guidance to program executives and acquisition professionals on how to detect projects that are really using Design Thinking versus those that are simply pretending to do so (what I like to call “design sinking”, because it mainly produces sunk costs).

6 questions to detect Design Thinking bullshit

Therefore the following questions can be posed to the program leadership:

  1. 1
    Are users actively involved in creating and validating the challenge?
  2. 2
    Are you and the process open for solutions currently unknown to you?
  3. 3
    Do you test previously defined hypotheses with your prototypes?
  4. 4
    Is user feedback driving decision making along the process?
  5. 5
    Do you allow negative feedback to kill your darlings?
  6. 6
    Are you iterating to fit your solution to your problem?

For a team working based on Design Thinking, the answer to all of the above questions should be “yes”. If not - you may be running a successful project, but - you are not doing design thinking and there is a high risk, that you are wasting time & effort on what I call design-sinking.

The visual guide to detecting Design Thinking BS

So keep the above questions at hand whenever you enter a negotiation around Design Thinking. While it is totally fine to refrain from doing Design Thinking, let´s be honest about whether or not we are actually doing it.


Let me know what you think about this and your experiences so far in the comments below.


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