The 'market' will stay. The need for companies to reach that market will stay. But methods will change.
Could design thinking be a new marketing method? Marketing 2.0? Will design thinking be integrated within the more traditional methods? Or will traditional marketing disappear and will design thinking take over?

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Hi Arne

An interesting thesis. Here is my antithesis.

It is pretty clear to anyone who has worked in marketing that it is not in any imminent danger of being swept away; not by social media, not by customer co-creation and certainly not be design thinking!

But that isn’t to say that marketing isn’t changing. It is and for the better. As Jason Haddock points out in his response, marketers frequently use techniques borrowed from the design thinking toolkit to create new communications. Marketers have long looked at how communications influence the customer journey, have created storyboards setting out how it should be delivered and have prototyped different communications with customers. Indeed, unlike most designers, marketers increasingly just provide those tools to customers, step largely out of the way and let them get on designing their own customer-driven media.

Perhaps Markus Smet is closer to the true nature of Marketing 2.0 when he suggests that it should act as a market sensemaking function for the whole business. Marketing is changing. New ideas like service dominant logic, value-co-creation and platform business models are pushing marketers to look differently at which actors are involved, at what they value and at how to create an environment where more of what each actor wants can be created for each of them. Sounds familiar? Marketing is already starting to look like the best of service design. Maybe service design can learn something from marketing too.

Peter Drucker famously said, "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two - and only two - basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business." The future of marketing, of Marketing 2.0, lies in the intersection of marketing and innovation. Design thinking provides a useful set of tools to assist in this process, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that it will ever replace marketing.

Marketing is dead! Long live Marketing 2.0!

Let the dialectic begin :-)

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

PS. Do I spot a trend in some design thinkers? One where design thinking is automatically the answer, so what was the question? It manifests itself in ridiculous statements "design thinking is strategy", or plain ignorant ones like "I don't know or much care about marketing. I think 'design thinking' is a recognition that there's a ‘third way’". Design thinking has a lot to offer business, especially Marketing 2.0, but not through such woolly or ignorant thinking. Hegel should be spinning in his grave!

For me it's both: design thinking makes you meeting your customer's needs, marketing makes you to deliver on them. But, as Zino Davidoff once said: "I never did any marketing. I simply loved my customers."

Hi Jan Erik

I agree with you 100%. Well, 95% at least!

Marketing in its many forms - whether paid, owned or earned - is the best way to take your products, services and experiences to market. Once they are there, personal experience largely takes over from marketing. Innovation is what we use to create what we will be taking to market in the future. This is Drucker's argument.

Is it your conjecture that design thinking = innovation? Or just that design thinking's tools are a valuable addition to the innovator's toolkit?

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator


Hi Graham,


Well, tricky field: for me design thinking is a mind-set, that manifests itself through tools and methods, which allow companies and brands to focus on the human. So design thinking actually should then be a tool to drive innovation and marketing alike.

Innovation can also come from looking through other aspects than 'design' eg. technology, logistics, etc. So answering your question I would tend to see DT as an addition to the toolkit.




Hi Jan-Erik

I agree with you 100% in its entirety this time.

I see design thinking as an 'approach' consisting of an organising framework, a rich set of tools and implementation plans to put it into practice, and an extensive set of detailed case studies showing how it has been applied in the past. 

Although design thinking can be used to drive innovation in many circumstances, it probably is not the most appropriate in all circumstances. Dave Snowden's work on sensemaking identifies four different environments in which organisations may find themselves: simple ones, complicated ones, complex ones and chaotic ones.

Design thinking fits most naturally in the complicated, and if done fast enough, in the complex environments. Both of these environments need an element of discovery and sensemaking to find good-enough solutions on the innovation fitness landscape. 

Design thinking is too inefficient to be useful in simple environments where the best solutions are already largely known. And too imprecise to be used in chaotic environments which need stabilising solutions to be applied before innovation can take place. 

Even in complicated and complex environments, design thinking's inherent flaws, e.g. its poor search of the innovation space, its over reliance on human factors and its focus on the front-end of innovation, mean that it should generally be used in conjunction with other non-design thinking tools as well.

Design thinking is a great approach, but it is even better when combined with other approaches too. This way, 1+1 can equal 3.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

In my opinion Design Thinking is not an approach (maybe it's semantics... but what the heck :-)), it's not even a set of tools or method, it's a mind-set.


Design thinking equals Cognitive flexibility that allows us to fit the method to the problem, not the other way around, and opens the door to an almost limitless supply of tools and method. It allows them to question them, improve them, combine them and play with them.


I do agree: Design thinking is not replacing anything.


What is does is allowing us to question everything, showing us the bigger story, the context in which we operate, do business, live our life.


Design thinking allows us to collaboratively start breaking down the walls which are blocking our path to sustainable growth.

Hi Arne

I hear your message :-)

If Design Thinking is just a mindset then it's inherent lack of 'structure' will make it hard to teach consistently to others. Perhaps that's why Design is taught at schools around the world, but Design Thinking isn't.

Maybe Design Thinking is just another of those nebulous fads that spring up in business writing then disappear as the enthiusiasm for the idea is overwhelmed by the difficulty in applying it. 

In which case, Design Thinking is dead. Long live Design!

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

Excellent point :-)


Although I think it is easy to teach people some lateral thinking and showing the value of it... If only they did not see "asking stupid questions" as a threat to themselves. It takes a strong person to be vulnerable.


And one could argue Design Thinking is being taught all the time but never explicit and only in unconnected fragments. You won't find it in text books, but is nevertheless part of education and everyday life, all the time.


Maybe it is so obvious we don't see it unless we take a big steps back and see the complete picture (if this is possible at all). Human beings, our culture, our organizations are constantly adapting, evolving. It just happens so slow and such a large scale we might not see it from the point-of-view of one individual company or country. 


We should not teach Design Thinking, we should recognize, accept and embrace it.


and then: good design is as little design as possible :-)


Hi Arne, Graham, Jan-Erik


Thank you for this sprightly discussion, I’m learning a lot out of it and more importantly, I think you’re speaking the minds of many designers, marketeers and interdisciplinary professionals.


Reading your thoughts reminded me of another perspective, this time on the “marketing vs design” debate (not particularly versus design thinking) and how is it being address by a specific company. In this video Francois Lenfant (Global Product Design GE Healthcare) argues that marketing and design are complementary (and both can be user centric). His opinion is that one of their main differences comes from using two different research paradigms (therefore distinct ways of interpreting the data): while marketing is starting from the present, extrapolating a present situation, designers start from the future, observing and anticipating.


Personally I see design thinking both as a mind-set that can lead to visionary marketing, as well as an approach or sub-discipline which can be used in marketing and management strategies or tactics – in those cases where it can serve efficiently (I found Graham’s examples compelling and well structured, learned a lot from them).


If I were to look into the future my feeling is that marketing might become less important for certain specific platform business models that are enabling a collaborative consumption: there would be a lesser need for marketing, as the value chain would either simplify a lot (in which case a design thinking mind-set would be enough to fuel and keep the platform running) or the value chain would get even more complex and complicated but it would evolve organically (get co-created) without too much marketing strategy as a driving force. In which case a design thinking framework would play a lead role following what Graham was saying about design thinking’s use in complex and complicated environments.

Last but not least, we should both live and teach it; I'm enjoying learning design thinking from all of you, in structured as well as informal ways.

Hi Andrea, 

thanks for the compliments, guess my friends also appreciate it :-)

If design thinking is a mindset, marketing remains a tool, like design: both are equally needed.

But I agree: less is more (another great one)! 

Hi Andreea

Very insightful observations.

Personally, I don't see the rise in Collaborative Consumption in any way like that Botsman & Rogers would have us believe. There is something so very human about wanting to own things rather than lease them, let alone share them.

I see a bright future for both Marketing 2.0 and Design. Using Drucker's model; marketing creates demand for the stuff you have got. Design (together with innovation, something quite different from design) creates the stuff you will be marketing in the future.

Bridging the gap between marketing and design is but one part of a much bigger push by educationalists to bring together Service Science, Management, Engineering and Design (SSMED) as this paper on Succeeding through Service Innovation from the Instutute of Manufacturing at Cambridge University points out.  

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator




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