Design Stinking

Design StinkingThank you, Helen Walters, for your thoughtful piece on Design Thinking in FastCompany. In contrast, I will take a shorter, more scatological path to explaining why I think we need to stop this “exciting new phenomenon” before it kills its host.

First, it’s pretentious and unable to withstand scrutiny. How did all the invention that took place before this trope was born occur? What was Leonardo using as a method? Years ago, Jerry Mann, then president of Seagrams, told me that a new tequila I was helping them launch was a “Barbie Doll Tequila”. That it needed credentials and that our job was to develop them. This is what Design Thinking feels like to me.

Second, it barely hides the insecurity that inspired it, which is usually the case with pretension. Isn’t design supposed to be thinking in the first place? What’s the need for redundancy if we didn’t have to be for sure for sure that people know there is a legitimate process behind it? For me, this falls into the same category as “Quality Inn” and “Dependable Dry Cleaners”; flagging a weakness by denying it before people have a chance to figure it out for themselves.

Third, it’s dangerous in several ways. Instead of making design a more integral, universal and respected part of business, it creates another silo, another separation. Another category of specialists that builds one more barrier to the kind of real systems thinking we need to survive.

It lulls people into thinking they are being creative when they are not. It harbors procrastination and stereotypical thinking, substitutes process for real invention. It robs design of dimension by placing it solely in the world of the brain when design is much more than rational thinking – it is emotion and intuition and sensing and gut. When does a process become dogma? And why is our culture so afraid of the feminine energy? (Don’t answer that, I already know.)

It becomes another bit of ideology that makes it even harder for business to embrace a truly original thinker.
I do not believe, with Helen, that there are only a few designers who have earned the trust of business leaders, I believe there are many. I just don’t think these people call themselves designers any more. Perhaps this is a more relevant problem to look at, and to solve.

I like design stinking better than design thinking because when you stink at something, you at least admit there is much more to learn.