Be The First To Know

Welcome aboard! We are thrilled to have you.
Uh oh, something went wrong. Try submitting the form again.

Eric Moore

Is design thinking just a sticky note ladened buzzword, or is it woefully misunderstood? If you are unsure what design thinking is (and whether it is a tool worth learning), this episode is for you.

Video Content

What is Design Thinking?

Eric Moore is a communication strategist and champion of design thinking. In this episode, he and Chris debate an eyebrow-raising talk from Natasha Jen called Design Thinking Is Bullsh*t.

For context, Natasha Jen is an acclaimed designer and partner at the renowned design studio, Pentagram. In her talk, Natasha criticizes the concept of design thinking, ultimately calling it B.S.

But is that true? Is design thinking just a sticky note ladened buzzword, or is it woefully misunderstood?

If you are unsure what design thinking is (and whether it is a tool worth learning), this episode is for you.

Sep 28

What is Design Thinking?

Is Design Thinking Bullsh*t?

Is Design Thinking Bullsh*t?

Eric Moore is a communication strategist and champion of design thinking. In this episode, he and Chris debate an eyebrow-raising talk from Natasha Jen called Design Thinking Is Bullsh*t.

For context, Natasha Jen is an acclaimed designer and partner at the renowned design studio, Pentagram. In her talk, Natasha criticizes the concept of design thinking, ultimately calling it B.S.

But is that true? Is design thinking just a sticky note ladened buzzword, or is it woefully misunderstood?

If you are unsure what design thinking is (and whether it is a tool worth learning), this episode is for you.

About
Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

Watch on
Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances
Categories
recommended reading
No items found.

Is Design Thinking Bullsh*t?

Episode Transcript

Eric:

Even the most experienced designers should not create solutions right away, meaning the obvious. We must approach the work slowly and through the lens of the people we serve. And design thinking is a useful tool to open up to people, non-designers, into their own creativity. What design thinking really says is, "We're designing for you." We are designing for them, not us, like the saying, it's not about you, it's about them.

Chris:

We're talking about design thinking. Obviously, you're a big proponent for design thinking. And there was this talk that I actually watched that was given by a Pentagram partner who said, "Design thinking is BS." And shots were fired. So why don't we start with that? In case people haven't watched that video, what were some of the main points that were being made? And then maybe we can go and unravel that, if you will.

Eric:

Yeah, shots fired, indeed. Why don't we do a quick intro?

Chris:

That probably makes more sense. Okay, Why don't you start?

Eric:

Well, hello, everybody. My name's Eric Moore. Sometimes you might see me online as The Design Thinker. And really what I am is the communication strategist who blends design thinking and non-violent communication to transform quiet leaders into influential storytellers. And before I get into it though, Chris, you are familiar with the design firm Pentagram, yes?

Chris:

Very familiar. They're held in high regard within design communities.

Eric:

Tell me more.

Chris:

Well, there's a handful of iconic designers, Paula Share, Michael Beirut, and others, who are name brand designers. And what I know about Pentagram is it's a collective of creatives operating under one giant moniker, but I think they run as independent shops. I don't know the business side of it, but they're highly regarded within the design community. They're thought leaders in the design space.

Eric:

Yeah, and that's pretty clear. And you've at least friendly with Paula. You've had her on your show [inaudible 00:02:18]-

Chris:

Yeah, I did.

Eric:

So the reason I'm asking this, Chris, is because a number of people have said to me when I've raised this story, they're like, Penta who? Pentagram." And with us in this world of design, we sort of scoff and we say, "What? You don't know Pentagram? You don't know Michael Beirut?"

They're like, "Oh, is that a city in Beirut?" And so I like to level set here, that for those of you who aren't familiar with Pentagram, they are genuinely an iconic design studio. But one of their principals, or partners rather, Natasha Jen, gave a presentation at Adobe's 99U conference in 2018. Now, in all fairness, I didn't know Natasha up until that point, but I was doing just a basic YouTube search on design leadership. And of course, Chris, you were on the list, but as I was scrolling through, this video came up that said, "Design thinking is BS."

And for some of you, if you've had the opportunity to watch the YouTube video, I'm sorry, this might be a little bit of a play-by-play, but that's the whole point, is that I thought that Natasha, as talented as a designer as she is, she got it wrong. And so that's really what I'm here to talk about; not necessarily to pick on Natasha, but a lot of her points or her perspectives is a lot of what I deal with almost on a daily basis when people ask me about my process. And when I say, "Oh, I use design thinking, here's kind of how it works," and they will often have similar responses to Natasha. So Chris, do you think that frames it up nicely or should we [inaudible 00:04:11]?

Chris:

Can you help me? Because I did watch, but I only watched it one time. She made several points, at least three to four points. Do you remember them well enough that we can just at least illuminate the audience in case they haven't watched it, haven't heard of Natasha nor Pentagram? What were some of the points that she made that triggered you so?

Eric:

Yeah, I have point by point. And I thought it would be fun if you actually played her role, but if you haven't [inaudible 00:04:35]-

Chris:

Why do you want to make me out to be the bad guy?

Eric:

Because you're the charming razor blade. We might as well put that to use here.

Chris:

All right. I could play it, but you know what though? Here's the thing that I notice. People of a certain age, and I don't want to say anything so broad like that, but some people are a little bit older, who have different understanding of what design is, and it's about the craft. And there's a whole process you have to respect. And it's about intuition and being messy, and all those kinds of things. They kind of bristle at this wave of web product design, UX, UI folks who don't have the same design pedigree, maybe have a more technical slant towards what they do. And they shun the Post-it notes, and they don't like to do all these big brainstorming meetings, because they have this process where they want to work by themselves. And I think it's a sign of the times.

And there's been a big shift, like probably '70s and '80s, or maybe it's more '70s, it's like the legends Paul Rand working as a solo practitioner, thinking and being philosophical about what he does, working at the highest levels. And that's an era that's kind of come and possibly have totally gone. And we can't return to that, right? Design and how we think and how we talk to each other and how we are more human-centered, and we're looking at how behavior and modifying or influencing behavior, totally different thing. Design has grown up, in my opinion. Design has come to include different areas of study like psychology, sociology, philosophy, and just the behavioral sciences, if you will. And so design, I think, is getting invited to be at the seat of the table of the important decision-makers. And so, there's sometimes a little resistance to what we don't understand. And so, we'll start to paint people who do certain things that we don't like in a very specific category in ways that devalues what they do. So that's my observation so far, Eric.

Eric:

And that's a good one. And it still exists today, at least in conversations that I have. But for Natasha, I almost think she takes on the air of, "Well, that's not real design. You don't work at Pentagram, like I do. You didn't go to RISD," or name your design school of choice. She almost has an air of elitism in the presentation. And Natasha, if you're listening, please don't send me hate mail. But I will be fair to Natasha, that video was in 2018. I've seen her since speak in other forms, and she's backpedaled a little bit, but I think some of her points are still something that she would stand behind today. So Chris, what I will do is I'll go point and counterpoint. And you feel free to back her up or back me up, whatever you feel is going to make the discussion flow.

Chris:

All right. Wonderful. So here we go. How many points are there, Eric?

Eric:

Seven.

Chris:

Seven, okay. Everybody fasten your seat belts.

Eric:

Eight.

Chris:

Eight?

Eric:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:07:43]-

Chris:

Okay. Yes, we have about eight points, which Eric and I are going to discuss. And I will give you my honest reaction and feelings about it. And hopefully, we can get to the bottom of this. Go ahead, Eric.

Eric:

Yeah, so point number one, Natasha suggests design thinking is problematic because it doesn't have a critique component to it, or what we would normally dub the crit, and that ideas just kind of flow out with no critical judgment or criticism. So I'm going to stop there, Chris. Would you hold that belief as well, from what you know of design thinking?

Chris:

I would not. That sounds like a false observation, because I think a big part of design thinking is there's an analytical part where we have to measure and we have to look at a goal that we're trying to solve. And if it doesn't hit that goal, then we have to make observations. So it sounds like we're going in evolutionary circles without ever checking against the result that we're supposed to get. So I don't fully understand where that comes from, but maybe I don't understand design thinking.

Eric:

Yeah, I would say in part she's actually right. But here's the thing, we don't bring umbrellas to a brainstorm. And design thinking asks you not to tamp down ideas with critique in the early stages of the design life cycle. Chris, I think I've seen a video of yours where you spend hours iterating over a logo, like you'll draw a square, then you slice it with a triangle, and maybe you put it in front of somebody. And then they put it in front of somebody. And then you come back. But you're not tamping down your ideas, you're not overly critical. You're just exploring the space. And I liken this approach to warming up before you exercise. However, once you warm up and you're in the flow of a brainstorm, you can slowly introduce critique as a way to enable your focus. And one of the great critique methods that I've learned about, at least in the design thinking space, and Chris, I know you've got some really valid points about critique that I'd like for you to add, is I actually do critiques with my clients, but we do it in a very specific way.

It's five minutes. And two minutes is for, in this case my client, if they have an idea that maybe they don't like my idea particularly well, and then say, "Eric, I've got something I'd like to propose." Great. Two minutes to tell me what the core idea is, two minutes to tell me why you think it'll succeed, and one minute why you think it will fail. And it opens up the dialogue there so that we're very specific on what we're to critique. And it's my duty at that point to not say, "Why didn't you do this, or why didn't you build that, or why didn't you suggest this?" I can only comment by asking "what" questions: "What led you to make this change? What do you think will make it valuable as we move into the next stage?" And so these are the types of critiques that I hold in these early stages. What do you think, Chris?

Chris:

So, it sounds to me almost quite literally the same as a traditional design versus design thinking, because in the act of creating, one of the hardest things that designers struggle with is they critique the idea before they even give it a chance to live. They're like, "I'm not going to explore that. It's not going to work. I'm not going to explore that." So they fall back on previous patterns of behavior, patterns to thinking and design, and they'll just do that. So one of the things, whenever I'm working with my design team or with my students in a traditional design space, is just allow the possibility for the idea to live before you go back in and kill it.

And so Eric, it sounds to me like they're exact parallels. There in the brainstorming phase, it's important for us to not prematurely end a particular exploration by prejudging it before it has an opportunity for you to put your thinking against it and say, "How could I make that idea work?" But when it comes to the whole, "Now we have to have a conversation with someone, we need to get feedback either from a manager or from a client," we do need to open that up for dialogue. I do like the structure which you're talking about, and so that it's not just saying, "What do you think," which is an open invitation to have your design murdered, but to structure it in a certain way. So I don't see much difference there, Eric.

Eric:

Yeah, fair. And it's not more or less us trying to have parity, but really trying to push back on Natasha's point that there is no critique here, but it's done at different phases. So that's point, counterpoint. Point two, and this is a funny one, I think she was just trying to get a laugh out of the audience, was that design thinking has been reduced to the sticky note. And so if that were true, design thinking would have been relegated to a simple task list: build the website, put some color on there, put the logo in the upper left, use a hamburger menu, on and on and on. And there's books like The Checklist Manifesto and apps like Todoist that all espouse the importance of a sticky note-like medium.

But here's what I would push back on a little bit, is that the sticky note is a valuable medium because it allows you to move things around quickly, particularly in those brainstorming sessions. One idea you had an hour ago may not be so hot. Then if that's the case, you can just move it to a different part of your screen or board. And another reason a sticky note or sticky notes are useful for designers is that it forces you to be succinct with your wording of that idea. There's not much space on that note for a reason. So you need to use it in order to make your ideas clear.

Chris:

I think the sticky note is an easy punching bag for many traditional designers who look at that like you can't get to refined place. But that is against the whole purpose of a sticky note. When you use limited real estate with crude tools, like a Sharpie, you're forced to communicate with economy. And I like that. And I like the impermanence of it, which allows all of us to try things. And again, that goes against the nature of creative people, which is to not put anything out for review until it's finally done. I'm starting to see a pattern here too, and correct me where I'm wrong on this, Eric, which is I think there's one camp that says there's a lot of value in the solo creation of a piece of work. And there's a different camp that says, "We're actually smarter together if we are able to capitalize on everyone, the collective intelligence of the room." Maybe I have that wrong, though.

Eric:

I hadn't thought of it. So are you tapping into the old saying that work as one, you move fast, but work together, you move smarter, or is that ... I don't quite recall the actual saying, but is that [inaudible 00:14:56]-

Chris:

Yeah, I think you butchered the saying.

Eric:

Totally butchered it.

Chris:

Yeah, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

Eric:

Yeah. Yeah, okay. Hadn't picked up on that, but let's go with it. Okay. And just to clarify, there's only really three major points here, but I'm going to dig into some of the nuance here to give Natasha her due, so that I'm not taking things out of context. And you keep me honest here. Okay, so the big major, the final third point here is that she suggests that design is an obvious choice. In the video, she shows an MRI machine in which it had been painted in sort of this cartoonish and childlike fashion.

The reason she brings that up is it is claimed that that was a result of design thinking, that a number of children were frightened to go into these MRI machines because they're bulky, they're massive. You can be claustrophobic, and they make lots of noise. And so the idea was using a form of design thinking methods, that you could come to some nice elegant solution that would ease the children's concern about going inside the MRI machine. And she said, as a result, all they did was paint these kiddy characters on there and make the room a little bit more cartoon-like. And she says, "Isn't that obvious?"

And this is what I push back on. The work may be obvious to her because she's an experienced designer, but her experience can be problematic. Here's what I mean by this. Even the most experienced designers should not create solutions right away, meaning the obvious. We must approach the work slowly and through the lens of the people we serve. Why that MRI machine was so successful is because actual children were involved. They actually had a say in the design, versus some fancy designer in a New York loft. And design thinking is a useful tool to open up to people, non-designers, into their own creativity. And back to the MRI, what design thinking really says is, "We're designing for you." We are designing for them, not us, like the saying, it's not about you, it's about them.

What I will agree with is that it does kind of seem like an obvious choice, but I always come back to, who are we actually serving, and they have a voice? Don't we as designers do market research, some form of research? Even if we come back to a common argument, which is I'll look at the North Face logo and be like, "Oh, I could have done that," or I look at the Visa logo or the MasterCard logo, it's just two circles smashed together. Well, there's a simplistic reason that we got to that. And usually, it's some type of research that says, keep it simple, keep it clean, maybe sometimes keep it obvious. Chris, what do you think?

Chris:

It's an interesting thing about how human beings behave, that we select the one thing that makes our point, so there's a lot of confirmation bias going on. And I think it was also done to continue to take jabs that any self-respecting designer would've come up with this solution. It doesn't take 17 sticky notes and four meetings with clients to figure this stuff out. But here's the thing about elegant solutions. Most good solutions that are elegant appear to be obvious once it's been conceived. Otherwise, it probably isn't a great solution ... because the design process about only including what is necessary and getting rid of all the things that confuse people, that make it more complicated. And so, that's why it becomes obvious, right?

So whenever you hear a great idea, whether it's a conceptual illustration or an idea for an app or a product, what is your first reaction to that, when you hear a great idea? It's like, "Ah, I had that idea," or, "Oh, that's great solution. Of course." It's, "Of course." And so, you can point to anything and say, "Of course." So even Natasha's partner at Pentagram, Paula Scher, came up with this beautiful logo for the Highline, which is an H that looks like a railroad track, obviously. But if you went and took that approach afterwards and said, "Well, anybody can do that," well, then you are discounting the decades' worth of experience that Paula has at reducing a problem to its core and communicating that in its most efficient manner.

Many years ago, I learned about the OXO company, the Good Grips company, OXO. And they were talking about a carrot peeler or potato peeler. And their products are designed for people who have issues with arthritis, or the elderly. So they've tried to design very ergonomic tools in the kitchen, and so they had tried many different ways of improving the potato/carrot peeler. And it wasn't until they happened upon a bicycle hand grip, a rubber bicycle hand grip that they're like, "Wow, this is something a lot of people grab, and it doesn't create a problem." And so they very crudely took a bicycle rubber grip and smashed it together to create the first prototype, and they were on to something.

Now, if you were to walk up in the store at Bed Bath & Beyond or whatever, and like, "Oh, this feels really comfortable, duh, so obvious," yeah, but a lot of thinking and innovation and asking questions and not just jumping to the obvious solution was at play there. And OXO is one of those brands that I love, for that reason. So discounting something because you think it's obvious, that is a compliment. It's not a criticism.

Eric:

That's a wonderful story. And they're a firm believer in design thinking. But that's the curious thing. You kind of bolster my point even further insofar as Natasha should know better. If someone came up to her and said, "Oh, Natasha, your design, it's so obvious," she would go ballistic.

She'd be like, "Do you know what I had to do to get to this point? And look at the market, it's responding. They love my logo that I designed for you," or who's ever the contrarian here. So those were the three main points. But let's back up a little bit. Part of what she was also saying, which I thought was a little flip, she says that if you do a Google search on design thinking, it teaches non-designers to be designers, in so far as you just look at these five hexagons, and boom, voila, that's it. You know how to design. And there was a commentary in there where she was saying, "Look, real designers design. It's messy." She said, "Look at Charles and Ray Eames. You don't see any sticky notes in this picture of them working together." And she flashes up an image of the lovely couple posing in front of their furniture work. Then she flashes an image to Steve Jobs. She's like, "See, there's no sticky notes, there's nothing linear here. His office is a mess. It's creativity. It's all over the place."

And I'm almost screaming at my TV saying, "Yeah, that's exactly what design thinking is. It's messy." But there are blocks, there are these hexagons, if you will. There's circles that can give the outsider perspective, "This is kind of what happens in design." And it's important. And it's not [inaudible 00:22:36] a bunch of artists wearing smocks and rolling out in the dirt until we get some brilliant idea. No, it's hard work. We're thinking, we're interacting, we're collaborating. And so she tries to minimize it to the Stanford D School model of the five hexagons.

And so if for you are just searching and just new to design thinking and you're seeing these hexagons, it is not a linear process. It's just a way to articulate how design works. Now, Chris, I imagine you've seen these five hexagons. While the language in them might not fit squarely in your process, would you say that they're directionally close to the way you work in your process?

Chris:

I think they're very similar, and I don't think ... See, so this is, again, I think that's one school of thought to say, "You can't codify, you can't create frameworks around true creativity." And that's how many of my students think. And so whenever you see a framework like design thinking, that school of thought goes against it, right? And so here's something that I used to do. So I used to teach main title design, and my students struggled with it so much. And I felt their pain. For somebody like me, it's fairly obvious what you need to do. So I had to really go in there and figure out, how can I make this process simpler so that more students who want to design main titles for a living can have greater amounts of success? And then after a little bit of research, I found that there were literally seven formulas for every movie that's ever been made.

And you're like, "That's not possible." Well, all you have to do is test it. So what we did was we explained each of the seven themes for movies, and I said, "Pick a random movie, and let's see if it fits within one of these seven." And to their shock, it fit, for the most part; not 100% like a glove, but like 85%, it fit that story. Because Hollywood, as many of you know, is one of the most formulaic industries in the world. And once you see the framework, you can start to understand and appreciate movies in the structure much better. Movies that we don't like tend to break the formula. And they get relegated to indie films that only a small handful of people watch. They're avant guard, they're experimental art films.

And so to be able to say, "Someone has sat down and thought about more or less five critical stages of how you take an idea and you kind of push it through," I think that helps people, because within the boundaries, it allows us to focus our energy and our effort; not to say that this is a bulletproof way that any non-designer can approach a problem and have great success. That's not the point of it. It's just to help you be a better version of what it is that you're doing. And if you have no talent, you have no empathy, you have no ability to observe and to use imagination, well, frameworks are not ... You're not going to get any better.

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

Now, a word from our sponsor, BetterHelp . Life is filled with obstacles. And it can be tough to train your mind to stay in problem-solving mode all the time, especially when you feel overwhelmed by one of life's challenges. But you can learn to find your own solutions. And a therapist can help you become a better problem-solver, making it easier to accomplish your goals, no matter how big or small. I think everyone would benefit from some kind of therapy, because it's important to have someone in your life that you can speak freely with and trust that they'll give you the honesty and support that you need. So if you're thinking of giving therapy a try, BetterHelp is a great place to start. It's convenient, accessible, affordable, and entirely online. Get matched with a therapist after filling out a brief survey, and switch therapists anytime you'd like. When you want to be a better problem solver, therapy can get you there. Visit BetterHelp.com/future today to get 10% off your first month. That's betterhelp.com/future.

The Futur with Chris Do is supported by First Republic Bank. It's no secret that strong, long-term relationships are the key to your general health and wellbeing. First Republic believes they're also key to your financial health and wellbeing. That's why every client gets a personal banker to serve as their guide, confidant, and single point of contact. This is no one-time transactional situation. It's a true partnership you can count on for years to come. In fact, seven out of 10 First Republic bankers have been with the bank for over 10 years. Ready to discover what a long term financial relationship can do for you? Visit first republic.com today to learn more, that's first republic.com. Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender.

Thank you to Wix for sponsoring this episode. Let's chat about the next move for your business. Professionals around the globe are utilizing Wix's complete ecosystem to create, manage and grow their clients' businesses online. Wix's infrastructure is trusted for performance, reliability and security, plus limitless creation capabilities and robust business solutions. Meet any client's needs with complete coding and design freedom, and build responsive sites with industry-specific solutions like bookings, reservations and payments. Every website is backed by enterprise level security and includes a complete tool set of powerful SEO features, so you can deliver complex, high-performing digital experiences of any size. Plus with tools for your own business, you can manage everything, client and team collaboration, customer management, client billing, analytics, all from one dashboard. And when it comes to reaching your goals, a success manager is committed to your success, making sure you have the resources you need. So see why web professionals around the world are choosing Wix. Head over to wix.com/partners.

Welcome back to our conversation.

Eric:

If you identify as a designer, it's so critical to have a process not only for yourself, but to really convince clients to hire you. I mean, that's the real magic for my career, is I struggled for the longest time to show what my process was, because I figured, at the time in early in my career, I was like a video editor. And I'd just sit down, I'm like, "Nah, it'll come to me. Just let me edit the video."

And the client would be like, "No. You need to have a tone, you need to have some sense of direction. Sorry, you're not going to get hired." So design thinking has been one brilliant way that I have seen to help many like myself, who consider themselves as a designer or a creative, really start to create these guardrails. And clients just love process. You don't have to unpack every little detail and say, "Okay, on day two, I'm going to do this exact thing," but as long as they know you're leading towards something and you're staying within the process, it gives them what I like to call warm fuzzies. They don't feel like you're going off and doing something, as Chris says, that's avant garde.

So to that end, let's talk about some things that I would agree with Natasha on. And that is Natasha puts out in the world that design is intuition and messy. And just like I've fessed up here, I've leaned into my own intuition and messiness. And I think we can all agree, here's what I think Natasha's really tapping into. She's probably doing design thinking already. She just doesn't know it, or just hasn't given it that name.

I use a method like rose, thorn, bud and affinity clusters as common design thinking processes, really just to capture what I like about a particular project, what I find challenging, and where do I see opportunities, and then how do I map that? How do I categorize that so that I can come up with a design brief: "Hey, client. You came to me. You want me to reimagine your brand identity, or you want me to come up with a whole set of new collateral. Well, let's talk about what's working today. What elements do we want to keep? What are problematic? And where are some ideas that maybe you've had in the past that you just didn't surface?"

That's design thinking. Yes, you can give it another name, but that's one of the very powerful methods within it. And I can imagine, not having met Natasha, that she probably has these similar conversations with her clients. And I would agree with her; design thinking is a buzzword. And I think we can tap into that a little bit. But that's her problem, and basis of the talk. She's reacting to the buzzword. So I want to stop there just a little bit. And Chris, have you ever viewed design thinking as a buzzword or something you would never utter in a professional conversation with your clients?

Chris:

No, I haven't. I believe it to be a buzzword, but I don't ... because it's a trending thing that there's a lot of interest in, just like if you were to say AI or machine learning, people wake up, or NFTs or crypto or blockchain or something like that. It's just because there's a lot of attention on it right now. So design thinking, to me, I haven't used it in those ways that you're asking about.

Eric:

Yeah. And so she digs into this, and I think this is where she and I would probably agree 100%, is that, "Yeah, it's buzz-worthy." And she really tapped into corporate speak or jargon. I'm blasted with corporate speak every day, so I get it. It's terms like, "Oh, let's connect in a head-to-head or in a retrospective, or let's have a debrief on the work stream X, Y and Z." So a lot of that, I get it's shorthand for the language of work. What I will say is design thinking has helped me in creating a shared language among what I would say non-designers and designers. There's just a lot of interesting language that can ruin a project. And what I found design thinking can do is have a bridge for useful language from designers to non-designers.

And so I will just peel back the sheet on that a little bit or the covers and say, "Yeah, let's figure out what the right language is."If you don't like me using the term affinity clusters, let's just call them themes or categories. Some people create personas or journey maps. Why don't we just call them customer bio, or what they do when they buy something? There's some of these terms that we can leave behind, as a way to progress.

Okay. So I like Natasha Jen's point that the model has not been updated in a while, the Stanford D School of Design, the hexagons. I think they've since updated with a final block hexagon called Assess. And IBM has their version. And I know SAP has their version. But essentially, what I think she's asking for is critique. And I think Assess has been added. So kudos for her for getting that.

And also agree with Natasha that most design thinkers sound ... they're starting to sound more corporate. And I've already talked about that. But I would say I think that's where you as designers can really start to build yourselves up as a strategist or as an advisor, because sometimes you're just going to have to speak the business language. You're probably going to hear things like, "Well, all right, Chris, I'm glad you're going to design this for me, but what's the ROI on that? And before we dig into this project, Chris, can you give me a cost-benefit analysis? And I need you to be within a margin error of margin, 2% to 3%." So I'm going to stop there and say, Chris, what do you think? Does Natasha have some points that we should agree with?

Chris:

Absolutely. I mean, obviously, she wouldn't be a Pentagram partner if she wasn't worthy of that title or that position. So I'm not sure how else I can talk about that part. But the one thing I wanted to circle back to, Eric, was about this whole creativity as a messy process. Now I will say this, this might be controversial for some, I believe it's messy because we don't understand our own process, and we're kind of wandering through the forest to try to arrive at the same place because we have yet to figure out how we come up with stuff. So we'll give the moment to a higher power or when inspiration strikes, or whatever the explanation is.

But my theory is this, is that the people who are consistently able to make hit after hit, whether it's musicians, or artists who put oil on canvas, or graphic designers, they have some sense, even if it's totally intuitive, of what they do. And they go through a very specific process. I think what's happening, which is what scares a lot of people today, is that when developers, people who write software, start to break down the decision-making process of human and they're able to replicate certain results, people get really scared by that. This kind of natural, logical, contextual-based thinking scares people.

And so I remember one time sitting at Emmy's title design peer group, I said, "All main titles are very formulaic. And there's a formula for you to create great titles and a formula for you to create really bad titles." And I could tell people were really hurt by that. Just like maybe the way that you were triggered, they were triggered, because I think it's more comforting for a lot of us to believe that our process is so unique, and it's from divine powers that we're able to come up with what we come up with. But it's just because we haven't examined enough of our own process.

Think about Google and its predictive algorithm, where you're not even done typing, it's like, "You mean this, this or that?" How does it know this about us, and even when we spell things incorrectly or we're just remotely close to it? It's because it understands how we think and how we process information. And if you study people enough, you will see that perhaps humans are organic computers.

And so, I have no issues with frameworks. In fact, I find that it is quite empowering and liberating and comforting to lots of people when they say, "If you want to tell a better story, here's the three components you need. If you want to be a better conceptual designer and thinker, here are two things that you need to know," versus, "I'll know when I see it," or just grab it from the heavens and put it down on the page. That is not comforting to a lot of people. And I'm not quite sure why we have to embrace this idea that it's a totally messy, magical, archaic process. It's just we're refusing to try to examine our own thinking to create a system or process so that we can have predictable and repeatable results.

Eric:

Yeah, I love that. That's really what it comes down to, is yeah, you can embrace intuition and messy, but at some point it's going to fail you, and pretty badly. One thing I do want to push back on you a little bit, Chris, that comment you made about, "Well, Natasha must be doing something right if she's at Pentagram." And I always bristle at comments like that. Yeah, that's great. She could be a really brilliant designer, but she could still be wrong, and that's okay. I'm not going to call her up and read her the riot act or try to attack her on social media.

But what I'm really trying to do here is just do two things, one of which is I was not expecting this from someone like Natasha Jen, who respects the creative process, which clearly she has one, because her work is doing really well. But I feel like I'm getting it from both sides now, both my creative brethren and the corporate, whom we might consider the stiffs or the C-suite or the analytic thinkers. And so I really wanted to take a moment and say, "Look, this is really a well-formed process that, to Chris's point, yes, it's been around for a while, like in Hollywood, there's these seven formulas." And this thing has been kicked around and tested since the late 1950s.

And it's my belief that we're just getting started as a way of being transformative and transforming a lot of you that I see here in this audience from being just a designer to being the designer, the lead designer. You're at the seat at the table and you're having these conversations. And you're doing so in such a way where you feel empowered to ... I don't want to say be combative. That's not the right word. But Chris teaches a lot about sales objection handling, which might be a fun thing to do at some point between you and I, Chris, where you raise an objection and then I try to handle it as smoothly as you. But that's really what this conversation's about, is try to take on all those slings and arrows that you get about your work, and come up with the language in which you can defend yourself and say why it's so powerful.

Chris:

Now, I did find in a few seconds the seven plot types in movies, Eric.

Eric:

Okay, go for it.

Chris:

Do you want to know what they are?

Eric:

Yeah, please.

Chris:

All right, here we go. So without too much explanation, there's the quest, which is like the holy grail; the man hunt, which is overcoming the monster; the metamorphosis, which is the rags to richest story; the voyage and return; the comedy, which is a natural barrier; the tragedy is where the villain dies; and the rebirth is a story of redemption. And so I could read it to you, and then you could start to categorize what movies fit into one of the seven plot types in movies. But pretty much every single movie fits in within one of these seven.

Eric:

Yeah, I think the best distillation of movies came from a movie I saw many years ago called The Player, in which one of the main characters says, "Oh, movies these days, they're only about a chase or a death." And I thought, "Oh, okay, that seems to sum up a lot of the good selling movies lately." I don't know, what do you think?

Chris:

Yeah, some people reduce it down to things like a stranger comes to town, and then the story begins. And so some people say there's only two movie types or two story types. But I think within the seven, we can pretty much capture most of the movies that we see. Daniel, you have the mic first. Please keep whatever it is that you want to ask or say fairly succinct. Go ahead.

Daniel:

Hi, Chris and Eric. Thanks so much for your time and insight. I wanted to maybe raise something and see what you guys think about it. I think another thing that the design thinking process does is that it allows other stakeholders into the conversation, because I've recently been going into design, and often find designers quite closed off. And it's like this hero mentality, that "I know what I'm talking about." And I think the design process, because of the low fidelity nature of a lot of it, it allows people to sort of give their feedback early on, whereas if you present them with a finished product, they can't really say, "Can you redo the whole thing?" They're less likely to do that. But if you sort bring them in along the process, they're more likely to give their input.

Eric:

Yeah. So, I'll respond to that, if that's all right, Chris? And Daniel, thanks for sharing. Yeah, I think that was part of one of the commentary I was making with the MRI machine, which is you had healthcare providers, you had the children themselves as the stakeholders leaning into it. But you also uncover another important piece, which is this idea of minimal viable product, like just get something down on paper, take a couple of sticky notes, maybe do some origami to represent the thing that you want, versus spending a ton of money and time just to make this big reveal at the end, and your client goes, "Yeah, I don't like it," or, "That's totally unusable. You wasted all this time." What do you think, is Daniel onto something there, Chris, as well?

Chris:

I do like this concept that, again, it's the shift from designer being solitary worker, creative genius, to being more democratic, incorporating more into the process. And so I think that's where some of the resistance comes from. But this is something I've personally gone through in my own journey, the process of inviting clients in on the entire creative process for as much as we can both handle. And I find that it creates an atmosphere where there's greater collaboration, less unnecessary revisions, and generally a much better product that achieves the goal that we set out to achieve together.

Eric:

Yeah. And I think one of the things that can make this more real for you, since I don't want you to feel left out, Chris, if we're geeking out too much, but you talk about this frequently, it was a minimal viable audience, in the very same spirit of the MVP.

Chris:

Yeah, I love the MVP.

Daniel:

My experience, and also to not be geeking too much about design thinking, my experience with designers often, and I think ... is it Natasha? She's got this air, like she knows everything, and, "How dare you question me?" And I think the design thinking sort of brings a more human aspect to it, and that's something that I've been enjoying about design thinking. But yeah, thank you so much.

Chris:

Yeah, the one thing I wanted to add to this is that certain design luminaries don't like the MVP concept because they're like, "When does it ever get out of the MVP? So basically we're just pushing out junk into the world, that maybe there's time for us to do something really refined and beautiful so that we can get it off on the right foot, so to speak." But I think, again, it's one of these things where we have a traditional way of working and we don't like the way that it seems to be heading. And the critique is everything looks the same, it's just starting to feel like one giant template. Maybe that's just based on the data points in which you have to observe. But maybe we're not looking at the examples where it's really working well.

And I love this concept of MVP because it means that we don't over-commit resources and energy. We don't fall in love with the things that we're making and become biased cognitively towards the things that we are doing, so that we're more open to solutions that we couldn't have thought of in the first place. So MVP is a way I would build businesses, the way I would solve client problems. Let's [inaudible 00:46:57] test it. Let's prove it before we spend too much time and energy against it.

Eric:

Just real quick, just to follow up, I have a perfect example of that, this notion of, "Let's make something elegant." Great, love it. But look at the Philippe Starck orange juicer. It's completely useless. I mean, it's an artifact. Yes, it's great and it's from Philippe Starck, but if you try to actually juice an orange on it, it goes nowhere. It's like you try to put a cup over it, it's not the right height for cups. Sometimes it'll teeter if you put too much pressure. And I suspect Philippe sat in there in his den or wherever he creates and said, "I'm going to make this elegant," but it's not functional. And I think for a lot of the designers out there, we want to create something that's both elegant and functional. And that's what I think the power of the MVP is.

Chris:

Thank you very much, Daniel.

Ying:

Hi, Chris and Eric. I have a question, because actually I am a formally trained designer, moved into design thinking and Design Sprint now because I thought the designs that I make weren't strategic enough, or actually I had big thoughts about it. So that's the reason why I moved up in the Design Sprint phases. And now as a facilitator, what I notice is when I talk to clients that are in the public governmental agencies, and I call them the policy makers, I call them the report writers, and I try to explain a Design Sprint to them, and the benefit, they look at me like I'm selling a pineapple to a person living on a North Pole. They go like, "What's in it for me? It's so sharp and messy and hard. You say it's juicy and sweet inside, but I just don't see it." So you talked about sales just now, Eric. How do you sell a Design Sprint or the design process to a policymaker?

Eric:

Oh, that's sharp and spiky, and I like it. No, I have not worked directly with a government agency in design thinking, but I know someone who has. In fact, they worked in the Obama administration. I don't know exactly quite how they sold it, but I'll give you just some high level points. I would say back to the person, "Hey, politics is spiky and juicy and sweet and terrible all at the same time. So why not use a process that emulates that and gets into that and opens it up for conversation?"

Here's what I mean. The story that I had heard about at the Obama administration, it was more about infrastructure. And the two sides, left and right, we'll just say Republican versus Democrat, at that time they were really heavily debating where should they spend the money. And the gentleman I worked with said, "I have the idea. Send them off on a separate room and they write out what we call a how might we." These are just "how might we" statements: how might we fix bridges across the US within the next 15 years without going over budget, as an example, or how might we fix several arterials in major cities staying within a certain budget?

So they were asked these policymakers to be separate in different rooms, because they knew they would be cantankerous and fighting and all of the things that you mentioned. Then what the facilitator did was took those separate note cards of those how might wes, and put them up on a board. Nobody's name was on it. No one knew, arguably, anybody's handwriting, so they couldn't make it out. Then they separately asked the left to come in and look at everything, and then they asked the right side to come in and look at everything that was posted. And the lovely little artifact, or byproduct of that is almost everybody agreed on what to solve for.

It's only if you can remove the people who are going to be making those suggestions, that brainstorming element, have them separate and post them up. And it's only afterwards that you say, "Hey, actually, you on the left, you actually see the same as on the right." Now, I'm not trying to get too political, but that's one of the byproducts that I try to sell a lot of my clients, is that you can get to alignment, you can remove biases if it's done in the right way. And it does take time and it does take a really strong facilitator, but that's one of the strongest selling points I can give you.

Ying:

Yeah, actually, that would actually [inaudible 00:51:53] to allow me already to be in the room. So how do I get in the room in the first place, then?

Eric:

Oh, I think that's a much longer conversation.

Ying:

Thank you.

Eric:

Yes, thank you.

Chris:

All right, Eric. Thank you, Ying, for asking that question, and for Daniel earlier for stepping up. I would not blame Natasha for doing what she does, because maybe she's fed up with all this nonsense corporate speak and a bunch of wannabe creatives calling themselves designers.

Eric:

Totally.

Chris:

And it may offend her as much as her video might have offended others. So it was her opportunity to speak out about it and push back and to say, "We have to have a deeper conversation," which I'm always for. I also like spicy topics. So it was nice for you to go point by point and provide some counterpoint where you disagreed and also to echo certain sentiments that you fully agree with. So I thought that was really nice. Eric, what are your final thoughts?

Eric:

Yeah, and just to be clear, if you haven't heard me speak before, you haven't met me, I'm not a troll. I'm not out looking to attack Natasha. I was only triggered because I just thought she got some things patently wrong. And I will admit she got a lot of things right. But let's just wrap up the three points.

Number one, she just believes it's problematic because there's no element of critique. I think we've demonstrated that there is elements of critique. Number two, design thinking has been relegated to the sticky note. Sure, I'll grant you some of that, but there's so much power in the sticky note. The last point is that design is obvious. You don't need a process to do it, which is a real big trigger point for me, and I think for you, Chris; not maybe so much a trigger point, but like you said, if you keep going into the forest and you don't know how to get out, in terms of the metaphor of designing, and you don't have a process, you're going to find yourself in big, big trouble. And so what might be obvious to Natasha may take someone like me a little bit longer because I have a process.

Chris:

And to end on one final note, which is Blair Enns, a person I look up to in terms of his thinking, he says it this way, "Low variance in process equals low variance in outcomes." So when you're trying to sell something to a client, if you don't have a process and the process is so different from one project to the next, you're asking them to have a leap of faith, and you're introducing risk. And risk is the thing that gets in the way between you and the customer. So whatever you can do, try to think about your own process. You don't have to follow the five-step framework or six-step now of design thinking. Just think about how you generate ideas. And if you can replicate that consistently over time, you can do yourself a big favor, and you're probably not going to stress out as much as you might have in the past. So on that note, everybody, take care, and I'll see you on the flip side.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app, and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sandborn for our intro music.

If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission, and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

Podcast