You can feel it in the air. That uncomfortable tension between having a strong vision from a well-developed design thinking process and a design doing path that, for one reason or another, is jeopardizing all that you worked on. It’s transforming the app into something else, moving away from the initial concept, blurring, or even destroying the vision altogether.

It’s the disconnect between these two processes that you should avoid at all costs. To prevent it, you must understand the value that thinking and doing contribute, each in their own way, to achieve a successful outcome.

What happens when there's a disconnect between design thinking and design doing?

But the Pixel-Pushers Don’t Care If Ideas Live or Die

Let’s assume that your company values design thinking. This is good; in fact, this is great! You have carte blanche to identify alternative strategies because you completely understand users and can challenge any initial assumptions. Maybe an integral part of your product or service strategy is to put your user at the center of all your decisions, which will have an impact on your entire organization.

However, when all is said and done, are you advocating for the user throughout every step of the design and development process? Are you paying attention to what comes after? Because design execution is where ideas indeed live or just go to die, and it’s here that the disconnect usually happens.

To understand this, you should ask yourself: is your design team a sweatshop of pixel pushers or are they seen as skilled craftspeople who add value and insight when making complex decisions

Design is not a commodity. Turning ideas into products with personality requires a mix of imagination, artistry, and thoughtfulness. Moreover, you must always keep in mind that moments of user delight are often hidden in the details that most likely were not thought of in the overall big picture.

You should then ask yourself if your design team is stepping away—or being removed altogether—from the implementation phase. Or are they seated by the developers’ side and making critical decisions when they need to be made?

Turning ideas into real-world products requires using the designer’s skills while also testing, negotiating, adjusting and, with that, solving implementation problems.

Not Seeing Stars: When Thinking and Doing Aren’t In Harmony

What happens in the real world when the mind (design thinking) and the hand (design doing) don’t exist in harmony? If you haven’t checked both boxes as part of your design process, chances are your product is in a death spiral of single-star reviews due to poor usability or unmet user needs.

As you know, design isn’t just about making things pretty. Great design is smart. Many product failures were overly focused on execution at the expense of a strong vision. Conversely, some products fulfill genuine user needs, but fail in their execution, leaving not only room for better-executed ideas to prevail, but even worse, they become the staple of what not to do, which can damage a company’s reputation.

An imbalance between design thinking and design doing may result in the following pitfalls:

Why the Disharmony?

Now that you know the consequences of this disconnect, it’s important to understand why it happens:

  • Functional silos: Let’s face it: a design team is not immune from the silos that can exist in almost any organization. Having a siloed organization will promote misalignment between teams, which will significantly increase the risk of failure.
  • A rigid process: Design processes are often poorly defined, and that’s an issue that’s easily uncovered. What is often missed is that they can also be too rigid. Regular user feedback sessions are critical, but when they become the be-all-and-end-all of design, there’s no room for going with your gut. So no matter how quickly you move or how efficient you are, failing to plan for the unexpected can stifle inspiration and magic “aha” moments.
  • Understanding the role and value of design: The design process can often seem like a mystery to non-designers. When, how, and why to use design isn’t always clear to stakeholders or department leads. Engaging designers too late in the process will limit their impact.

At the Intersection of Thinking and Doing: Those Magic Moments

How do you bridge the disconnect between design thinking and design doing?

A well-defined design process is like a well-oiled machine that allows for those magic moments that lead to brilliant and unexpected solutions. So, how can you have that?

  • Empower designers: Designers have a hand in shaping the strategic vision for a product and also in the pixel-perfect output. So, make sure you give your designers free rein to make decisions and challenge assumptions. And, use your designers and developers to solve problems and not just to execute pre-conceived solutions. Don’t prioritize reactive decision-making over thoughtful solutions.
  • Increase visibility and context: There is a symbiotic relationship between product, design, and development. These teams need full context to make smart decisions. Great design doesn’t happen in a bubble. Always ask why. Share research insights. Build cross-functional teams that share ideas and goals. Validate each step with your original vision. Designers need to be engaged throughout the entire process, not just delivery.
  • Focus on your users: A successful product or service will balance both the needs of users and the needs of the business. Understand user behavior and motivation. Early in the design process, ethnographic research will help identify user attitudes and behaviors. Later, usability testing will help refine how users interact with your product or service.

Finally, pay attention to the process. Adjust where needed, knowing that there’s value in both a thoughtful approach and a well-crafted solution. Think before doing. Then do and rethink at the same time. You will start seeing the tension going away for good.