Design thinking is defined by Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” He argues that design thinking is a combination of what people want, what is technologically possible and economically viable. Moreover, Design Thinking is also explained as “system of overlapping spaces” (inspiration, ideation and implementation. However, I would like to think about Design Thinking as a culture of tackling problems.

Although lots of people are real supporters of the Design Thinking process, I read three articles that really opened my mind to different ways of looking at Design Thinking.

On the One hand, Helen Walters wrote an article of how “Design Thinking won’t save you.” She stated there was no consensus on a clear definition of design thinking. Although this could be true, I believe this happens with lots of things, any concept or process is subjected to adaptations from people’s collaboration, so its definition may vary, but in essence it is still the same. Some people call Design thinking a process, others a method, a set of activities, I like to think about it as a culture, but the core values of Design Thinking are still present in whoever practices it. Walters states that design thinking wont save you because of 4 key points:

  1. Design thinking is not design: She argues that design thinking doesn’t replace the need for design specialists, and I agree with this, it doesn’t. But I also don’t think design thinking argues that it is replacing this type of role, in fact it always encourages participation of different disciplines.
  2. Design thinking is not magic: Walters, explains that trying to change a corporations mind set is very challenging, and sometimes even more harmful for the company, this is why I see this process as a culture, is not easy to adapt to it, it is such a disruptive process that if you don’t know how to manage it, it could be catastrophic. This happens with everything though; Design thinking could be as dangerous as any other business model. At the end of the day, change is always a risk.
  3. Design thinking is not a quick fix: There have been comments that state design thinking promises a lot and under delivers, and this could be a critical point. I relate Design thinking with innovation. I believe that by using this process I will have a successful innovative outcome, what if I don’t? Does that mean the process doesn’t work?. However, after reading the article Design thinking, IDEO and disruptive business model innovation by Patrick Stähler he created a big question mark in my head. He said, “Where is the invention from design thinking that changed the industry? Where is the iTunes or the Kindle of Ideo?. My first instinct was rejection. I mean, we are talking about IDEO! They are mind-blowing, of course they have changed the industry, I had to chance to visit IDEO over the 2015 summer and I was enchanted by their vision. But after a while, and after I read the entire article, it hit me. Yes, IDEO is an amazing design firm, but when I look at the solutions IDEO has created, Patrick is right, they are all nice, well-designed new things that sustain a CURRENT business, they are amazing because of its design, but it doesn’t rock the industry, and isn’t innovation all about “rocking” the industry? Change doesn’t just happen when new processes are introduced. Everything comes down to my favourite phrase from Stähler “A fool with a tool is still a fool”
  4. Design thinking does not guarantee success: I don’t think success is ever guaranteed. Yes, design thinking is a leap of faith, but isn’t creating something new always risky? If it wasn’t risky then it means it has been done before, and it is not innovative. I believe Design Thinkin is a very powerful tool, but it is important to know the limits. It can´t work for everything and everyone, nothing ever does. It is not a magic pill that solves problem. People need to learn how to use it and clearly know the objectives and what they expect to get out of the process, that would be the only way of deciding whether Design thinking would be the best approach or not.

On the other hand, Bruce Nussbaum, has evolved from what Desing thinking is, to a more social engagement concept. He said “Design thinking was scaffolding for the real deliverable: creativity. But in order to appeal to the business culture of process, it was denuded of the mess, the conflict, failure, emotions, and looping circularity that is part and parcel of the creative process.” So now he wants to see the world shift into what he defines as “Creative Intelligence.” This new concept is defined as “the ability to frame problems in new ways and to make original solutions”. But, hold on a minute, isn’t this the same core values of Design Thinking, just in different words?


Nussbaum, B. (2011) ‘Design Thinking is a Fail Experiment. So What’s Next?’ Fastcodesign. Available at: .  (Accessed: 10 October 2015)

Walters, H. (2011) ‘Design Thinking Won’t Save You’ Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2015)

Stahler, P. (2009) ‘Design Thinking, IDEO and Disruptive Business Model Innovation’ Business Model Innovation. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2015)


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