Wicked Problems

A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or near impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. many people confuse difficult or complex problems with wicked problems. As a rough guide if you can bring about a complete solution with either enough money or available time, you probably don’t have a wicked problem. In trying to solve or provide an innovative solution (sometimes only partly) the design team are reuired to use a multidisciplinary approach. Drawing on extensive experience, combined with an open mind that will allow thoughts from a multitude of ares to enter. These then need to be shared with other team members so that they too can undertake or build on these. Possible or probable solutions to wicked problems cannot be rushed and many take several years to evolve. Sometimes gaining interest and input from the strangest or least expected person, article, expert or experience.

In an article titled ‘Wicked Problems in design thinking’, it states “despite efforts to discover the foundations of design thinking in the fine arts, the natural sciences, or most recently, the social sciences, design eludes reduction and remains a surprisingly flexible activity” (Buchanan, 1992, p. 5). The author continues to note “no single definition of design, or branches of professionalized practice such as industrial or graphic design, adequately covers the diversity of ideas and methods gathered together under the label” (Buchanan, 1992, p. 5).

Although Buchanan is unclear on the foundations of design thinking what he does confirm is that design thinking is a method or process of solving problems. Ketter (2016, 22) states “design thinking is not a new concept, but it is finally catching on in the business world”. Luchs notes (Griffin, Luchs, & Swan, 2015, p. 3) “there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of specific design thinking–related methods and tools available”. Each variant is in a sense similar yet can be seen as a prototype that has built on the work of predecessors (Griffin et al., 2015, p. 3). There are conflicting reports of who used the term design thinking first. Tim Brown is widely attributed with having coined the phrase ‘design thinking’ in 2003 while in a meeting with IDEO’s CEO, David Kelley. Together it was decided to stop calling the company’s approach ‘design’ and start calling it ‘design thinking’ (Kelley, 2016). Literature shows that L. Bruce Archer, a British engineer, also used the term ‘design thinking’ in 1980 (Purdy & Popan, 2016).

Further research revealed that Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Prize winner and political scientist, introduced the concept behind design thinking in 1969. “Simon identified three critical steps to engaging in decision making: firstly, thoroughly investigate the issue to discover all relevant information; secondly, analyse the information and identify all possible courses of action; and finally, make a choice about which path should be taken” (Purdy & Popan, 2016). Between 2003 and 2010, design thinking was gaining traction globally (Carlgren, Rauth, & Elmquist, 2016, p. 40).

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