Stop With The Mystical Talk, And Just Do Good Work


“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Recently IDEO felt compelled to defend itself and the methodology it is most closely associated with, design thinking, from critics – and critics have been quite harsh. As quoted in the article, design thinking has been “called bullshit, the opposite of inclusive design, and a failed experiment…It’s even been compared to syphilis.”

Design thinking is at its core a relatively simple approach to problem solving, emphasizing open-ended ideation, and prototyping/experimentation to come to the best solution. Understood this way, it’s hard to disagree with IDEO’s defense of the merit of the approach.

This dialogue, however, does allude to a larger problem within the design and innovation field that is pervasive. There are a number of practitioners in the field that purposefully transform simple ideas – including design thinking – into complicated or even mystical methodologies that only a select few wise individuals can truly understand. That is bullshit.

Outside of WHOA, we’ve worked with dozens of agencies. From this, we can confidently conclude that there really is nothing truly proprietary out there. If an agency is trying to sell you on mysterious sounding innovation mumbo-jumbo, run. They are almost certainly trying to hide their deficiencies through complicated sounding language. Practitioners who utilize esoteric language are likely under the false impression that sounding like a medieval mystic makes them appear more capable or smart. Ironically, the research actually shows the opposite, that clarity in communication results in an increased perception of capability and intelligence.  

Using purposely obtuse language, as well as selling any methodology (particularly a proprietary one) as being uniquely capable hurts the entire industry. At best, such tactics actually go against most principles of good inclusive design, at worst they’re a form of sleight of hand.  The best way to help the industry is by doing good work, and as George Orwell would have it, using plain language whenever and wherever possible.

And when you see bullshit, call out bullshit. Those who really have something to say, can say it clearly. Good work sets agencies apart, not how mysterious they can make themselves sound.

Greg VanderPol