Why is the term “Design Thinking” becoming commonplace in many of the conversations on how to enable digital strategies that we are having amongst colleagues, business partners and clients? I hear it at least once a day from individuals and organizations who have never given design more thought than the color of their iPhone cover. Did you know that a large ERP company now touts that they deploy “Design Thinking” to make the user interface more user friendly? They’ve come up with a set of prebuilt templates…it’s easier than talking with or studying users. I recently found this ad for a wallet that incorporated “intelligent design based in the anotomy of a Stegosaurus ” advertised in the back of a current issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Apparently, even a wallet can benefit from the design of an extinct product.
I think I have the answer…or at least part of it; there was a recent shockwave of unexpected monetary success that made companies stand up and notice that design might actually be a legitimate component to the DNA formula of running a successful, innovative model. I am of course referring to Apple becoming the wealthiest of companies, claiming their success was due to design and innovation. Suddenly, to no one’s surprise, everyone wants and needs design and innovation…we are in a “copy-cat league” after all. And how do we all gain these tools and skills overnight? We read a few articles and blogs from IDEO or Roger Martin and suddenly we are all experts. Think of the money and bruises to my ego; I could have spared myself design school.
Now don’t misunderstand me…I think the buzz around “Design Thinking” is a good thing. Furthermore, I suspect that just like the Grinch who found out that Christmas meant more than presents and a good meal, our society is being driven by a subconscious need to invigorate and elevate business relevance in order to understand and capitalize the strange forces of “SMACT.” (SMAC, by the way, strikes me as an acronym for some sort of secret foreign organization that James Bond found as his nemesis.)
This undercurrent in the business world is the third of three tremors that illustrate the need for design to translate business through technology into everyone’s everyday life. The first wave was the “Bauhaus” movement in the 1920’s. This was an experiment with the goal of reforming Germany’s art education that ultimately transformed the world’s design and architecture. The design of everyday objects has forever been altered because of designers like Ames, Rand, and van der Rohe. The “Pop Art” movement of the 1950’s is the second wave. It gave the commonplace and ordinary object celebrity status (for at least 15 min). The irreverent design thinking of artists like Hamilton, Warhol, and Liechtenstein changed the pedigree of the art world into a business glorifying the everyday.
The “Design Thinking” crowd will tell you that this current tremor we are experiencing will more likely resemble the desire for pattern and commonsense of simplicity that the acolytes of the Bauhaus movement preached. My bet is that if you had a beer and a conversation with a group of designers after a long day in the studio they’d tell you their money is on the religion of Warhol, the church of the Ramones and the 15 minutes of fame we all desire (insert selfie here).