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Bring out your dead!

by Rich Nadworny
3 min read
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In a world of attention-grabbing headlines, it’s more important than ever to critically evaluate claims of “dead” concepts and practices.

Can I tell you how tired I am of reading that this thing or that thing is “dead”? Here’s just a tiny taste of articles from the last year:

Agile is Dead

Social Media Is Dead

Why Digital Transformation Is Dead And It’s Too Late To Cross The Chasm

Design Sprints are dead, long live the AI Sprints?

And this oldie from 2011(!!).

Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next?

Every time I see one of these articles, I find them superficial, boring, and lazy. At best.

At worst, someone is declaring something dead to sell you something else. Who wants to buy something that’s dead when you can buy this new shiny object?

Let me tell you what I really think:

I stumbled across this article last week from MIT’s Tech Review:

Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?

I understand that media outlets are in the business of selling advertising and that journalists tend to prefer writing about conflict since it tends to sell (see above). And that the editors, even engineers, are not above the click-bait.

Sadly, this article could have been (should have been) about how a young design thinking discipline (less than 15 years old by Rebecca’s count) is evolving, neededly, in really a pretty short time. All of the ingredients are in the article, but that’s not very sexy journalism.

But the essence of this design discipline: Empathy, testing, iteration — holds true now more than ever. The article is a testament to how human-centered design is applying its own techniques and processes on itself — it’s learning, evolving empathizing and iterating.

I think the only people today who would argue against the Empathy/Testing/Iterate approach are those who have swallowed the Palo Alto Capitalism spin.

Adding systems design into human centered design to account for complexity isn’t new but it’s necessary. Adding ethics into any design system is critical, not only in design thinking. BTW, most of the resistance isn’t from designers — it’s from the decision makers (many with degrees from MIT and Stanford).

Every article declaring something is dead tends to show people reacting this way:
“I believed the hype — I bought it hook, line, and sinker and it turns out NOT to be the unicorns and rainbows mommy promised me!!! So now I’m going to throw a little tantrum.”

Crying baby in black and white
Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

Suggestion: don’t believe the hype. A lot of what we want to call “dead” need the time and space to evolve, or to fall by the wayside. When they fall, we usually don’t notice it — there is no flashy funeral or wake.

I think the most exciting part about design and innovation is its evolution and rediscovery — it isn’t a perfect science but through trial and error we make it better and better over time.

I say: Enough with the digital and innovation and design coroners!!

Take Voltaire’s advice and cultivate your own garden rather than tending to your cemetery.

post authorRich Nadworny

Rich Nadworny,

Rich is an Innovation Lead at Hello Future in Sweden. Previously he was design drector and co-founder of Savvy Design Collaborative. At present, Rich works with large Swedish institutions to help build and foster cultures of design-driven innovation and human-centered ways of working.

Between 2015-2018 Rich was the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center. He trained African entrepreneurs in the YALI program through his course Design Driven Entrepreneurship.

He has a background in digital marketing and service design through his firm Digalicious and as partner, digital strategist and creative director at the brand agency Kelliher Samets Volk.

Rich teaches human-centered design at the Royal School of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.

He was a commentator on Vermont’s National Public Radio station (VPR) between 2009-2018 and blogged at Huffington Post. He has a B.A. from Dartmouth, an M.S. from Boston University and studied design/innovation at the California College of Arts.

Ideas In Brief
  • From author’s perspective, labeling concepts or practices as “dead” has become commonplace, but such claims are often superficial and driven by commercial interests.
  • The media industry tends to favor sensationalism over substantive analysis, which can lead to oversimplification of complex issues.
  • The excitement of design and innovation lies in its evolution and rediscovery, as it continuously gets better through trial and error over time. It’s important to critically evaluate trends and consider the broader context.

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