Is it time to rebrand Design Thinking? Bill Moggridge's salon for the Cooper-Hewitt has always been a place for lively conversation on a range of interesting topics from a tribute to Eva Zeissel to how design can offer solutions in an urban metropolis. Bill and the guests at his Design Talk last Thursday night passionately discussed the relevance, efficacy and even the branding of Design Thinking. Panel members included Helen Walters, a design journalist and Core77 columnist, Fiona Morrisson, the former Director, Brand & Advertising for Jet Blue and Beth Viner, an Associate Partner at IDEO, all of whom had different kinds of opinions of and experience with Design Thinking based on their backgrounds. Walters was the most outspoken of the bunch, but this isn't the first time she's been vocal on the subject. In a piece she wrote for Fast Co. Design called "Design Thinking Isn't a Miracle Cure, but Here's How It Helps," she questions the reliability of the term 'Design Thinking.'
"Suddenly, designers had a problem on their hands. Don Norman, formerly of Apple, once commented that "design thinking is a term that needs to die." Designer Peter Merholz of Bay Area firm Adaptive Path wrote scornfully: "Design thinking is trotted out as a salve for businesses who need help with innovation." He didn't mean this as a compliment. Instead, his point was that those extolling the virtues of design thinking are at best misguided, at worst likely to inflict dangerous harm on the company at large, over-promising and under-delivering and in the process screwing up the delicate business of design itself."
These negative connotations stem from the ill-chosen term and its tendency to reinforce exclusive industry jargon. "We should all speak the same language," she said, meaning business people, designers, engineers, advertisers and anyone involved in the intersection between business and design. That's an awfully broad area, one the panelists felt was too difficult to narrow down into any one term. Add to that the fact that most non-designers don't understand what designers do to begin with and you have a lot of confusion, which is one of the main reasons why Design Thinking has come under so much scrutiny. All the panelists cited instances in which business people were initially opposed to Design Thinking sessions, but ultimately, after prolonged and mandatory contact with designers, they came around, even having breakthroughs. But the frustration then becomes how to take those innovative, new ideas and implement them back at the business?
The answer seems to be that the more Design Thinking sessions there are, the more multi-disciplinary collaborations happen in all sectors, not just design or business but in education and government, the more people of all backgrounds will be open and responsive to creative solutions. After all, a powerful brand identity can overpower a bad or generic name. If McDonald's was called anything else—McDougal's or MacAlister's or even Fred's—their burgers would taste the same, right?
This week Bill's Design Talks features Emily Oberman of Pentagram. You can register online or watch a live podcast.