Embracing the absurd in your design practices | by Karina Chow | Jan, 2024


If you have done any product work in the last decade or two, you have inevitably heard of the Design Thinking ideology. Hell, you might have become a design-thinking zealot and championed it in your teams.

It makes sense if so. By all accounts, it’s a great user-centric ideology.

At its core, design thinking aims to solve problems by understanding the user’s needs, challenging assumptions, redefining problems, and creating innovative solutions to prototype and test.

It does this in six phases— empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement — which together represent a non-linear cycle for tackling challenges creatively and iteratively:

The 6 Design Thinking Phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement
The Nielsen Norman Group’s famous Design Thinking cycle

The concept of Design Thinking has been hailed as a guiding principle, offering a structured approach to problem-solving.

However, it has limitations, and in fact, I’d argue that today’s implementation of it limits our own ability to design in innovative ways.

Despite its widespread adoption, some industry experts are questioning whether we’ve reached the pinnacle of design thinking’s utility.

Critics argue that the process has been oversimplified and commoditized, often at the expense of genuine innovation and user experience.

Linear Thinking

This growing skepticism of Design Thinking was famously encapsulated by Natasha Jen’s talk titled “Design thinking is Bullsh*t”. Jen, a partner at Pentagram, criticizes design thinking for reducing a complex creative process into a prescriptive, step-by-step procedure that can be blindly applied by anyone. She argues that this cookie-cutter approach neglects the nuanced, critical thinking that true design requires.


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