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Indeed, ‘Design thinking isn’t enough’

20 December, 2009

I read this article in HBR: Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You by Peter Merholz and it stuck with me for two reasons: I kinda agree and respectfully disagree with elements.

I completely agree that design thinking on it’s own is not enough. For the past year I have been working with a colleague with specialist business analysis capability merging our service design, business analysis (business and IT) and enterprise architecture processes and methodologies*. I’m of the opinion that BAs are the Yin to the service design Yang. The Miranda to Carrie if you will, or the Lisa to Bart.  Battling a rather broad understanding of business analysis in the organisation and a rather narrow understanding of service design we developed a table of how the two disciplines differ and complement each other:

Service design Business analysis
Ultimate goal Develop innovative user-centred solutions that meet the needs of customer and business (outside-in) Interpret what change is required to be effective (inside-out)
Responsible for Championing user-centric innovation and view of compliance through service

Bridging the gap between government, business and customer needs

Ensuring, from a business perspective, the org is delivering on client need

Bridging gap between business processes, IT systems and internal policy

View of the world Outside-in, as a system of interrelated touchpoints that humans interact over time to achieve a goal

“What if” to “What could be”

Inside-out, as a series of business touchpoints that IR users and IT systems interact with to achieve a goal

“What is” to “What will be”

End-to-end End-to-end from user perspective

“I want to start a business, I need secure my company name”

End-to-end from within business

“Reserve Company Name process starts at entry to website”

Change domain Innovation – what could change to meet an opportunity or solve a problem, and the rationale behind the proposed change Change – What is required to deliver the change in response to the business problem/opportunity


What I don’t agree with in the article is mis-understanding (or mis-representing) design’s inherent multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach. It doesn’t (can’t) rely on lone geniuses to come up with and do everything. One of the keys to design process is that the designer facilitates it. They led different disciplines, different mind-sets, different experiences and have the skills and techniques to bring together those to encourage divergence or convergence in order to solve the problem.

Diversity of views, perspectives, opinions, experiences – this is the stuff design thinking draws on, what designers use to understand, filter, translate. Business people need to understand this, as do designers. Without this we may as well all buy in to Design for Lean Six Sigma. *shudder*

*Also, check out the Townplanning Analogy I did to illustrate how all the approaches fit together.
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