It had to happen sooner or later. A business journalist decided it was time to burst the design thinking bubble. Does she succeed? Lara Lee, inÂ a BusinessWeekÂ article titled “Innovation at Risk” writes:
There’s a belief in some quarters that design can keep innovation relevantâ€”that applying design thinking to our biggest business problems will deliver sustainable growth. “If we can just get business people to think more like designers,” the argument goes, “we’ll get them out of their linear, analytical boxes and inspire them to generate novel, customer-centered solutions that will drive new growth.” The problem with this thinking is twofold: First, it paints businesspeople who aren’t designers as uncreative and inattentive to customer needs. Worse, it runs the risk of overpromising what design thinking can deliver, which is a surefire way to undermine the role of design, and innovation, in creating new business value.
She goes on to compare design thinking with a previous business infactuation with strategic planning, and states that most companies did just as well with strategic planning as without it.
It’s certainly reasonable to question what design thinking can contribute to business practices, and Lee isn’t the first person to suggest that design thinking has all the makings of another business fad. On further reading one sees that Lee isn’t trashing design thinking. Rather she’s simply stating that its proponents must be careful about overpromising what it can deliver. Remember, the librarian-designer’s mantraÂ should beÂ “underpromise and overdeliver” – not the other way around.
WhileÂ I viewÂ design thinking as more than just the innovation tool that Lee suggests it is, I do think it’sÂ wise to avoid presenting it as a panaceaÂ for all that ails libraries. At DBL I think we’ve been thoughtful about how we view and present design thinking. Along with strategic planning, team-based organizations, identity branding and other methods being used in libraries to promote better user experiences, design thinking has its role to play in providing a mental process and practice approach for frontliners and administrators. I agree with Sherry Bailey’s recent comment here that more examples of good design thinking practice are needed, and we’ll be working to identify and promote them.