Design Thinking, What a Concept?

It’s sort of funny, we’ve been legitimized by higher ed and the business process folks out there.  It turns out that all this time, while we’ve been busily working away at our collections and getting our work done, what we have really been doing is engaging in ‘design thinking’.

Oddly, we’ve been doing it all this time, but we just didn’t have a fancy term for the way we approach our work other than ‘design’. But ‘design’ isn’t worth $35,000 a month for a consultant, so now we have ‘design thinking’.

Design thinking (as opposed to plain old design) is the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, apply creativity to generating solutions, and analyzing and choosing solutions within context.  In design speak, that means we understand our marketplace, we understand our assignment (design little girl’s mittens), we go out and start thumbnailing design ideas, and then we work with our design director to choose designs we think most likely to sell and that our factories can be produce. We’ve been doing ‘design thinking’ the time.

The premise behind design thinking is that by knowing about the process and the methods that we as designers use to ideate (e.g., come up with our ideas), and by understanding how we approach problems to try to solve them, other individuals and businesses will be better able to connect with and invigorate their ideation processes in order to take innovation to a higher level. Which is kind of cool, that people have caught on to the fact designers think about the world differently.

The hope amongst the business people is to create a competitive advantage in today’s global economy.

So now educators are trying to teach non-practitioners to think like we do.

Perhaps the suits are going about it all wrong, and instead of trying to teach their accountants to think like we do, maybe, just maybe, they should go to the source, and convene groups of designers from all the disciplines to brainstorming weekends. We’re used to designing on cycles, and we’re used to designing to challenges. Most of our ideas would be unworkable (just like they are now) but I would bet that one or a few compelling and applicable answers would be produced.

But I’d argue that Design Thinking would be better applied to things that are globally significant to all of us. Things like climate change, pollution, child labor, slavery, human rights abuses, and even, dare I say it, war? I bet we could come up to some really creative solutions to some of these issues facing us. After all, we already understand that our design decisions have consequences. When we call for hand beading on a sweater, we know that little tiny fingers will be called in to put those beads in place.

I have to wonder if as Design Thinking is being taught, if consequences are taught along with the process methodology?