In his Ask the Innovation Guru video series (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, I watched some of it), Bruce Nussbaum tackles the question Why Is Design Thinking Relevant. He parses views on design thinking into two camps: those that think it’s too abstract and has little to do with doing; and those who see it as dealing with large-scale systems or things that aren’t tangible. Nussbaum supports the latter viewpoint.

Nussbaum defines design thinking as “designing a new experience” and “redesigning a service” and “taking the principles of design and recreating a new experience.” The examples he gives to clarify what he means by design thinking are Bank of America’s Keep the Change service, Kaiser Permanente and Mayo Clinic’s efforts to improve the health care experience, and New York City’s Quest to Learn Digital School.

Any designer will recognize that both his definitions and examples are not design thinking, but design itself! The thinking that goes into design cannot be separated from design, nor is it only appropriate for certain types of problems. So what I believe Nussbaum is really saying is that design thinking is the new design.

But why? Why can’t design just be design? Can design alone not pique the interest of business? Is it not cool enough to be the force of creativity and innovation for everything in the world that is not natural? Or is it an attempt to redesign design so that it may forge into places where it was previously not recognized?

Regardless of the answer, I am highly skeptical of language and ideas that divorce design thinking from design, and definitions that suggest design thinking only applies to certain types of design. Just because the world is starting to think about design in a new way does not mean design thinking is a new way of thinking or doing separate from design itself. Calling design “design thinking” is a disservice to design.