Over the last few years new methodologies like Eric Ries’ Lean Startup, Jake Knapp’s Design Sprints or Tim Brown’s Design Thinking, have opened up a new perspective on the process of innovation. These frameworks have a few good things in common, the most important being the fact that they put the user back in the driver’s seat. Before this mindshift, the end-user would not be involved (or even considered) in the design process. Instead, a company would simply come up with an idea, do some kind of analysis and planning exercise, and then try to develop the idea at a specified cost. The problem with that is of course that ideas that sound like winners in the meeting room often fail in the marketplace. And projects, no matter how well-planned, always turn out to be more complex than estimated.

Enter the new methodologies. They try to approach these problems by formulating a leaner, more iterative and user-centered way of thinking. Problem solved, right? In fact, the new paradigm has become so popular over the last couple of years that even the biggest consulting companies are picking them up, publishing whitepapers and giving keynote presentations about the business value of User Experience Design and whatnot. And as we speak, every self-respecting marketing consultant, trainer or coach is rapidly editing slide decks and documents, replacing the old buzzwords with the newest, hottest of them all, Design Thinking.

Granted, it’s already a big improvement to start your thinking with the end-user in mind. But if that’s the only thing you get out of it, you’re missing the point. Although it’s called Design Thinking, it’s much more about doing than thinking. In fact, it’s a form of non-thinking, replacing analysis, deduction, expert-opinions, endless debates and long planning cycles with prototypes, experiments and validation. Of course there’s workshops and meetings to be held, but you can’t just think (or discuss) your way out of a design challenge.

Design Thinking is what happens after the workshops and meetings. It’s all about what you do with all that thinking. It takes place outside the building, in the market, with real users. It’s an iterative cycle of thinking, building a prototype, testing it, learning from it and then start thinking again. I’d argue, that Design Thinking is the wrong name for the game. Design Doing would be more appropriate.

But let’s not argue semantics. The real message here is that if you find yourself in a so called Design Thinking workshop and you think you’re doing ok because you worked out a Persona or an Empathy Map or something similar, think again! You’re doing the same old thing companies have been doing for ages. The real added value of Design Thinking is what you do with all that thinking and how you integrate a complete build-measure-learn cycle in your product development process. If you’re really serious about innovation, don’t settle for anything less. There are no shortcuts to developing stuff that matters.

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