On Design Thinking, Bullshit, and Innovation

Rodrigo Hernández-Ramírez



Design thinking (DT) has been widely promoted as a powerful approach for systematically achieving innovation, particularly in the world of management. Recently, however, some critical voices from design and science & technology studies have called bullshit on DT, accusing it instead of distorting and trivialising design methods and processes to serve purely commercial goals. Through an analysis of the recent history of design research and an overview of some (philosophical) accounts on the concept of “bullshit”, this paper shows that at least some of the criticism holds. However, it argues that a truly fruitful critique of DT needs to go beyond simple derision. Ultimately, this paper suggests that perhaps we should steer away from the idea that there is a designerly way of thinking, and focus instead on showing how designers, being “doers”, create maker’s knowledge. Designers, educators, managers, and anyone interested in understanding why design goes beyond a simple methodology perhaps might be interested in this account.


Design thinking; Design methodology; Bullshit; Innovation; Maker’s knowledge; Philosophy of design.

Full Text:



Archer, B. (1979). Design as a discipline. Design Studies, 1(1), 17–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/0142-694x(79)90023-1


Black, M. (1982). The prevalence of humbug. Philosophic Exchange, 13(1). Article 4. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/phil_ex/vol13/iss1/4

Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 85–92. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/06/design-thinking

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York; London: Harper Collins e-books.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511637


Buchanan, R. (2001). Design research and the new learning. Design Issues, 17(4), 3–23. https://doi.org/10.1162/07479360152681056


Churchman, C. W. (1967). Guest editorial: Wicked problems. Management Science, 14(4), B141–B142. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.14.4.B141


Cohen, G. A. (2002). Deeper into bullshit. In S. Buss & L. Overton (Eds.), Contours of agency: Essays on themes from Harry Frankfurt (pp. 321–339). Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: The MIT Press.

Coyne, R. (2005). Wicked problems revisited. Design Studies, 26(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2004.06.005


Cross, N. (1982). Designerly ways of knowing. Design Studies, 3(4), 221–227. https://doi.org/10.1016/0142-694x(82)90040-0


Cross, N. (2001). Designerly ways of knowing: Design discipline versus design science. Design Issues, 17(3), 49–55. https://doi.org/10.1162/074793601750357196


Cross, N. (2006). Designerly ways of knowing. Germany: Springer-Verlag. https://doi.org/10.1007/1-84628-301-9


Cross, N. (2011). Design thinking: Understanding how designers think and work. Oxford; New York: Berg.


Dunne, D., & Martin, R. (2006). Design thinking and how it will change management education: An interview and discussion. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5(4), 512–523. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2006.23473212


Floridi, L. (2011). A defence of constructionism: Philosophy as conceptual engineering. Metaphilosophy, 42(3), 282–304. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9973.2011.01693.x


Frankfurt, H. (2005). On bullshit. New Jersey; Oxford: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1986)

Galle, P. (2002). Philosophy of design: An editorial introduction. Design Studies, 23(3), 211–218. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0142-694x(01)00034-5


Galle, P. (2011). Foundational and instrumental design theory. Design Issues, 27(4), 81–94. https://doi.org/10.1162/desi_a_00107


Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences (3rd ed.). New York: Basic Books. (Original work published 1983)

Godin, B. (2008). Innovation: The history of a category (Working paper No. 1). Montréal: Project on the Intellectual History of Innovation. Retrieved from http://www.csiic.ca/PDF/IntellectualNo1.pdf

Godin, B. (2014). Innovation and creativity: A slogan, nothing but a slogan (Working paper No. 18). Montréal: Project on the Intellectual History of Innovation. Retrieved from http://www.csiic.ca/PDF/CreativityEnglish.pdf

Godin, B. (2015). Innovation contested: The idea of innovation over the centuries. New York; London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315855608


Graeber, D. (2015). The utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy. Brooklyn; London: Melville House.

Greenberg, C. (1999). Towards a newer Laocoön. In C. Harrison & P. Wood (Eds.), Art in theory 1900–1990: An anthology of changing ideas (12th reprint, pp. 554–560). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. (Original work published 1940)

Hardcastle, G. L., & Reisch, G. A. (2006). On bullshitmania. In G. L. Hardcastle & G. A. Reisch (Eds.), Bullshit and philosophy. Chicago: Open Court.

Jen, N. (2017). Design thinking is bullshit [Talk]. Retrieved 2 September 2018, from http://99u.com/videos/55967/natasha-jen-design-thinking-is-bullshit

Jen, N. (2018, August 21). Graphic designer Natasha Jen poses six questions for design thinkers [Talk]. Retrieved 5 October 2018, from http://www.designindaba.com/videos/conference-talks/graphic-designer-natasha-jen-poses-six-questions-design-thinkers

Kimbrough, S. (2006). On letting it slide. In G. L. Hardcastle & G. A. Reisch (Eds.), Bullshit and philosophy. Chicago: Open Court.

Lawson, B. (2005). How designers think: The design process demystified (4th ed.). Oxford; Burlington: Architectural Press.

LoRusso, J. D. (2017). Spirituality, corporate culture, and american busines: The neoliberal ethic and the spirit of global capital. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Love, T. (2000). Philosophy of design: A meta-theoretical structure for design theory. Design Studies, 21(3), 293–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0142-694x(99)00012-5


Miller, P. N. (2018, March 26). Is 'design thinking' the new liberal arts? Retrieved 2 September 2018, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-Design-Thinking-the-New/228779?cid=at

Parsons, G. (2015). The philosophy of design. Cambridge; Malden: Polity Press.

Peck, J. (2010). Constructions of neoliberal reason. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.


Reimann, M., & Schilke, O. (2011). Product differentiation by aesthetic and creative design: A psychological and neural framework of design thinking. In H. Plattner, C. Meinel, & L. Leifer (Eds.), Design thinking: Understand – improve – apply (pp. 45–57). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-13757-0_3


Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01405730


Rowe, P. G. (1991). Design thinking. Cambridge; London: The MIT Press. (Original work published 1986)

Snow, C. (2012). The rede lecture. In The two cultures (15th Reprint, pp. 1–51). UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1959)

Snow, C. (2012). The two cultures: A second look. In The two cultures (15th Reprint, pp. 53–100). UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1963)

Spicer, A. (2017, November 23). From inboxing to thought showers: How business bullshit took over. Retrieved 2 September 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/23/from-inboxing-to-thought-showers-how-business-bullshit-took-over

Vinsel, L. (2017, December 6). Design Thinking is Kind of Like Syphilis—It's Contagious and Rots Your Brains. Retrieved 3 September 2018, from https://medium.com/@sts_news/design-thinking-is-kind-of-like-syphilis-its-contagious-and-rots-your-brains-842ed078af29

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7559/citarj.v10i3.555


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts
Revista de Ciência e Tecnologia das Artes
ISSN: 1646-9798
e-ISSN: 2183-0088
Portuguese Catholic University | Porto


Esta revista científica é financiada por Fundos Nacionais através da FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

 Governo da República Portuguesa