Designing Thinking Backlash Surfaces

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, in a BusinessWeek article titled “Innovation at Risk” writes:

There’s a belief in some quarters that design can keep innovation relevant—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 mantra should be “underpromise and overdeliver” – not the other way around.

While I view design thinking as more than just the innovation tool that Lee suggests it is, I do think it’s wise to avoid presenting it as a panacea 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.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

1 thought on “Designing Thinking Backlash Surfaces”

  1. I discovered a slightly old book, “Libraries Designed for Users: A 21st Century Guide” by Nolan Lushington, Neal-Schuman, 2002. It’s the best thing I’ve located so far for specifics on planning new construction or renovating with usability in mind. It’s seemingly out of print and costs in the $100 range second hand, for 247 pages, but it’s really pretty good. I hope an update is forthcoming! Meanwhile, it’s giving me some good ideas — too bad I’ll have to give it back to the owning library soon!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *