July 27, 2022

Rodolpho Henrique

Stop Design Thinking and Start Design Doing

July 27, 2022

Design Thinking is a popular approach to solving problems that’s being actively used by millions of designers and other professionals around the world. People often talk about the efficiency and great productivity that Design Thinking brings to the table. But is it really a remedy from all difficulties, especially in design? Our today’s guest, Rodolpho Henrique, Design Lead at McKinsey & Company, challanges this idea as he believes that Design Thinking is not a cure-all and actually working on designs and perfecting them matters even more

Rodolpho Henrique, Design Lead at McKinsey & Company

Rodolpho has been working in digital design for 10 years, creating interfaces that transform people’s lives. He works as a hands-on designer, turns ideas into first-class experiences and runs design operations for big leaders and startups over the world

Part 1. Meeting Rodolpho

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Rodolpho, please tell us a bit about your design background

I am a Brazilian designer who has been working on digital product design for the past 10 years. I focus all of my energy on interaction design, user interface and the general visual aesthetics of digital products so they can stand out as a unique product in the market and amongst the competitors.


I’ve studied Graphic Design and discovered this passion for the craft and the aesthetics in the early days of my career. Even though I've been focusing all of my time on digital design over the last few years, graphic design still serves as my main source of inspiration and helps me  in solving design problems.

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Do you remember when you first got interested in design?

I got into design because of music. Looking back, I remember being fascinated by music and skateboarding from the early age. I eventually started playing musical instruments and landed as a drummer in a punk rock band where I was responsible for designing all promotional materials (album artworks, concert posters, etc.). Nobody asked me to do that; I took the initiative myself because I thought this was something I should be responsible for. And that's how it all began. 


I started playing around with Photoshop designing concert flyers, MySpace layouts and everything we needed to promote the band. In a short period of time, I was not only doing artwork for my band, but also for friends' bands, local music festivals and other artists.

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Here’s a tip I give to every design student: start working as soon as you can

This period of my life was inspiring because I understood that I was able to express my view, thoughts and feelings using colors, typography and forms. Fast-forward 10 years, graphic design still plays an important role in my life when it comes to inspiration, rules and definitions I use for my daily work.

Rodolpho at work

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You suggested a topic about trading Design Thinking for Design Doing. Could you describe the core idea behind this transition?

I have a feeling that Design Thinking has become a buzzword —people think they can use this methodology to come up with innovation and that is not true. It works for some specific scenario problems, but I don't believe that such a simple step-by-step methodology can be a universal methodology for solving all the design problems in the digital world.

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A simple sentence written in a pink post-it will not solve any real-world problem. On the other hand, sketches, concepts, prototypes or any other ways to express things in a tangible way will do

We have so many people calling themselves design experts and teaching about success but when you look closer, they never really shipped a real product in their lives. It’s scary to see people without real experience talk about rules and methodologies.

Part 2. Work and experiments

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How did you start working at McKinsey & Company?

McKinsey's recruitment process is pretty solid and transparent. It is not difficult, but it requires a lot of organization and planning before going to the interviews. What I like the most about this process is that you get the chance to speak with a lot of people from different workstreams and backgrounds — designers are only 60% of the process, so you need to be able to communicate design to non-designers.


A funny story about my recruiting process: during that time, I was working in Thailand on a confidential project for my previous company and I had one of the most important interviews scheduled — with a partner from the New York office — during my time in Thailand. As the time zones were completely different, I remember setting up the alarm for 3 AM Thailand time to have the interview with her.

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While working at McKinsey & Company you traveled to Olso for 8 months. What was the project you worked on during that time? Did you like that experience?

That period of my life was astounding, both from personal and professional perspectives. I moved to Norway to work with a big client from the travel sector that was redesigning their B2B experience. 


During my living there, I tried to absorb inspiration and knowledge from the nordic people who I already admired for their simplicity, functional thinking, democracy and habits.

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It was a great learning experience that helped me rethink how I used to approach and solve problems, highlighting that the simplest solution is always the best one
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What did you like the most about switching continents and climates for almost a year?

Getting to know different people and learning from them. In the end, it's all about people.


I try to get the most I can from dealing withdifferent cultures and different perspectives; we all have so much to learn from our equals. We always have something to learn from someone else — from the way they present something to the way they structure a problem.

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Is such rotation popular at McKinsey & Company? And do you think it’s good for a company to have such projects?

Absolutely yes. McKinsey has offices and clients all over the world, so we're constantly traveling to work with clients in other countries. This is a great environment for designers because we're constantly exposed to different types of problems and cultures, so we're forced to reeducate ourselves on each project. I enjoy every second of these experiences. Working in different countries with different behaviors and habits puts you in a constant mood for learning. I love this quote: “If you're the smartest person in the room, then you're in the wrong room.”

I remember working with Asian client where I accidentally used an icon that was quite normal here in Brazil, but represented something completely different — and also offensive — to the Asian population. So these are the moments where you need to reshape your mindset and learn new cultural aspects.

Rodolpho recommends

  1. 'Better Web Typography for a Better Web' by Matej Latin
    This is a new book I recently read and found it extremely useful to understand and approach one of the most important things for any digital product, typography.
  2. 'Grid Systems in Graphic Design'
    Know the rules, so you can break them with purpose. Understanding grids is one of the most essential things for any designer and developer.
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Ok, earlier we touched the Design Thinking vs Design Doing. Could you explain what is Design Thinking? Why, in your opinion, it has become a buzzword?

Design Thinking is a solid problem-solving methodology to that only works for some specific cases and does not make any sense for others, but, for some reason, people decided to copy and paste it for every project or problem they need to solve. Most people are lazy so they think there is a perfect recipe they can apply to everything and it will be successfully solved. This is not how it works in reality.

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What are the significant pros and cons of the Design Thinking approach?

Design Thinking is built as a tool for innovation, it’s an approach for the development of innovative solutions. This methodology is just a starting point for going deeper.

The methodology itself has helped a lot to bring the user focus to the table with С-levels and big companies — as designers who have been fighting with this over the past years, we should be extremely grateful for that. 

But we can't forget that following a methodology will never bring you ready-to-use solutions of your complex problems.

What software do you commonly use?

Apple Reminders
Apple Reminders

It is a simple and obvious way to keep my to-do list neat and organized throughout my various devices

Pen and paper
Pen and paper

I found sketching and drafting ideas on paper the best way to document and communicate them with my team

Calendar on Apple
Calendar on Apple

It might sound silly, but my calendar agenda is the source of truth about what I should spend my time on it

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What do designers miss out on while concentrating only on theoretical approaches, such as Design Thinking (DT)?

Design Thinking is pretty effective, the problem is that we cannot make it sound like this is all that Design can do. An architect is recognized by their constructions and buildings — and, of course, to achieve the final result you need a process, but the final result is what means the most. So why are we highlighting so much of the process and not the final result in the digital design world?


The design market is filled with people with no technical knowledge and no real experience, who use these buzzwords and jargon to sound impressive and intelligent to the clients, but they lack understanding of how things are really done in the design world. People are sugarcoating terms to make them sound more important and this ultimately leads to failure. You don't create innovation or ship a real product by only using words written over pink post-its. That is a fact.


I believe that using a bunch of jargon and buzzwords doesn't make you create a great digital product. Designing, shipping, failing and designing it again will do.


And don’t forget aesthetics, functionality, balance, composition and visual structure. From my perspective, these are the main things we constantly see when we're interacting with digital products. These ones deserve a high level of attention, too.

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You don't create innovation or ship a real product by only using words written over pink post-its. That is a fact

Part 3. Rapid Round

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If you weren’t a designer, what would you do?

I’d definitely become a musician. I would be playing drums in a punk rock band touring the country or making music in a studio somewhere in the world.

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How do you think the design industry will evolve in the next 10 years?

I'm really optimistic to see how the "no-code'' tools (like Webflow — which I'm a huge fan of) are growing fast. I don't believe they will ever replace the full development, but there is a great thing that comes with these tools — the fact of democratizing the web.

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What would be your professional advice to those designers who’re stuck in the ‘thinking’ phase?

Forget about other designers for a second. Call different people outside your industry to help you think about the problem. You will be surprised by how many different and useful insights you will get.