Beyond Design Thinking: Navigating the Social Landscape of Collective Creativity

Uday Dandavate
2 min readNov 23, 2023

The designers’ hubris has long been in jeopardy, evident in IDEO’s layoffs highlighted by Fast Company. Design, a practice more fundamental than the brand-centric Design Thinking, has transcended the exclusive realm claimed by traditional designers. Corporate entities in the West, aligned with the capitalist economic order, have co-opted the definition, education, and branding of design. Social scientists, particularly advocates of Participatory Design, recognize that design surpasses the confines of traditional studios.

In my thirty years of promoting Participatory Design, I’ve gleaned key observations:

  1. Design emerges from social imagination, a collective synthesis of needs, problems, and aspirations.
  2. It evolves as individuals across various disciplines express this synthesis, inspiring societal evolution.
  3. The iterative process involves bringing this imagination to life through continuous dialogue, tinkering, prototyping, and real-world implementation.
  4. Everyday people take charge when living with the outcomes, refining, redefining, or discarding ideas, perpetuating the cycle.

Design companies embracing a prescriptive and elitist approach construct ivory towers, detached from the organic, inherently social nature of design. Design will endure without branded value propositions or staged narratives. Those succumbing to this trap detach themselves from the genuine social process inherent in design.

While I wish IDEO well, their survival hinges on a foundational commitment to serving humanity through design, not just weathering economic challenges. The crisis in brand-centric Design Thinking serves as a reminder to technologists, business leaders, engineers, and disruptive innovators. Engaging with people and shaping social imagination dismisses concerns about the consequential survival of Design Thinking as less significant.

In summary, I critique the perceived hubris of designers and the limitations of Design Thinking, emphasizing the broader, collective nature of design. Participatory Design, spanning various disciplines, is highlighted as a more inclusive and organic approach. I stress that design transcends exclusive studio narratives and caution against adopting a prescriptive and elitist view. IDEO’s challenges are acknowledged, with an emphasis on their foundational commitment to serving humanity. The crisis in Design Thinking serves as a reminder to diverse innovators to engage with people and shape social imagination, relegating concerns about its survival to a secondary role. Overall, I advocate for a more genuine, socially embedded understanding of design.



Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.