Design Thinking

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Design Thinking Methodology is the application of a specific form of inquiry. Its purpose is to analyze products or styles of design according to an understanding of relevant contextual information. Conclusions can then be formed about the impact those design products have had on the design community as well as the wider world in which we all live.

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“Design is always changing. It continually transforms how we engage with each other and our world in new and exciting ways. New processes, strategies and technologies are invented. Historical precedents are reevaluated and critiqued. Innovative storytelling and narrative techniques are formed. Who are those driving this constant process of change? Designers, educators, curators, and authors are among those who are actively reshaping the creative process, directing currents in contemporary culture, and redefining the meaning of design.”—AIGA, Chicago

What did design thinking mean at the beginning of the 20th Century?

1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, 1980’s, after 9/11?

Exploring the notion of Design Thinking is a way to understand past historical design movements or individual designers and their work. It requires an understanding of Zeitgeist (context) to fully realize the meaning that a historical design movement represents. Zeitgeist is NOT an art or design movement itself. Zeitgeist is also NOT the products created by design. Zeitgeist is instead loosely translated to mean “the spirit of the time”. It is the result of all of the surrounding variables effecting the way people think and do things and as a result of that thinking, what they design and make. Examples of some of those main variables which influence how we think and do and design are; culture, geography (where we live), belief systems (religion), and technology (inventions).

We may further break down the concept of Design Thinking into two subsets, “Design Leading” and “Design Following”. Our definition of Design Leading means that the result or effects of the designer’s work or design movement can be seen on areas beyond the art/design world. (The design world would include fine art, graphic design, architecture, fashion, interior design, etc.) Therefore, outside the art world would include any and every non-art/design area. (economics, politics, agriculture, technology, philosophy, sociology, etc.) By default then, “Design Following” means that the artist/designer or design movement did not initiate—but instead followed, was influenced by, or was in reaction to—a development that first occurred in another area or discipline that was considered a non-art area.

The result of Design Thinking, in either case of leading or following, is that  innovation occurs. There is a resulting new direction. Sometimes this is quite radical. Sometimes subtle. Sometimes it is the result of an evolution taken to it’s logical conclusion. Sometimes it is a conscious effort to reject previous modes of thinking/designing.

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Origins

The notion of design as a “way of thinking” has its roots in the notions of Visual Thinking, Multiple Intelligences, and as a way of organizing creative action. A broader view of design thinking is that it can be highly influential with regard to addressing intractable human concerns within the larger context of community.

Definition

Design thinking combines having empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context. It is perhaps a practical approach to a more traditional definition of creative thinking. It is creative thinking-in-action.

By knowing about the process and the methods that designers use to come up with ideas, and by understanding how designers approach problems to try to solve them, we are better able to understand their results. The ultimate purpose being to build on that understanding and take innovation and realization of new concepts/directions to a higher and more achievable level.

Design thinking is a methodology for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking that starts with the goal or what is meant to be achieved instead of starting with a certain problem. (sometimes referred to as “backward mapping”). Then, by focusing on the present and the future, the parameters of the problem and the resolutions are explored, simultaneously. This type of thinking most often happens in the built environment, also referred to as the artificial environment (as in artifacts).

Scientific Method

This differs from the scientific method, which starts with defining all the parameters of the problem in order to define the solution. Rather, the design way of problem solving starts with a solution in order to start to define enough of the parameters to optimize the path to the goal. The solution, then, is actually the starting point. Problem-based solving vs. solution-based solving.

For example, a client might come to an architect’s firm after having seen one of the houses they built. Having bought the perfect piece of land, the client may ask for the same “perfect” house. The architect then has a solution as a starting point to flesh out the many parameters (of site slope, facing, views, familial needs, future needs, etc.) in order to create new resolutions within the original scope for the considerations of this new client, new site, needs, wants, codes, etc.

The terms analysis and synthesis come from (classical) Greek and mean literally “to loosen up” and “to put together” respectively. In general, analysis is defined as the procedure by which we break down an intellectual or substantial whole into parts or components. Synthesis is defined as the opposite procedure: to combine separate elements or components in order to form a coherent whole. However, analysis and synthesis, as scientific methods, always go hand in hand; they complement one another. Every synthesis is built upon the results of a preceding analysis, and every analysis requires a subsequent synthesis in order to verify and correct its results.

This is not to say that Design Thinking does not use analysis to inform the final solution, however the approach of a Design Thinker in terms of problem solving is from the perspective of the end goal.

Design Thinkers also use divergent thinking and convergent thinking to explore many possible solutions. Divergent thinking is the ability to offer different, unique or variant ideas adherent to one theme while convergent thinking is the ability to find the “correct” solution to the given problem. Design thinking encourages divergent thinking to ideate many solutions (possible or impossible) and then uses convergent thinking to prefer and realize the best resolution.

Problem-solving

Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions.

An example of a design thinking process could have seven stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. Within these seven steps, problems can be framed, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen. The steps aren’t linear; they can occur simultaneously and can be repeated.