Why Design Thinking Is a Controversial Topic

Design thinking is a contentious subject due to its non-traditional approach, lack of concrete results, and resistance from traditional management practices.


Design thinking has gained significant attention in recent years as a highly effective problem-solving approach. Rooted in the belief that understanding and empathizing with users’ needs is essential, design thinking takes a non-traditional approach to problem-solving. However, despite its growing popularity, design thinking remains a controversial topic for many. In this blog post, we will explore why design thinking is met with skepticism and resistance in some circles.

As a problem-solving approach, design thinking encourages organizations to adopt a non-traditional mindset. It focuses on understanding the needs of users and stakeholders, collaborating across different disciplines, and iterating on solutions through ongoing experimentation. By incorporating these aspects into the problem-solving process, design thinking challenges the more linear and analytical approaches traditionally used.

The non-traditional techniques employed by design thinking can be seen as disruptive and unnecessary by those who prefer more traditional methods. Some argue that there is a lack of concrete results and tangible outcomes when using design thinking. Critics claim that it is difficult to measure the impact and value of design thinking initiatives, as they prioritize learning and experimentation over immediate, quantifiable results.

Furthermore, design thinking confronts established management practices and hierarchical decision-making structures. It empowers individuals at all levels of an organization to contribute and make decisions, which can create resistance from managers who are accustomed to maintaining control and authority. The clash between the democratic approach of design thinking and traditional corporate cultures can lead to skepticism and pushback.

Despite the controversies, there have been numerous success stories and case studies that highlight the long-term benefits of design thinking. Organizations that have fully embraced design thinking have experienced increased innovation, improved user satisfaction, and enhanced problem-solving capabilities. These illustrations serve as evidence of the potential value that design thinking can bring to both individuals and organizations.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the controversies surrounding design thinking and explore strategies for addressing and mitigating them. By recognizing and embracing the potential benefits of design thinking, we can foster innovation and cultivate a culture of creative problem-solving within our organizations.

Non-Traditional Approach

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that deviates from traditional methods in several ways. It focuses on empathy, collaboration, and iteration as key pillars of the problem-solving process.

Empathy: Design thinking places a strong emphasis on understanding the needs, motivations, and experiences of the people for whom a solution is being designed. This involves immersing oneself in their world, conducting interviews, observing their behavior, and gaining a deep understanding of their context. By empathizing with the end-users, design thinkers can uncover insights and unmet needs that may not be apparent through a traditional problem-solving lens.

Collaboration: Another key aspect of design thinking is the emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration. Design thinkers believe in the power of diverse perspectives to generate innovative and effective solutions. By involving people from different backgrounds, expertise areas, and viewpoints, design thinking encourages a holistic approach to problem-solving. This collaborative aspect can be seen in practices such as brainstorming, co-creation workshops, and the use of cross-functional teams.

Iteration: Design thinking recognizes that achieving the best solution rarely happens on the first try. Instead, it embraces an iterative approach, where ideas are quickly prototyped, tested, and refined based on user feedback. This iterative process allows for continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement, leading to better outcomes and a deeper understanding of the problem space.

While these non-traditional techniques have gained traction and popularity in recent years, they have also faced criticism and controversy. Some people argue that these methods are disruptive and unnecessary, as they depart from traditional problem-solving approaches that have proven to be successful in the past. Critics argue that design thinking can be time-consuming, vague, and lacking in concrete results.

However, design thinking advocates defend these non-traditional techniques, highlighting the long-term benefits they can bring. While design thinking may not always yield immediate, tangible outcomes or measurable metrics, it is a mindset and a process that prioritizes learning and experimentation. By embracing ambiguity, design thinkers are more open to exploration and invention, which can lead to breakthrough innovations.

Design thinking case studies and success stories abound, showcasing the potential of this approach. Companies like Apple, Airbnb, and IDEO have successfully utilized design thinking principles to drive innovation, improve user experiences, and create products and services that resonate with customers.

In conclusion, the non-traditional approach of design thinking, with its focus on empathy, collaboration, and iteration, can be seen as controversial in some circles. However, by recognizing and embracing the potential benefits of design thinking, organizations can foster innovation and creative problem-solving. The next section will explore the resistance that design thinking faces from traditional management practices.

Lack of Concrete Results

Design thinking has faced criticism for its perceived lack of concrete results. Traditional problem-solving methods often prioritize immediate outcomes and measurable metrics, while design thinking emphasizes learning, experimentation, and long-term benefits.

One of the main criticisms of design thinking is that it lacks tangible outcomes or quantifiable metrics. Critics argue that the emphasis on empathy, collaboration, and iteration may lead to a lack of focus and direction, resulting in solutions that may be innovative but impractical or ineffective.

However, it is important to note that design thinking is not about quick fixes or immediate results. Instead, it focuses on creating a deep understanding of the problem and the user’s needs, which can lead to more meaningful and sustainable solutions in the long run.

Design thinking encourages a process of continuous learning and iteration through prototyping and testing. This approach allows teams to gather feedback and refine their ideas based on real-world insights. While it may not always yield immediate results, this iterative process can lead to more robust and successful solutions over time.

To showcase the potential long-term benefits of design thinking, numerous case studies and success stories can be cited. For example, IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy, has applied design thinking principles to various projects, including the development of a low-cost prosthesis for amputees in developing countries. This project not only created a practical and affordable solution but also had a profound impact on the lives of individuals who gained access to this life-changing technology.

It is also worth noting that design thinking is not meant to replace other problem-solving approaches but to complement them. By combining design thinking methods with traditional management practices, organizations can bridge the gap between innovation and tangible results. This integration allows teams to harness the benefits of both approaches, leveraging the creativity and empathy of design thinking while maintaining focus and accountability for delivering concrete outcomes.

To address the criticism surrounding the lack of concrete results, organizations can implement strategies for measuring the impact and value of design thinking initiatives. This can include conducting user research and gathering user feedback, tracking the success of implemented solutions, and quantifying the long-term benefits in terms of customer satisfaction, market share, or financial performance.

Ultimately, it is important to recognize that design thinking is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a mindset and a set of tools that can be adapted and customized to fit different contexts and challenges. By embracing the potential benefits of design thinking in fostering innovation and creative problem-solving, organizations can navigate the controversies surrounding it and unlock new opportunities for growth and success.

Resistance from Traditional Management Practices

Design thinking challenges the conventional management practices that have been deeply ingrained in many organizations and industries. This can create resistance from managers who are accustomed to a more hierarchical decision-making structure.

One of the key principles of design thinking is the emphasis on collaboration and input from various stakeholders. This democratic approach to problem-solving can be unsettling for managers who are used to making decisions in a top-down fashion. They may feel a loss of control or fear that their expertise and authority are being undermined.

Additionally, the iterative nature of design thinking, which involves constant feedback, experimentation, and adjustment, can clash with the desire for quick, decisive action that is often favored in traditional management practices. This can be seen as a waste of time and resources, particularly when there is pressure to show immediate results.

Furthermore, design thinking challenges the idea that only a select group of “experts” are responsible for problem-solving. It encourages teams to draw from diverse perspectives and experiences, which can challenge the established power dynamics within organizations. Managers who are used to being the sole decision-makers might find it difficult to adjust to this more inclusive and participatory approach.

Another point of contention is how design thinking may conflict with established corporate cultures. Companies with rigid hierarchies and a focus on efficiency and productivity may struggle to integrate the more human-centered and innovative aspects of design thinking. The shift from a culture of “getting things done” to a culture of “exploring possibilities” can be met with resistance and skepticism.

It is important to address these concerns and help managers overcome their resistance to design thinking. One approach is to provide education and training on the principles and benefits of design thinking, highlighting how it can lead to more successful and innovative outcomes. In addition, organizations can create a supportive culture that encourages experimentation and values the input and insights of all team members, regardless of their hierarchical position.

To bridge the gap between design thinking and traditional management practices, it is important to find ways to integrate design thinking methodologies into existing processes. This could involve incorporating design thinking techniques into regular meetings and decision-making processes, or creating cross-functional teams that include both design-thinking practitioners and traditional managers. By doing so, organizations can strike a balance between the need for efficient decision-making and the benefits of a more collaborative, innovative problem-solving approach.

In conclusion, resistance from traditional management practices is a common challenge when introducing design thinking into organizations. However, with proper education, support, and integration strategies, it is possible to overcome this resistance and reap the benefits of design thinking in fostering innovation and creative problem-solving.

Overcoming Controversy

1. Measuring Impact and Value

To address the criticism that design thinking often lacks tangible outcomes or measurable metrics, organizations can implement methods for measuring the impact and value of design thinking initiatives. One way to do this is by setting clear goals and objectives at the start of each design thinking project. By defining specific metrics to track, such as increased customer satisfaction or improved efficiency, organizations can better assess the effectiveness of design thinking in achieving desired outcomes.

Additionally, organizations can collect and analyze data throughout the design thinking process to gain insights into the impact of their efforts. This can involve conducting surveys, interviews, or focus groups with stakeholders to gather feedback and evaluate the success of design thinking initiatives. By consistently measuring and analyzing data, organizations can demonstrate the value of design thinking in driving positive change and solving complex problems.

2. Integrating Design Thinking with Traditional Management Practices

To bridge the gap between design thinking and traditional management practices, organizations can explore ways to integrate the two approaches. Rather than viewing design thinking as a replacement for traditional methods, organizations can leverage its strengths to enhance existing practices.

One way to achieve integration is by incorporating design thinking techniques into the decision-making process. By involving cross-functional teams and encouraging collaboration, organizations can harness the diverse perspectives and expertise of their employees to make more informed and innovative decisions. This can help address the resistance from traditional management practices by showing how design thinking can enhance decision-making rather than disrupt it.

Another way to integrate design thinking is by fostering a culture of experimentation and learning within the organization. By encouraging employees to embrace failure as an opportunity for growth and innovation, organizations can create an environment that supports the iterative nature of design thinking. This can be achieved through initiatives such as dedicated innovation time, where employees are encouraged to explore new ideas and test prototypes.

3. Creating Design Thinking Champions

To overcome resistance from traditional management practices and foster a culture that embraces design thinking, organizations can identify and develop design thinking champions within their ranks. These champions can be individuals who are passionate about design thinking and have the skills to promote its adoption within the organization.

Design thinking champions can play a crucial role in breaking down barriers and addressing misconceptions about design thinking. They can advocate for its benefits, provide training and support to employees, and serve as role models for applying design thinking principles in their day-to-day work. By empowering these champions, organizations can create a network of advocates who can drive the adoption and integration of design thinking throughout the organization.

4. Continuous Learning and Improvement

To address the criticism that design thinking can be disruptive or unnecessary, organizations can emphasize the importance of continuous learning and improvement. By nurturing a culture of reflection and feedback, organizations can encourage employees to identify areas for improvement and take steps to enhance their design thinking practices.

This can involve conducting regular retrospective sessions after design thinking projects to evaluate what worked well and what could be improved. Organizations can also facilitate knowledge-sharing and collaboration among teams to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices.

Furthermore, organizations can invest in ongoing training and development programs to build employees’ skills in design thinking. By providing employees with the tools and resources they need to apply design thinking effectively, organizations can overcome resistance and ensure that design thinking becomes an integral part of their problem-solving toolkit.

In conclusion, while design thinking may be a controversial topic, it is essential to recognize and embrace its potential benefits in fostering innovation and creative problem-solving. By measuring impact, integrating design thinking with traditional management practices, creating design thinking champions, and promoting continuous learning and improvement, organizations can overcome the controversies surrounding design thinking and harness its power to drive positive change.


In conclusion, design thinking is a controversial topic that has gained significant attention in recent years. This problem-solving approach deviates from traditional methods and emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and iteration. However, it has faced criticism for lacking concrete results and measurable metrics.

One of the main reasons behind the controversy surrounding design thinking is its focus on learning and experimentation rather than immediate outcomes. This can be seen as a departure from traditional management practices that prioritize efficiency and tangible results. Critics argue that design thinking is too vague and uncertain to be effective in solving complex problems.

Furthermore, design thinking challenges hierarchical decision-making structures and can be met with resistance from managers who are reluctant to give up control. This more democratic approach to problem-solving may clash with established corporate cultures that value top-down decision-making.

Despite the controversies surrounding design thinking, there are strategies for addressing and mitigating them. One way is to measure the impact and value of design thinking initiatives by developing clear metrics and key performance indicators. This enables organizations to track progress and demonstrate the effectiveness of design thinking in solving real-world problems.

Another approach is to integrate design thinking with traditional management practices, bridging the gap between the two. By incorporating design thinking principles into existing structures and processes, organizations can benefit from the best of both worlds. This allows for the creative problem-solving and innovation fostered by design thinking, while still maintaining the efficiency and accountability of traditional management practices.

In conclusion, while design thinking may be a controversial topic, it has the potential to revolutionize problem-solving and innovation. By embracing its non-traditional techniques, organizations can tap into the power of empathy, collaboration, and iteration to drive meaningful change. It is essential to recognize the value of design thinking and its ability to foster creativity and unconventional solutions in today’s rapidly evolving world.