Re-thinking Design Thinking – time to take some responsibility?

Sometimes when I think (pun intended) about Design thinking, it feels like it has increasingly become… how shall I put it… a bit like mindfulness. You know, the global industry where seemingly every other person or organisation seems to offer a commercial variation of the practice. Indeed, the term McMindfulness (Purser, 2019) has been used to describe some manifestations of the phenomenon.

Definitions of Design Thinking and its origins are numerous (and often intertwined with the academic discipline of design research). But the format commonly taught at universities, and particularly within business schools, tends to be drawn from the industry-related Stanford and IDEO models and is generally seen as a driver of business innovation (Shapira, Ketchie and Nehe, 2017). Indeed, many of the originators of design thinking (as well as those that teach it) are not designers.

As a result of this and other factors, there appears to be little engagement with notions of responsibility within the Design Thinking methods being taught and practiced. As we watch our planet’s climate emergency become ever more acute, alongside increasing wealth inequality and… well plenty of other stuff, it seems important for designers and design educators to discuss responsibly in our methods and processes. We may not be able to design our way to a better world, but we can at least try to do our bit.

An article that I wrote alongside two fantastic academics aims to highlight some issues that can arise from teaching Design Thinking and proposes some models for taking the discussion forward.

Fridman, Ilya, Meron, Yaron and Roberts, Julie (2022), ‘Responsible Design Thinking: Informing future models of cross-disciplinary design education’, Journal of Design, Business & Society, 8:2, pp. 145–66,

Purser, R. (2019) The mindfulness conspiracy. The Guardian. The Guardian (Accessed: 7/12/2022 2022).

Shapira, H., Ketchie, A. and Nehe, M. (2017) ‘The integration of Design Thinking and Strategic Sustainable Development’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, pp. 277-287.