Why we use Design Thinking.
Part I


How pattern recognition can limit creativity

Humans love patterns. I don’t mean the tartans, paisleys, floral prints and polka dots that brighten those all-too-frequent Zoom meetings, but the patterns and repetitions that we find in nature and in life that allow us to take our learning from one experience and apply it elsewhere.


Pattern recognition allows us to read quickly without having to process each word letter by letter or parse each phrase. It allows us to group and categorise plant and animal species, to extract structured tasks to make subroutines in programming, to extrapolate our experience and theorise new scientific solutions.Pattern recognition is clearly a wonderful thing. It can also be hugely limiting.

Once we’ve developed a technique or found a successful solution to a problem, we tend to look for similar patterns in other problems and tackle them in the same way. We get set in our ways and blind to other approaches, because we believe we already have the answers and solutions. The problem is, just because we have a possible answer, it doesn’t mean we have the optimum answer.

Pattern recognition is a wonderful thing. It can also be hugely limiting.

A child who has just learned about fractions will assume these are the answer to any question where they might be applied. If their parent says, “There are going to be seven of us for supper tonight and I’ve only got five potatoes”, the child will calculate that everyone will get 5/7 of a potato and start thinking of cunning ways to cut the spuds accordingly. An experienced cook will be heating up the oil to make chips or reaching for the potato masher.

We also tend to love doing what we do well, so we don’t often ask if it actually is our skill set that’s needed in a given situation. A website designer might spend time trying to make a clickable button look better, going through the full range of the tools they’ve mastered - colour palettes, shapes, finishes and typographies, whereas a UX designer will try and figure out how to get rid of the button altogether.

This, then, is the problem. We each have organised schemas - sets of information and expectations based on our experience and learning that are triggered in response to stimuli. And we automatically reach for these to make quick fixes, without considering alternatives.

This is where Design Thinking comes into its own. 

Born out of the concept design development techniques of the late Fifties and Sixties, Design Thinking entered the language of business around the turn of the century. In a nutshell, Design Thinking is a question-based, user-focused, iterative approach to problem solving that breaks the mould on traditional approaches; it encourages us to sneak up on a problem sideways, to think outside the box of our own discipline and experience. 

In the next article, I’ll delve deeper into Design Thinking and how it can help us find innovative, creative solutions.

One should never mistake pattern for meaning.
― Iain Banks

At Tantamount, we specialise in words and design and in making sure they work together to communicate brand messages effectively and appropriately. If you need help finding the right words and getting the tone right, why not mail us on hello@tantamount.com or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 and let’s have a chat?