Can you Define Design Thinking?


Is DT trying to bring acceptance to the randomness of the industrial design process to a world that is typically adverse to randomness?

Not really. I don’t think we are random, we just change tools constantly to find the real problem. AT people don’t like this as they want a machine where you use the same tools over and over to be able to “mass produce” solutions.

I used mass produce on purpose. an AT wants to put plastic in one end and with a tool get a plastic part out the other end and do this a million times. This works great in the right places (such as the experience of going into a McDonalds anywhere in the world). But it doesn’t work well for wicked problems.

Maybe you could use DT to understand whether or not you even need tubing, or if the device even needs to couple to the 1inch couplings. lol

Actually, I’ve seen people describing a sort of super process where you imagine the end result as a rubber-band ball. during the additive DT phase, you keep learning and creating insights and therefore keep adding bands to the ball. then you start to make some decisions about which rubber bands to keep and which to remove. TimF, we should write a book about our new add and subtract methodology and be the next big thing.

One of the really interesting things about using any design process to solve non-design problems is that they can free you from attempting to predict future outcomes based on past experiences (cough six sigma). This removes a lot of the cynical jadedness while leaving behind the insights and wisdom from a career worth of experience. You anticipate future outcomes based on user needs, manufacture capabilities, current consumer trends. The U of MN did a lecture series last year on DT as a methodology, interestingly sponsored by the MN AIA chapter, and one of the lectures was by a gentlemen from the Phillips Future Lab, where he discussed how they attempt to predict future product areas based on different factors. They pay little to no attention to technology because it’s such a wild card.

The bit about people wanting clean floors not chemicals is my favorite point as to why research is so important. It’s also a good way to demonstrate why ID is even necessary. For instance, people don’t need engineered technology products, they need to text their buddy and tell them they are at the bar. People don’t need high horsepower mechanical devices, they need to get to work while feeling the exhilarating feeling of acceleration. DT and other design methodologies are better equipped to generate the type of insight that leads to those realizations than purely analytical methods.

Design itself is already hard to define but to me Design Thinking is just a way to emphasize the difference between “Design”(noun) from “Design”(verb).

Design thinking is a process… based around the “building up” of ideas… has seven stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn.
Thinking and Designing are almost synonymous, so it also make me wonder if it’s not “thinking about thinking” or how to think.
Either way in the end you’ll have a brain at work. :bulb:

Wow, I would be careful characterizing your process for making a living as random. :slight_smile: The inspiration in the shower comes to mind. But regardless of how you come up with ideas in your design work, you cannot just stand in the shower all day long, the water bills would really upset the consultancy or firm you work at. Whether you have a named and published process or just one that works for you, you have a process to generate good ideas day in and day out and in doing so you pay attention to things like ergonomics, aesthetics, usability, manufacture, distribution, materials…

That said, randomness, and by association things that don’t have systemic explanations (what a designer does) are hard for business people (who run “it”) to buy into. They need results, and they need to know that they don’t need to install and run a shower all day for you to consistently generate ideas for them. They get so sticky about this because they know that they don’t know how to generate ideas like we do and not knowing is scary.

What DT does is it give them something to grab, like LEED, or BIM, or 6Sigma. There are things that they can know are real methods and they can trust you aren’t sneaking off to the bathroom to run water over your head until the next Ipod pops into our heads.

Randomness may have been the wrong word for this discussion…but really…it applies because from what you’re saying an AT centric person believes that DT is random.

I’ve witnessed this first hand…see my spirited (semi-) fictional meeting scenario in another thread (Common Design Problem). As you say, an AT centric individual that wants to put plastic in one end and have “the right solution” come out on the other.

If that’s the case, it is really what happens inside the machine that is DT? An AT individual believes the line from pouring in to product out is a straight line. A DT indivdual understands that the line isn’t linear, in fact it may take a Rube Goldberg path to get there. They trust that it will have a postive outcome, even though it won’t necessarily be a known path. They may even identify and define SEVERAL paths to the end. You must choose wisely to find the best path…

To many I run into, this is random.

I do see what you’re getting at with it all. I realize that I need to drop the perception I have around the words “Design Thinking”. While this does seem to be a survey of 2 (Tim and Carton) there does seem to be some more cohesion around what defines Design Thinking. I have mostly gotten the sound bite version of DT and there isn’t much consistancy in how people use the term.

What I find irksome is that craigcloutier actually said a great deal about what “Design Thinking” is, and he was labeled as pretentious because his literary style is more intricately constructed and requires some reflection and contemplation on the part of the reader. In the context of dialogue between a user with a post count of 2 and a Moderator I would’ve expected a more welcoming inclusion on the part of the latter.

I don’t want to speak for craig, but if he’s going to take his ball and leave then i’ll take it and run with it for a while. To me he was confirming your suspicious that, yes, the term “Design Thinking” is being packaged and sold to the point of jumping the shark. If the design process or method could be easily quantified there would be far less need for corporate designers to push it within an organization or consultants to sell it to their clients, it would be in writing, and it would be more readily accepted within common analytical business practices.

So to me, what you view as the shark jumping version of Design Thinking is a scouring of the design process for elements that can be assembled into language that can be sold to those “at the table”, or to clients that don’t see or understand the value in finding a solution as opposed to defining one. How is this done (sold), well if you have hundreds of definitions of Design Thinking that points to all kinds of ways, but I have seen several methods, most of which refer to a very successful application of the design process, quite often the reference is to Ives or Jobs, sometimes based on the seller’s own successes. That reference is then followed by the analytical data of those successes to help the seller of Design Thinking put some real data behind its value. This can be an effective method because the analytical types are more comfortable considering options based on proven success, the challenge is to then show how you can provide those same kinds of successes with a method of thinking that they aren’t used to. In some cases it’s an attempt to show the value that designers bring to the table, and in others it’s just a straight up BS pitch to a client.

So you have how/why Design Thinking is being “sold”, and then you have what design thinking actually is…

I think that Design Thinking resides on the Philosophical side of things, for a few reasons. A couple months back a bunch of you guys did the Meyers / Briggs personality test. Almost everyone was an EN or an IN, N standing for intuition. People with intuition often say that they just know things, or that things just make sense to them, can you go into the boardroom and say, we should use this solution, it just makes sense to me. Sell that to someone that cares about definitions and quantifiable outcomes…

Going a little further, I see philosophy as intuition put into words that everyone can identify with. Great philosophers had such great intuition, they just knew certain truths and found ways to put it in terms that few would argue, in any language, from any background; it undeniably resonates on a human level. Are there successful products that have done the same, were they successful because of, or in spite of that human resonation? For me, being an INTP i’ve come to realize that intuition doesn’t just come from nowhere, it’s a thinking process, sometimes a very fast one, that allows the thinker to connect the dots between their memory, their senses, their experiences, and the experiences of others to arrive at something that people can relate to, in our case designs and solutions. That can be a very useful tool in business, but at the same time one that is difficult to justify against conventional methods.

How do you make all of this actionable? 1% Inspiration, 99% perspiration.

As far as how Design Thinking ensures successful design outcomes, does it? Define success.

Is design thinking anything like ideating?

And you’ve pinpointed exactly why Six Sigma and Lean do not work in creative environments. Sorry, I’m having a conversation on my own here.

I like Timf’s example:

P&G used DT to discover that people don’t want to buy a chemical, they just want to clean their floor. They then developed the Swiffer.

Cross, Nigel, ‘Discovering Design Ability’ in Buchanan, R. & Margolin, V., (ed.)
Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995), pages 105-120

“One theme is the importance of creativity and intuition…the recognition that problems and solutions in design are closely interwoven-that “the solution” is not always a straightforward answer to “the problem.”…the need to use sketches, drawings, and models of all kinds as a way of exploring problem and solution together, and of making some progress when faced with the complexity of design.”


"…the importance of the use of conjectured solutions by the designer…the role of the conjectured solution as a way of gaining understanding of the design problem, and the need, therefore, to generate a variety of solutions precisely as a means of problem analysis.”


"…a fundamental aspect is the nature of the approach taken to problems, rather than the nature of the problems themselves: “Design is a type of problem solving in which the problem solver views the problem or acts as though there is some ill-definedness in the goals, initial conditions or allowable transformations.”

It occurs to me that one of the reasons any design process works, at least for me, is that I know it will work. One of the surprising things I learned during that first year as a designer we all talk about, it that people in other fields don’t just assume they will “figure it out.” Most designers I know do just assume, well it’ll be challenging and take some doing, but there is an outcome that we will find, as a team.

Any of the processes used in design and problem solving work nicely as a road-map so that when you run into a block, you can say, well where are we in the process, and what can we do next to keep moving forward. I think this is as important as the idea that these are all frameworks that need to be applied as needed and not applied when not needed.

Here’s a for instance. I did a project with a smaller stationery company recently, and I used an abridged version of the AIGA’s design process, as a framework. Since I am the designer, and I know how to use the tools, I also know when I don’t really need them.

I make this point because one of the dangers in having a procedure, especially when you tell a non designer (boss) that you have a procedure is that when you don’t want to use it, they get scared. Procedures are created so that we don’t have to use our brains, and a designer is one of the few people in business that needs to be using their brain.

Now before we all flip, I don’t have a problem with procedures, the press operator should have a procedure to follow, he is doing the same thing over and over, and I want him to have all 20 digits when he goes home. I want the mechanic to follow the brake pad procedure when he routinely changes my brakes. I don’t want to be stuck with DT when I know something else will work better or when I think we need to look for a better solution.

That is funny. I would call what they are doing “Napping”

Touche…point taken and apology sent to craigcloutier in PM…

Now back to original programming.

I tried really hard not to join this thread, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Design Thinking is just the ability and practice of applying the creative process to typically, non design related things. It’s applying design to a system or service as well as objects. It’s applying design to the positioning of a system, service or object and not just the implementation. When you think about it, no matter what type of project you are doing there are 3 basic aspects to any phase: Observation, Synthesis and Execution. Design Thinking merely helps apply creativity to all of those moments and not just the final execution. Its about not just sitting behind a mirror in a research facility but getting out and doing some qualitative inspirational gathering. Its not just about thinking about what you’ve learned as 1+1=2, but rather looking at a problem from the perspectives of a multi-disciplinary team. And finally, Design Thinking isn’t worth even talking about if you’re not interested or capable of executing a quality design.

Simply put, design thinking is just applying the creative process to any problem you’d like to solve. Anyone that tells you otherwise is selling you a load of bull. It’s not a proprietary process or fool proof. Some people are better at it than others and those people don’t necessarily have to work at IDEO. I say all this as an industrial designer at IDEO (4 years and counting). I love what I do and the process I go through to do it. But its not magic. In all honesty, the most important part is synthesis. Taking everything you know and have learned about something and describing it in a robust, yet succinct way is really hard and easily complicated.

Like I said I couldn’t help myself. Just my 2 cents.

I’m with Geoff in that I kind of avoided this/missed it… but since he wrote what in my opinion is a good description of how I see it, I’ll just post a “cosign” to his post :wink:

This is what most of my day is spent on. Breaking down our process, looking at new ways of doing things, re thinking our team structure, opportunity identification… pretty much applying creative problem solving to as many aspects of our business as possible vs prescriptive (proven, but possibly dated) solutions.

Thanks for jumping in daaphearthrob…it is cool to hear form inside the bowels of IDEO. I respect the company for everything it has done. It has done way more good than most companies can claim. Hearing that the internal users of the term/process that is Desigh Thinking approach it with a more humble view is refreshing.

My issue with IDEO being the sheppard of DT as a thought process is that the company seems ot have become so good at PR that they come across as self-congratulatory. The press portrays them as the only one’s who can use DT. I realize the press loves to make one person/group the hero, but I also believe that message is honed and fostered as well.

So, before I turn this into an IDEO love/hate fest (I probably already have)…I will reiterate…what you defined above as DT is exactly what I was HOPING it would be. It is getting a different voice from many different places and I believe the message is getting garbled.

It SHOULD be simple. It is not. I belive the couple paragraphs you wrote should be posted as a disclaimer before any discussion of DT.

Carton - While I know you are making a valid point here it depends on the person involved. If you are the company that makes the product then using DT to possibly remove the pipe makes sense.

If you are the component tubing manufacturer you need to make the AT decision to change the tubing size. Otherwise you are going out of business right away. You could use DT to discover what to do if the tubing was no longer needed. Are their other markets for you? Do you use the machinery you have to make something besides tubing that has more of a future? Is there a value add you can create?

So what I am getting at is DT and AT need to be used depending on the situation. Please don’t take this as criticism. I did see the “lol” in your post. I just want to make a point that while we need more DT, that doesn’t mean we should trow out all AT.

as I understood it, DT is Designers & non-designers using the design process to creatively solve problems, and on more than just traditional design challenges. The creative design process isn’t new to designers who have done it over and over again from freshman year, but might be new to other professionals. Being non-critical and open to all ideas so as to not squash creative thought also seems like a huge part.

It’s similar to what the daaphearthrob said (though he said it much better). It seems so deceptively simple that it feels like there should more to it.

Did any of you read (The Big Re-Think) on Core? I thought some valid criticisms to DT were brought up, including;

    • Can the design process be this democratic when participating members might have radically different agendas (ie. business team members valuing speed to market & profit over beauty & useability)

    • practicing designers have gone through a darwininan selection process to be in the role, putting in tens of thousands of hours, and learning to synthesize multiple objectives creatively. Does bringing in other professions as equal voices in the design process devalue designers? (Verganti)

    • When designers try to get so much closer to the business side by integrating their views, do they become less visionary? (Verganti) This resonates several discussions on CoreForums arguing design for improving the world vs. making clients money

another really good point in the comment area suggested our role as designers should be as interpreters of all the creative design thinking and ideas, not necessarily as just equal participants

Can you suggest Design Thinking literature? Books, links, articles?

Here is perhaps the definitive article on the subject, from the person I hear it associated with the most, Tim Brown. He’s also writing a book based on the article, and has a blog about it.

The gist is that innovation is strategic to business, and the process of innovation can be replicated. This is what designers do today, but more people should learn about it. This has really been IDEO’s message for years now, I think Tim’s just found a clear way to sell it to the business community.