Thought Leadership
8 minutes

Design thinking has been thrust into the spotlight as being one of the hot new strategies for business growth and success. But the glory of becoming the next Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM or Nike1 is experienced far and few between.

On The Surface, It’s Great

Focusing on specific consumer needs by attacking core problems through creative brainstorming, testing, and intuitive design-led thinking means creating something truly spectacular. And while the idea of human-centered creation is attractive, implementing a design-led strategy doesn’t always pan out as anticipated.

The Practicality of Design Thinking  

Empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test and deliver. On the surface, this six-step concept seems simple. But many business owners and company heads don’t realize the vast resources needed to implement this type of problem-solving strategy, especially when dealing with clients or foreign entities to fund development. 

Clients, CEO’s and board members all need to understand and accept the realities of design thinking for the concept be successful. The process of testing, tweaking, discussing (and repeating) with no definite end in sight can be alarming and appear overly expensive. However, he unorthodox process of design thinking is necessary to nail down all problems that need solving. This takes money, time and resources. 

For those not sharing in the creative vision, the concept of design thinking is hard to support without a sure-fire roadmap to success. Design thinking is not a step-by-step process and "requires patience and risk-taking”2. 

A Specific Environment Is Required

Design thinking works in a non-linear fashion and focuses on problems rather than solutions. Bringing a predetermined vision to life with no wiggle room is likely to fail since it goes against the very concept of design thinking. Many companies and clients will request buzz-word outcomes like ‘user-friendly’ operating systems or ‘intuitive design’, which sound great. In reality, discovering the true problems that need to be overcome in order to deliver the final product is complex and ever-changing. If design thinking is ever to be practically implemented into any business model, everyone involved and the workplace environment itself needs to be flexible, cohesive and understanding of exactly what design thinking entails.

Common Ignorance

"Get a course, and you’re done!"3 

This is the type of thinking that many business strategists use when considering design thinking as a viable problem-solving technique. They attempt to learn the steps involved in the design thinking process without looking at their current work culture. The rigorous brainstorming, pattern recognition, development and user testing that is needed, cannot be carried out by just anyone. 

If the problems of a particular consumer or market were clear, you wouldn’t need to design a strategy to assess and solve them. This is another area where many businesses get it wrong. Spending thousands of dollars on a summary version of such a complicated concept and attempting to implement it into an already existing workplace will surely fail and be nothing but a waste of company funds. Not everyone is design-minded, and not all environments are conducive to innovative thinking. This may be where the largest problem lies with design thinking implementation… in the people.

Human Nature

Innovation through design thinking lies somewhere in the middle of viability, desirability, and feasibility. Finding the sweet-spot takes a group of many different minds, working together holistically. One of the largest obstacles to problem solving4 is with humans; particularly our egos. Preconceived expectations, the inability to adapt, power dynamics, and impulsiveness all contribute to innovation being hindered. An environment conducive to group thinking needs to have a “yes” attitude and not spread fear or judgment. It is in our nature to compete, judge and revert to our own natural skill-set (commonly referred to as “man with a hammer syndrome”) when problem-solving. Large and diverse groups capable of working together are essential in successful design-led innovation.

Weighing Both Sides

The theory behind design thinking is attractive to many and for good reason. The product of innovation that stems from successfully implemented design-led strategies can be truly spectacular. Conversely, the failures can be costly and just as spectacularly colossal. It would seem as if issues commonly arise not from the concept of design thinking itself, but from its application within the business world. Understanding the realities that come with design thinking means understanding that a particular work culture is needed to support it.

1Linda N. (2019, January 18). Design Strategy as a Strategy for Innovation [Blog post].
2Matt K. (2017, September 22). Design Thinking Works Best When… [Blog post].
3Rafiq Elmansy (2018, September 17). Why Design Thinking Doesn’t Work [Blog post].
4Rikke Dam & Teo Siang (2018, May 20). Obstacles to Problem Solving… [Blog post].

Sergiy Fitsak
Sergiy Fitsak
Managing Director & Technical Director at Softjourn