Death Knell Of Design Thinking Debated In Portland

Design thinking is being challenged today in Portland at the Design Management Institute conference.

Design thinking, a popular business and design process investigating ill-defined problems and positing solutions, is in question. From my personal experiences in the design and insights field, the processes in design thinking elevate empathy with the end user in business, and ask companies to consider consciously what should be made and how. It all sounds good, until we consider the current trend toward expensive and lengthy brand strategy documents as initial, and at times primary, design thinking deliverables. We can see why challenges are arising within this current economic atmosphere.

While to some design thinking might mean lengthy and highly considered strategy documents providing a sort of validity system for ideas that emerge along the way, to others it is an agile, think/make process for faster effect and influence. This approach might find favor with clients looking for intelligent yet fast-paced value in a sluggish economy. 

Portland considers itself one of the DIY capitals of the U.S. and is also second in terms of enduring goods in U.S. product production. What better place for the Portland creative firm Industry to premier its Innovation Accelerator process and for DMI to hold its conference.

While Industry believes in slimming or compressing upfront brand strategy into iterative value thinking by prototyping concepts into focused deliverables be it product, service, or software, other conference speakers have been curated to address and debate contrasting approaches. A few speakers of note include Robin Lanahan of Microsoft's new product incubation innovations group, David Aycan design director and business lead at IDEO, John Hoke global VP of design at Nike, Angela Snow, global director of creative operations Nike, and Karen Hoffman, product design chair and director of color, materials and trends exploration laboratory Art Center Pasadena. 

Tension fuels design. DMI Portland is asking design leaders to rethink how they work, challenging process and approach across the board. For more information on the Portland DMI Conference, visit  


Jody Turner is a future trends strategist who works with companies, conferences, and organizations in bringing forth thriving and relevant futures. Turner is CEO and founder of the global insights group, a trend innovation group working with companies such as BMW, Munich, and is associated with Trendwatching, London. (@cultureoffuture).


Add New Comment


  • michael lenz

    I find it interesting that those most vocal about the 'death' of design
    thinking are those that have to perpetuate differentiation for their own sake, sales. There are those consultants out there that have taken design thinking
    away for the intent of David Kelley (creative tooling) and turned it into a
    buzzword to sell an engagement. Now that it has reached critical mass, it is time to move to the next term.

    True 'Design Thinking' isn't dead, nor will it be any time soon. Though you may not hear it called such by the pointy end of the agency stick. They are done with 'Design Thinking' and are patting themselves on the back with a "good job" and "mission accomplished". Awareness is not success, it is just awareness. The passing of Steve Jobs did more to bring intentional design to the forefront more than anything else, combine that with the market cap of Apple. Design Thinking is a means to ensure people that have been trained to be unwilling to take risk, or believe in their creative soul have a place to mutually live with more abstract thinkers. That doesn't mean that a project has to take 45 weeks, and include a big brand strategy document (which is an artifact of bad brand strategy in the first place that it wasn't in place to begin with).

    If you look at the innovation work at places like P&G that have created a formal design thinking
    program (and Coke that engrained design into their thinking and avoided the
    term completely) the positive results speak for themselves. For companies that are changing their culture to pursue user experience design to differentiate (beyond usability's table stakes) Design Thinking is beachhead and means to ensure the creative instincts have a seat at the table.

    Some of those corporations have only now made those beachheads (Cisco for example is 24 months behind P&G in this area) with the dividends to start paying when those new customer journeys and products coming to market. Design Thinking is not dead or done, it is very much alive and delivering significant value to those that don't need to sell via buzzword differentiation.