Design Thinging

There’s a problem at the core of Design Thinking.

It is driven by the idea that something will be made.

A thing.

Humans and tools

This is not surprising. Humans are quite proud of how tool making has taken them from the Veldt to cities.

However, this type of Design Thinking may not be appropriate now.

Preparing for the last war

A joke often made about the military is that the organise and prepare for the last war they fought not the next one.

Thus World War Two equipment was often designed to meet the needs of trench warfare. Or, for a modern example, new Royal Navy warships are having problems working in the hot Gulf as they were designed for cold North Atlantic conditions.

The Design Thinking bias of making of a thing is almost a flashback to the Industrial Revolution. A period of rampant manufacture of new inventions to meet actual and imagined needs.

That 19th Century drive to create a thing to fix a problem is the drive behind Design Thinking. Once you are in this system of thought and work management (like Waterfall and Agile), it is very difficult not to make a thing.

Social not stuff

The problem is this thing-oriented thinking is not necessarily helpful now.

As identities, intelligences and intents are smeared across places that are virtual/physical/digital, the problems are more about social meanings like trust and truth than things.

So maybe Design Thinking needs to really pay attention to thinking. The problems of ideas and philosophies – methods of thinking clearly not making quickly.


So how do you brake the drive to make a thing?

Meeting more people at the start of the process helps. Let them guide your awareness of both need and whether a thing is needed.

Read more about human behaviour. Not for the Dark Pattern/Nudge ideas but to explore how better social connection might be an answer. Not things, simply conversations.

Read some philosophy. I’d recommend Wendt’s Design for Dasein as one possibility. However, just start with Wikipedia. Just read the history of thought and how it has changed over the centuries.

Thinking & Design rather Design Thinging.



Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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Alastair Somerville

Alastair Somerville


Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX