Creativity is messy

In business environments governed by processes and driven to increase efficiency,
how do you reconcile unpredictability and allow in emotion, subjectivity and failure in search of innovation?

One way is Design Thinking, created in Stanford Uni, popularised by agencies such as IDEO and sold into boardrooms in the early 90s as a panacea to solve all businesses problems though the 5 steps of: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. This process of ‘human-centric’, ‘user experience design’ has made the design process appear more visible and accountable—for design to become more predictable. It has given confidence to young designers learning the practice and enabled us to innovate at a greater rate. It has seeped out of the design studio and into boardrooms and institutions where design thinking is now used in environments not set up for rapid prototyping and experimentation.

But this linear and jargon filled process can act as a barrier between relevant problem solving and the end user. By eulogising the roll of the designer, removing responsibility through the creation of rote and creating an almost cult like sense of elitism within the practitioners of Design Thinking leading to in often useless and sometime harmful results.

It has been sold into process and efficiency obsessed boardrooms as a way to wrangle the unruly creative beast and ultimately tame it to produce predictable, replicable innovations that are by their nature irreplicable. Innovation comes when the status quo is broken, when rules are not adhered to and, truly, when new materials and technologies are discovered.

Design Thinking often acts to sterilise and homogenise creativity. Producing benign, results that reflect the designer class and not the end users needs or community needs. As design writer, editor and researcher Helen Walters puts it, “Design doesn’t — shouldn’t — live in a bubble ”.

All this being said there is a place for design thinking in a designers tool belt. It is a very useful tool for solving specific problems, but should not be seen as a one size fits all approach. Reality is too complicated for that.

In reality, design can be a messy, difficult, potentially long term and somewhat unpredictable process that needs to encompass everyone involved from the beginning. To mitigate those risks we need to rely more on creative talent rather than on a process. We need to nurture and harness all talent whether it’s professional talent or talent latent in every individual and boardroom.



By Oscar Park, Creative Partner