Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic in Design Thinking

Jared M. Spool
7 min readJan 24, 2017

When the term Design Thinking first emerged on the scene, I found it completely puzzling. People were treating it as if it was a revolutionary new methodology to produce better products and services. They were talking about how entire companies were adopting this new approach, and those companies were becoming more competitive in the marketplace and seeing huge increases in customer satisfaction.

Now, every few years, someone touts some new approach or method that’s going to change the world. It’s part of how consultants make money. Brand an idea and sell it. Make a ton of money until the next big thing comes around. So, I’m used to these cycles by now.

Yet, Design Thinking was in my own backyard. It’s supposed to be a shift in how companies think about design, and that’s where I’ve been working for the last 37 years. I needed to find out more about what it was.

Did we need a new term?

It wasn’t hard to find people excited about Design Thinking. They were popping up in lots of organizations.

Yet, when I asked them what they thought it meant, their answer puzzled me. They told me it was a new approach to design, focusing on problem solving with multidisciplinary teams, producing competitive end-to-end solutions that delight customers, users, and employees.

Problem solving? Multidisciplinary teams? End-to-end solutions? Delighting users? I’d been researching and writing about integrating these elements for decades. What’s new here?

“Well, our senior managers are really excited about design thinking. Much more than any time before. That’s what’s new!” they’d tell me.

For the longest time, I didn’t get it. It seemed like we just added a new name to an old thing. Nothing was different. I thought it wouldn’t last.

But it did. Everywhere I’d go, there would be presentations where folks would talk about how they’ve introduced design thinking into their organization. (My wife and I would play this game. If we hear someone say “design thinking” in a presentation, we’d each try to be the first to say “I’M DESIGNING WITH MY THOUGHTS!”)

Jared M. Spool

Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre - UIE. Helping designers everywhere help their organizations deliver well-designed products and services.