Designers ≠ Design Thinkers


The introduction of design thinking into the boardroom has ruffled some feathers. Longtime design practitioners argue that design thinking is jargon-filled, process-focused, and lacks beauty. Our experience paints a different picture; leaders are enthusiastic when a logical process balancing creativity and impact gets results.

We agree a wall of Post-it notes does not create a market-ready solution nor does a “brain dump” of the group’s collective conscience necessarily deliver a batch of good new ideas. However, the criticism of design thinking as “jargon-filled,” is unfounded. No one can learn the local language and customs on a one-day layover in a new country; the same holds true for one-day design thinking offsites. Anthropologists tell us that a common language is the foundation of all cultures. After our workshops, when employees learn and share the common language of design thinking - “discovery,” “observations,” “insights,” and “divergent thinking” – they start creating an innovation-enabled culture.

Professional skepticism about design thinking can be helpful unless its tone plants seeds of doubt among senior leadership. Post-it notes do not make great spreadsheet fodder; the knee-jerk reaction is to call in research and development (R&D) and marketing groups to boil down the efforts into quantitative metrics. We believe simplicity lives on the far side of complexity; the journey to a scalable, repeatable process of innovation requires leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for leadership to understand not just “what,” you created, but “how,” and “why.”

Traditional designers in traditional disciplines pride themselves on their well-honed skills to create new objects; whereas design thinking is a universal language and repeatable process that creates a new way of viewing what everyone else has seen. At big, we focus on the process of design and apply it to business, social and civic issues. Beauty is not limited to objects; an environment where people are the priority and learn the mindset to thrive does not need a definition. It's what we call Advanced Common Sense®.