The Biggest Misconceptions about Design Thinking

26 May 2023
26 May 2023 Martin Cheetham

Design thinking has been around for a long time and many leading brands have used this methodology in their businesses such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Nike, Amazon and GE. Design thinking is also being taught at leading universities worldwide, including Stanford, D.School, Harvard, and MIT.

In spite of its popularity and effectiveness, design thinking is still often misunderstood and we often encounter these four misconceptions:


1. That design thinking is a one-size-fits-all approach:
One of the biggest misconceptions around design thinking is that you can just have a solid end-to-end process that can be utilised exactly the same way every single time when it can’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You’ve got this whole toolbox of things that you are pulling items from, but the underlying principle that runs underneath it is this: empathy

2. What the “design” element in design thinking means:
This is a common one, the misunderstanding of what design is. People hear the word design and they think it’s graphic design or they think it’s making artwork or making visually appealing images.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs.

And hearing the term design thinking invokes the thought, “Okay, that’s about the aesthetics, what it looks like” but it’s not. It’s how it (a product or service) works and more importantly, it’s how it makes you feel when you are using it.

3. That design thinking is only for creative people:
Firstly, that’s a fallacy. Anybody can be (and is) creative. It gets beaten out of you over time but it’s in there and so many people end up saying “Oh but I’m not creative” and that’s absolute nonsense. Every single human being is creative. It’s just the degree to which you have suppressed it.

There is a fantastic talk by Ken Robinson on how creativity is killed by our schooling system. It’s incredibly insightful (and funny as well) – it will be a good use of 20mins, I promise: Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson

4. That the research conducted in the design thinking process is too expensive and time-consuming:
I hear often in big corporates that people are having to convince the C-suite execs that research is important. And often fail. The business feels like it’s going to cost more or it’s going to take longer and; therefore, we shouldn’t be doing it. However, what they don’t realise is that it’s actually going to cost them a lot more in the long run if they don’t do it.

Ultimately, design thinking is an amazing toolbox that can be used to solve complex problems in a variety of businesses and contexts. Everyone can contribute to a design thinking process and we not only use it to create impactful products, services and experiences for our clients and their employees, but we use it internally at Tenaka to solve our own challenges as well.