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In this Design Week article by Sarah Dawood, I put forward my thoughts on ‘Design Thinking’ and helping businesses to understand the intrinsic value of design.


Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

“Our industry is notoriously bad at articulating its value to our clients and the wider world. If it takes terms like ‘design thinking’ being appropriated by that wider world as a fashionable buzz-phrase to demonstrate intellectual rigour and value creation, then I’m all for it. We really do have to create an industry standard to demonstrate impact and effectiveness. Frankly, the more mainstream the understood value of our processes becomes, the better. It’s a great opportunity to harness good will. Let’s not be elitist about it!”



Jenny Theolin, founder, Studio Theolin

“I would like to promote more doing than thinking, and not caring so much for semantics. I have spent the past three years programming and running Design Thinking projects at postgraduate level, and it seems to come down to learning the skills to empathise with who we are designing for, and to collaborate with each other to design valuable things; be it products, services, businesses, interactions, environments, systems, governments, the world. It’s not just about graphic design, which Natasha Jen is referring too. Her thoughts are, in my opinion, quite thin in relation to the broader design industry.

The definition of design is ever-changing due to technology and the increased interaction between users and businesses. It plays a bigger role in the boardroom than ever before, and is on the tip of C-Suite tongues. Whatever you think of the buzzword, bullshit or otherwise, it’s just a tool – if it doesn’t work for you, use a different tool.”



Sarah Weir, CEO, Design Council

“‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ or ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’? Design is a mindset and a skillset, a mixture of head, heart and hand. Head for skills such as visualisation and conceptualisation, heart to understand and empathise with the person you are designing for and hand for the drawing, coding, computer aided design (CAD) or other methods you use. Design thinking used judiciously, thoughtfully and in experienced hands can open up a range of different ideas and help people create unexpected solutions, moving them from the first statement to the second in a skilful way – so let’s embrace design thinking, but with more care.”



Emma Follett, deputy chief creative officer, Design Bridge

“Educating so that others understand design and what it takes to achieve it can’t be a bad thing! We all use a logical process to tackle design problems, but ultimately it’s just a springboard that we will deviate to and from along the way because every project is different – not forgetting potential creative challenges from the client – and so we adapt the ‘process’ accordingly.

What’s also difficult to define in a process is the ‘what if’. It’s the illogical part of creativity where the magic happens. It’s what you can’t define in a step-by-step guide. Those little gems you discover when digging deep, your gut instinct for what feels right, and the ultimate beauty of its aesthetic. Rarely does this happen in a step-by-step process.

Sometimes it’s the tenacity you need to go back again, or to allow yourself to break free and think differently, that will enable you to create powerful and memorable design that truly connects to the consumer in an emotive and informative way. And surely that’s what we’re all striving to achieve as designers?”



Deborah Dawton, CEO, Design Business Association

“Design thinking isn’t thinking – that’s the irony. It’s a process; a process that prompts us to put the user first, in other words, take a ‘customer-centric approach’. Using a process to arrive at your solutions is the design equivalent of being a battery farm hen. But aside from this, when oh when was design not about the user anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, design thinking has opened the valve within a lot of businesses to have the design discussion. But it is not an alternative to designers in business, where they are desperately needed. Realising corporate ambition is a very big ask, and only those with the expert intuition, born out of years of design practice, should be meddling in the affairs of corporations at board level.”



James Hurst, principal, DesignStudio

“At progressive studios, we help clients solve delightfully complex problems. This complexity can be dangerous if we’re not serious about the opportunity to critically think and talk about the tools we use.

It’s encouraging to see that the Design Indaba stage was used for more than a portfolio show-and-tell and that Natasha was able to voice an important point of view. Personally, I both disagree and agree with her.

I disagree because I believe complex problems benefit from the tools that force us to think about them. I agree because it’s usually the wrong tools that are used to solve the wrong problems.

Great design teams know which tools should be used to solve which problem. Really great design teams know how to invent tools to solve problems in even more interesting ways.”



Alan Dye, creative director, NB Studio

“There’s a poster that pops up on the London underground every year promoting an art college with the headline ‘Become a graphic designer in three months’. It drives me mad.

I’ve been doing graphic design since 1986 and I still think I’m not a graphic designer (no comment). I truly believe it’s a life job, a wonderful, beautiful, joyous commitment to experimentation, with daily experiences of learning, craft, collaborating and solving problems with words and images. It’s endless.

‘Become a graphic designer in 3 months’ and other miracle short-cuts to the solution – along with the jargon that popularises them – are basically peddling a lie.

I’m a firm believer that intuition and gut feeling are every bit as important as solid design thinking and strategic processes. So here are my buzzwords: Tell the truth, turn up on time, have brilliant ideas, build a trusted relationship and have fun. Amen.”



Max Ottignon, co-founder, Ragged Edge

“Like almost everything in our industry, so much of it seems to rest on semantics. If we take Ideo’s definition – ‘a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit’ – then it’s hard to argue against, surely. But the design thinking Natasha hates – a dumbed-down, rigid five-step process that can be taught for £2.99 – is obviously bullshit. Mainly because it’s not design thinking. No designer I know thinks like that, anyway.”

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