10 design thinking myths debunked

Don't choose the design thinking approach for the wrong reasons, or begin with unrealistic expectations
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Design thinking continues to gain popularity with IT leaders seeking to innovate. But since the early days for this trend, misunderstandings about design thinking have persisted. In order to best assess design thinking’s potential for the IT organization and integrate it into IT processes, CIOs first should get clear about what it is and isn’t, what it requires or doesn’t, and what it can or can’t do.

[ Researching design thinking? Read our related article, Design thinking: 7 questions to ask before you start. ]

Here are some of the most common myths about design thinking IT leaders should disabuse themselves of as they explore the approach and its potential benefits.

1. Myth: Design thinking is only for creating new products

[TEP_CALLOUT_TEXT_RIGHT:IT leaders who assume that they can apply design thinking only to greenfield situations are missing out on significant opportunities.]

This remains one of the biggest design thinking myths – one that forward-looking IT organizations are quickly disproving. “Design thinking can be applied for services, processes, strategies, scenario development, and project roadmapping sessions as well. It can be used wherever there is a need to find innovative solutions,” says Yugal Joshi, vice president at Everest Group. IT leaders who assume that they can apply design thinking only to greenfield situations are missing out on significant opportunities to rethink existing processes and solutions. Some 70 percent of innovation happens in redesigning value chains and using information smartly to drive operational excellence, says Prashant Kelker, partner with ISG’s digital solutions group.

2. Myth: Design thinking is only for creative types

In fact, tools like empathy maps, brainstorming, sketching, paper prototyping, and simulations make it easy for non-designers to use design thinking, says Joshi. “Being creative can be inspired through the techniques used in design thinking,” adds Shawn Fields, vice president of digital innovation with managed services provider CompuCom.

3. Myth: Design thinking increases the risk of failure

By encouraging teams to create a minimum viable product and add features based on user feedback, the design thinking approach actually weeds out failures more effectively. IT leaders who don’t understand that are limiting their design thinking efforts. “Fearful enterprises are always cautious of adopting design thinking wholeheartedly,” says Joshi, “and their piecemeal initiatives end up benefiting no one.”

4. Myth: Design thinking requires an innovation lab

[TEP_CALLOUT_TEXT_RIGHT:"Limiting design thinking to a lab is nothing more than innovation theater."]

Many large companies are trying to become more like startups, with some IT organizations creating innovation labs. However, “limiting design thinking to a lab is nothing more than innovation theater,” Kelker says. “Ideas that have been created using design thinking in these labs fail the litmus test when they are brought back into the organization. Design thinking should be a skill that permeates the entire organization.”

[ Veteran CIO Anil Cheriyan shares his innovation formula. Read our article: 3 keys to innovation: Collaboration, architecture, and culture ]

5. Myth: Design thinking can't be used in partnerships

In today’s hyper-connected economy, business value is increasingly generated through ecosystems. Design thinking can be used among partners as well. “Organizations, unfortunately, do not often use design thinking in collaboration with their partners, leveraging the combined creativity, expertise, and capabilities each partner brings to the table,” says Kelker. “Organizations should embrace a collaborative approach to generating ideas. Policies and principles for co-creation of intellectual property, combined with gain-share mechanisms, prove very useful to bring ideas to life.”

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.


Hi Stephanie,

Such an informative article you have shared, keep up the good work.

Moving further, some designer also have the myth that using app prototyping tools will be too expensive but in reality it is not. App prototyping tools like Savahapp actually help in building the prototypes with ease in budget.

Hope this myth will also be a good addition to your article.

All the best!

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