Workshop experiments: design thinking may be stunting your career. Here’s what I’m doing about it.


For years I’ve avoided the term “design thinking” in describing my work. Like “innovation,” the phrase is loaded with false assumptions. Although I’ve been practicing design and design thinking for decades, the way it’s often perceived feels inauthentic to what I do. I solve business problems. Often at scale. Often with inventive solutions.

But here’s the scary part. Design thinking isn’t just occasionally inauthentic — it’s a major roadblock for some careers.

You’ve seen this before:

Think like a designer and solve any business problem!

Got stickies, a whiteboard and some duct tape? Can you improvise? You, friend, are a design thinker.

Take our three-month course and voila, you’re a professional designer. Here’s a certificate to prove it.

Flip through just a few business magazines, and you’re led to believe your next big business transformation boils down to one simple formula: Problem + Design Thinking = Innovation.

These magical notions hide an unspoken truth: design thinking is not for the faint of heart. This is hard work.

I’m sharing this because I’ve worked with many project leads, UX designers other creatives and even clients who give more energy to the artifacts and outputs of design thinking, rather than process and outcomes. It’s shiny object syndrome as both means and ends.

I’ve also watched as these same folks struggle to grow their careers. To become indispensable members of their team or organization. To have significant impact.

The shiny object syndrome is fed in no small part by some of the cash-and-carry design-thinking programs, supported by massive funding and endless marketing. They promise design career fitness in just a few months as long as you can pay your bill. Perhaps the way we learn design thinking could use some design thinking.

Despite the hype, I’m in. Because there’s no reason to wait for perceptions to change if I can take action now.

I’m proud to share my next chapter: Chalet Workshop is a series of design thinking and collaboration sessions in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. The first sessions are in Boulder this spring. I’m doing this to help good design thinkers grow into leaders.

I’ll be sharing strategies and tactics that have fueled innovation initiatives for Domino’s, Spotify, American Express, Turkish Airlines, Microsoft, Aspen Dental,, the City of Philadelphia, the City of Miami and others. Content will be informed by my consulting life; my 6 years at Crispin Porter + Bogusky (VP/Director of Experience Design); my experiences as founder of Carbon IQ, San Francisco’s first user experience consultancy; my two years leading the IXDA’s Student Design Challenge in San Francisco and Helsinki; and from previous workshops in the U.S. and abroad.

Bonus: the setting is ideal for inspired learning. Colorado Chautauqua is a stunning venue with hiking, dining and history steps from your cabin door.

Here’s what’s on deck:

April 5–6: Map the Experience: See the System, Change the System. Make your customer experience visible and create alignments that lead to change.

May 1–3: Love Your Unspoken Truths. Design for Massive Change. Find the issues that matter, devise impactful ideas, craft your strongest story and sell your vision.

If you believe that design thinking (and in fact all design activities) should be focused on impacting change — a shift in perceptions, a change in behaviors, a boost to business, or a better way of life — then you may also agree that engineering change requires depth in understanding people, seeing systems, sensing opportunities, challenging conventions, and prototyping futures.

You’ll also likely agree this is hard. And worth doing anyway.

So let’s do it. Should you or your people need to level up to make change possible, join me. (And don’t be shy about hitting that like button.)

There will, of course, be whiteboards. And I will not kill your career.

— Noel Franus

Chalet Workshop: / Twitter: @chaletworkshop / Email:

Aimee Brodbeck created the cover image for this story.

And yes, this post is similar to last week’s announcement post. I prefer this one.