For Gilbert, all those “design thinking” Post-It pow-wows, slick whiteboard doodles, and user-empathy excursions that are used to illustrate design today are essential but ultimately not the point. “For me design has always been about scaling quality. It’s all it is—it’s a business outcome.”

Gilbert was running a software company when he realized that thinking like a designer allowed him to get into the heads of customers and better anticipate their needs. “It wasn’t until I ran into the formalism of design that I realized, this was a way to scale,” he elaborated in a follow-up call with Quartz. “There were people formally trained in sweating the details of a human’s experience with a product, or an idea, or an action.”

His pragmatic definition of design’s utility is refreshing amid the battle over the term “design thinking” that has pre-occupied design circles. Is design thinking redundant? (Design, like all pursuits, involves thinking after all.) Is it a marketing ploy? Is it bullshit? What IBM reminds us is that design’s power doesn’t happen in the drawing board but in its repercussions.

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