Why Design Thinking Is Out Of Date 3: (In three parts)

3: Future States Of The World

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Design Thinking is here to stay. It’s a wonderful shift to the dynamics of being people and even better, being creative. This is the third and last in a series of three-parts examining my own personal take on design-thinking and why I believe it is out-of-date. This does not mean past it’s sell-by date, just in need of a better description and response to 21st. century needs where we as people need to navigate our own learning and us as teams require aligned ways of thinking… about thinking, so we can learn and grow using the power of creativity to explore and discover.

DO LEARN THINK icons all

So here’s a recap:

Design Thinking is valid – it’s just expanding and doesn’t quite account for the  engines driving change – or the bottom-up of linking minds through task-driven decision processes. It’s all rather ad-hoc: We turn to design thinking to provide a useful tool to doing things smarter. And yet, times and needs have changed radically since the beginning of design thinking which has fragmented into two aspects: As stated in the recently published ‘Parts Without A Whole’ by Hasso-Platner Insitut für Softwaresystemtechnik and Universität Potsdam (Schmiedgen Rhinow Köppen and Meinel 2015), identifies the different Design-Thinking Discourses: (Annex 12.2/ pp 134 Management Discourse – The Design Discourses of ‘designerly thinking’.)

Design Thinking’s rise to stardom

Design Thinking was  born of the design methods movement of the 20th century, has expanded into new territory under the term ‘design thinking’ to account for analytical processing of users, demographics, organisational challenges, complex problems requiring a systematic approach to providing objective solutions – most of which builds on data and empirical enquiry, observation, empathy interviews, rather than personal preference – the desired. All very reasonable and objective of course, and yet, moving away from the roots of design methods – the foundation.

Now buildings are temporary structures and for the most part, when they have gone, the foundations still remain. 

The foundations of design-thinking are built on accounting for what it is we do when we work creatively in the development of desired states of the future – whether they be products, services, towns or solutions for climate change. The movement was born of design methods that effectively described the meaningful activities we engage in and use iteratively when working with ideas and transforming them into solutions. By formalising those activities, we learn to re-approach our own thinking.

Why Design Thinking is out of date

Now, Design-thinking is out of date since new users to design thinking soon reciprocate info from the net. This is a problem, since the methods developed over many years by the likes of IDEO tend to become the newcomer’s darling, without really understanding this is a method developed by a company for the purposes of invention and devising new and better ways. People tend therefore, to think Design Thinking follows a prescribed course, when really, there is no one definition, only ‘takes’ by different companies, organisations and individuals. The result is a global-cycle of reproduction of descriptions, models and even myths that does little to develop Design Thinking itself  – or develop it.

One of the wonders of the age is the opportunity we have to get information and use it to invent our own selves and processes – or synthesise our own takes. Design Thinking will therefore as a description, continue to evolve, but way from the empirical design-based bases as others take on board what they have read and devise their own methods, feeding back into the soup of net-information. So ignoring issues about what others may say it is – and since I’m lucky in having a lifetime of projects to relate to – Design-thinking has to account for what we do, how to do it when creating responses to challenges that cannot be arrived at by planning.

And, that effectively accounts for how we need to work creatively, together.

This requires adopting compatible views and being aware of different modes of thinking – or put in another way, sharing what we are doing so we can see how our partners understand what is all about and use that to question our own approach, no matter the focus or context – design thinking has to be generic. It has to accommodate a lot  -also our own individual learning as well, since creativity doesn’t stop when we are together with other people.

service-product roadmap

Dispelling the myth of ‘Problem Solving’

Problem-solving is often used to illustrate design-thinking but as pointed out on part 2, design thinking is not problem solving – design methods does not solve problems but orders out the phases from ‘fuzzy ideas’ intentions to proposals as more and more knowledge is gained of the ‘problem domain’.

We can’t define or construct a problem without having a stab at the solution and as Picasso said, in order to know what to draw one has to start drawing… it’s that simple. So those who maintain design thinking is problem-solving commit a fundamental mistake – reinforcing the continuation of global, not urban myths.

21st. Century Skills

The 21st. innovation agenda concerns the urgent need to have common mindsets – so team-members can see the wood for the trees  – developing a common understanding of what is required in activity in order to address the defining of solutions. So we can think together in order to work together – this is about collaborative intelligence – linking minds together, niot in harmony, but some kind of streamlined slow-sync that removes the chaff from getting to grips with challenges.

This is why design thinking is out-of-date and what aspects are required: 

It needs to account for mindsets, team interaction and collaborative intelligence.


It needs to roadmap thinking – as well as process in just the same way the design methods formalised creative processes that until then, had just been intuitive. So the foundations indeed remain the same. Design-Thinking needs to build more on dynamic interactions other than phased zones of activity. Call this a hunch if you like, but the fact is, people play the game the way they want, no matter what others tell them what to do, and following any prescribed course of action will only slow down the dynamics of making those wonderful connections and insights that lead to break-through solutions.

Peter Senge had a great way of illustrating cyclicle actions-in motion as systems thinking in ‘The Fifth Discipline’. This is about the cycles undertaken in ‘we need some input to bring activity in motion to rest’ that can only account for when a solution and problem fit – a match is formed.

For that cycle to even get going, we need to share ideas about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and more importantly, what needs to be done as we look at different options. 

Systems Anlaysis works with Future States of the World – or the desirable, the probable and the possible. This just as valid for design thinking as anything else as is Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology.

Both of these are also 20th century constructs and Design Thinking needs a new mindset and methodology that accounts for 21st. century challenges where concepts and solutions can risk being out-of-date even as they hit the shelves, or are put into operation.

So we need to think in future states of the world and share that thinking and develop that around core decision-making task-driven processes.

Strategic Doing is a wonderfully simple tool for getting to grips with that, but is more a ‘getting into’ rather than ‘doing’ in terms of using Design Thinking.


Design Thinking has evolved from design methods for towns and buildings to defining solutions to complex challenges. Now it needs to grow to account for innovation in the definition of desired solutions can provide real benefit by woking with cyclical collaborative intelligence. If we wish to provide some means of alignment or interface with well known innovation and project management tools and process descriptions (as we know from PRINCE 2) we need to place Design Thinking firmly within the context of creative team-based processes, aligning the creative forces at work with core team participation.


I’m developing a new approach to design thinking for publication later in 2016 that will examine Design Thinking more as ‘Forces Of Interaction’ than phased descriptions of processes. If you’re interested, sign-up for the forthcoming newsletter service by sending me a mail: mardyso@gmail.com.