Designing Versus Design Thinking

October 14, 2016 by Mike Barbeau in User Experience

take 2

Paintbrushes, styluses (styli?), microphones and most crayons are relatively useless, and sometimes dangerous, in my possession.

So clearly, I’m not a designer. That said, I am a design thinker.

I wouldn’t have written that a few months ago, but recently, Alyssa Yatabe — an extremely talented and hardworking designer here at Ethology — gave a funny, smart, relatable and thought-provoking presentation on her approach to design thinking. It was awesome.

So I stole it (note: Theft is not a core tenet of design thinking). Not to take credit for it, but to show how she turned how I think about design upside down.

Start by thinking of what designers do. They make things pretty, organize them, use photoshop and are generally more hip with what they wear to work. Right?

Wrong (well, except for the fashion part — that is probably true). The reality is that designers solve problems using a variety of tools and tactics by using a process of discovery, planning, creativity and execution.

The ultimate output might be a brilliant visual, a simpler user-flow or a great ad unit, but the process to get there was one that followed a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate three things:

  1. The needs of the people
  2. The possibilities of technology
  3. The requirements for business success

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 2.09.32 PMI know, I know. On the scale of fingerpainting to Monet, that looks more like a math textbook. But the reality is that design thinking is based on the idea that innovation comes at the intersection of desirability (the human component), feasibility (technical) and viability (the business needs). In short, it’s a methodology for solving complex problems to reach desirable solutions.

It’s a functional yet flexible approach that can be used for systems, products, services, spaces and even processes. And though it’s based in design, it’s really intended for anyone (thus, Mike Barbeau, designer).

Don’t believe me? Take a minute for an exercise. Think about how you would redesign a pair of scissors.

OK. Time’s up.

You probably went to a place where you were thinking about different materials, sizes, cutting angles and/or wondering why the hell left-handed scissors don’t work for right-handed people. But in all likelihood, you were centered on the idea of something that still looked like scissors.

Now, take a second to think about how you might have gone about that problem differently if instead of asking you to redesign scissors, I’d asked you to give me a way to cut paper.

It opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, right? Sure, maybe you still end up with scissors at the end of the day, but it forces you to define the real challenge/problem and solve for that.

It’s this process of inspiration, ideation and implementation that leads to a lot of searching, thinking, doing, positing, trying, failing, trying again and generally toughing out a process that looks a lot like the main image of this post.

And in a world where 85 percent of U.S. customers say they would pay 5 – 25 percent more to ensure a superior experience, it’s worth the effort.


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Mike Barbeau

About the Author

I'm a University of Colorado grad who somehow skied his way to a degree before moving to San Francisco for a career in advertising. It wasn't long before I met a girl, got married and watched my hero of a wife give birth to two kids. Now, I'm the VP of Business Development for Ethology. Want to talk? Look for the guy trying not to sweat through his shirt in Scottsdale's 115-degree heat — that's probably me.


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