The Purist, the Pragmatic and the Principled…(walk into a bar? No…this is not the start of a bad joke).

There are two primary stances in design thinking—Purists and Pragmatics.

The Purist believes that design thinking must be done perfectly every time, with all steps taken in their appropriate sequence.  Design thinking is a highly honed, skilled approach to problem solving that must be followed.  Purists are great at optimizing the tools and they tend to use them in the most common ways.  The risk of the purist is they seek perfection, which is the enemy of design thinking’s open, sometimes contrarian, low resolution exploration.  Defending the tool narrowly for use in perfect conditions limits the potential for design thinking to have a more meaningful impact on an organization culturally.

The Pragmatic is more where I stand. I believe “use what’s useful” and integrate design thinking’s practices into other things you are doing.  Take the parts, or the whole thing, whatever makes sense in the situation you are facing.  Let people take liberty to morph the tools/approaches and to try something new.  The Pragmatic allows there to be discovery even in the design thinking tools.  Letting go of controlling it all in its purest form allows for evolution and innovation in the tool itself.  However, to approach to design thinking as a Pragmatic is risky if you don’t deeply understand the practice (like the modern painter who first must learn the principles of painting and color before they violate them).

What about the Principled?

The Principled can live in either camp and is the ultimate key to great design thinking.  A Purist or a Pragmatic that is not principled risks discarding important aspects of design thinking.  Their application may miss the point if it is not principally sound.  This risk is even greater for the Pragmatic, who is naturally evolving the application and tools:  to experiment one needs to be firmly rooted in the principles underpinning design thinking (curiosity, diversity, exploration, human centered narrative, iterative).  No matter what your personal stance on design thinking, it must be rooted in the core principles.


Take Action

Consider the Purist and Pragmatic camps.  Where do you sit?  Is this where you think its best to stay?  Note what, if any, changes you might make to your approach to design thinking.  Have you rooted your design thinking practice on the core principles? How can you deepen your understanding and use of these principles, whether a Purist or a Pragmatic.

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