Time for a change?

At a recent conference on design thinking keynote speaker Richard Buchanan[12] presented a slide showing his disappointment with the deterioration of design thinking (Buchanan, 2015). His remark is interesting in that it singled out IDEO for using what he framed as “they have a formula that they regard as design thinking” (Buchanan, 2015). This remark supports the proposed research in terms of Brown’s earlier call for design thinking requiring possible reinvention. Carlgren, Elmquist, & Rauth (2016c, p. 345) argue for a shift away from the current process view of design thinking and moving it into a management concept. The authors further state that in its current form design thinking is challenging to implement and that design thinking is not necessarily appropriate, nor does it work out well in every environment. Reasons for failure to implement or discontinuation may be related to problems of leadership, organizational culture and insufficient internal anchoring. Few respondents explicitly blamed design thinking as an inadequate concept for their purposes (Jan et al., 2016, p. 106).

Design thinking allows for individuals and organisations to clarify both their own goals and needs and those of their customers. The end user. An example is the remark made by Henry Ford[13]  “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (Smith & Gross, 2015, p. 34). Design thinking requires organisations and individuals (both creative and non-creative) to continuously ask themselves a fundamental question, ‘What if?’ (Shearer, 2015, p. 127). There is a difference between design thinking and designerly thinking. Dorst & Cross (2001, p. 426) remark that although it may be problematic to study the design process, “in every design project creativity can be found – if not in the apparent form of a distinct creative event, then as the evolution of a unique solution possessing some degree of creativity”. The authors further noted that the creative result was directly linked to the time spent defining and understanding the problem. Per Fischer (2015, 175) “designerly thinking focuses on the successful application and the theoretical discourse of design techniques for professionals, design thinking looks for possibilities to apply the method apart from professional design experiences”. Design thinking does not aim to first fix the problem and then move towards finding a satisfactory solution concept. Design thinking is a constant process of developing and refining between what is termed the ‘problem space’ and the ‘solution space’ (Dorst & Cross, 2001, p. 434).

Leifer, Meinel, and Plattner (2011, 5) confirm the importance of “design thinking as an approach for professional learning”. Each of these in turn have their own Model (format) of the design thinking process. Although there are differences in the Models, many still teach the fundamental stages of the process (gathering data, generating ideas, prototyping and testing), a set of tools and a proposed way of thinking about wicked problems (Carlgren, Rauth, et al., 2016, p. 40). The prototyping phase is beneficial with design thinking using “tangible prototypes to communicate, validate and explore insights and design ideas” (L. Leifer et al., 2012c, p. 107). Design thinking is taught and interpreted in many ways due to the previous experiences, background and bias of instructors. These instructors may view design thinking as either an approach or a methodology to solving problems. As such there exists little consensus on design thinking and it varying perspectives (Carlgren, Rauth, et al., 2016, p. 41). The authors note that even within a single organization design thinking may be viewed differently depending on the situation, skill of the leader, timeframe, team members and organisational context (Carlgren, Rauth, et al., 2016, p. 49).

Who is Tim Brown?

Tim Brown, the most cited author on design thinking is attributed with using the term ‘design thinking’ in 2003. Tim Brown is CEO and President of IDEO. He frequently speaks about the value of design thinking and innovation to business people and designers around the world. He participates in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and his talks Serious Play and Change by Design appear on TED.com


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