The Craze for Design Thinking: Roots, A Critique, and toward an Alternative

By James Woudhuysen.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Favouring orientation to and the participation of design users in the design process, Design Thinking (DT) has a long lineage. With the Cold War’s end, the Internet’s rise and Stanford University’s turn to teaching DT (2005), this ‘bottom up’, demand-driven conception of design gained new adherents, going on to win mainstream status when advocated in the ‘Harvard Business Review’ in 2008.

While some managers, especially in government, have since adopted DT rather uncritically, it has prompted a schism in design circles – one as grand, perhaps, as that between post-Modernism and Modernism back in the 1970s/1980s. Though DT has reached Latin America and Asia, critics such as Norman (US) and Verganti (Italy) are unanimous that DT has wrongly made consumer contexts, behaviours and needs seem preferable to what McCullagh (UK) describes as ‘other drivers of innovation, including technical progress’.

In DT, ‘sustainability’ tends to be taken for granted, and expensive prices are rarely considered.

An alternative to DT is briefly outlined, which, it is hoped, can begin to address these defects.

Keywords: Design Thinking, Technological Innovation, Energy, Pharmaceuticals, IT, Happiness, Workplace Design, Ethical Design, Storytelling

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.235-248. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.107MB).

Prof. James Woudhuysen

Professor of Forecasting and Innovation, Faculty of Art and Design, De Montfort University, Leicester, England, UK

Work: Future of innovation, especially in energy, IT, medicine, leisure, construction/cities, the workplace. Interests: US, Asia. Background: Helped install Britain’s first computer-controlled car park, 1968, before graduating in physics. Editor, Design, 1979-82; co-founder, Blueprint magazine. Instruction manual for word processing, 1983; multi-client study on e-commerce, Fitch, 1988; proposal for Web TV, Henley Centre for Forecasting, 1993. Chief, worldwide market intelligence, Philips Consumer Electronics, the Netherlands, 1995-7. Director, designers Seymour Powell, 1997-2001. Publications: Why is construction so backward? (2004); Energise! A future for energy innovation (2009); Big Potatoes: the London Manifesto for Innovation (2010). Clients: Akzo, Amadeus, Baxi Group, Brother, Geothermal Engineering, International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies, Konecranes, Orange, Mitsubishi, Novartis, Roca, SAP, Siemens. Has written for Applied Ergonomics, Computing, Cultural Trends, The Economist, The Institute of Mechanical Engineers Journal, Long Range Planning, New Civil Engineer, The Times and The Guardian. Contributes to BBC Radio 4 and Website:


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