Design Vs. Design Thinking.

We're having an excellent conversation about design and design thinking and I'd really like it to continue. If you missed Christopher Fahey's recent comment, please read it here. It's an important contribution to the discussion.

We’re having an excellent conversation about design and design thinking and I’d really like it to continue. If you missed Christopher Fahey’s recent comment, please read it here. It’s an important contribution to the discussion.

“Here’s an idea: A young person goes to an art school or a design school to learn design hands-on among designer peers, then they get a job in the real world to learn about business, then if they work hard and pay attention in a few years they flower into what you call a “design thinker”.

Or they go to a business school and then start messing around with Photoshop, HTML and CSS, Visio or CAD, pencil and paper, or whatever design tools they can. They get a job in the real world working closely with designers. They actually practice design more and more — they “pay their dues”. And then, again, after a few years of work and dedication they also blossom into a “design thinker”.

Bruce, I agree with you that design will more and more be the driving force behind business decisions, and I agree that business leaders with a deep understanding of design values and processes will have an edge in the future over their peers who do not. Which makes it all the more perplexing why you consistently advocate creating and cultivating the next generation of design managers through training them in business, not design, skillsets — instead of cultivating business skills among those who already have strong foundation design talents and skills. Is it not obvious to you that these emerging design-conscious business leaders might be most profitably drawn from the ranks of, say, *designers*?

I’m not sure how someone with what is basically a business education and a smattering of hands-on design education is being trained to be a design leader (what’s worse, many d-school programs seem to have no hands-on design whatsoever). As a design leader, I wouldn’t hire anyone to directly manage designers who didn’t actually have expert-level hands-on design skills. I fear that your d-schools are not training people to be hired by the innovative designers who are ascending through corporate America today — they are, perhaps, actually training people to be hired by the MBAs the real design leaders are replacing.

Or maybe the subtext of your platform is that, despite all the hype around the value of design thinking, it’s still just a subset of business thinking. Which might explain why we designers are constantly perplexed and put off by the whole idea.

I’m not trying to throw a Molotov cocktail here, but I’ve always found this “design thinking” thing confusing because you and others never explain what role designers — people who sit down with pencil and paper, mouse and screen, and actually design things — have to play in the design thinking equation. I personally think the role they (we) will have to play is profound and unprecedented in scope — but what do *you* think? It would be great to hear your thoughts about design thinking as it pertains to someone who might not be an MBA — e.g., for a *designer*.”

Basically, Fahey asks what is the role of the designer in the new field of design thinking. In my back-and-forths with Pentagram’s Michael Beirut at the Design Observer and other design folks, this is a major issue. In our discussion over the One Laptop Per Child, it developed as a key issue. And it’s a critical issue in design education as well.

My own current thinking is that designers must play a critical role in the creation of this new field of design thinking. The whole core culture of design is essential to design thinking. In fact, I would argue that the rise of Web 2.0 and social networking reinforces the traditional design focus on empathy and integration—human factors, the user interface, culture. Web 2.0 technology is behind the boost to design in the corner office as businesses delve more deeply into the lives of their customers—who are demanding to be part of the process of creating and designing stuff. Social media reinforce their desire to participate.

But design thinking is such a new field that it’s not clear whether design schools or business schools will develop the formal concepts and methodologies that turn it into a broad, deep and powerful tool of organizational change.

The fact is that design thinking (or whatever we wind up calling this new field) is being created at the borders of design, business, engineering and even marketing. And I don’t know which institutions will take the lead in promoting it. We have the Stanford D-School, the IIT Institute of Design. and the Rotman School of Management in Toronto taking early leads in developing design thinking. The California College of the Arts is offering an MBA in Design Strategy.

But, as the list of 60 schools and programs shows, there are many more institutions in Europe and Asia working in the fields and many, many partnerships across the boundaries of design, engineering and business. No one really know how or where design thinking will take shape—only that it is.

Nick Leon director of Design London, the new program that links the Royal College of Art, the Tanaka Business School and Imperial College of London, thinks the term “design thinking” is ridiculous. Business people roll their eyes at “thinking.” He wants more rigor and prefers the term “design method.” OK by me.

I don’t think design thinking is a subtext of management science or the traditional stuff they teach in B-Schools. But many business schools are moving to integrate design and innovation into their curricula and teaching. Where the best research on all this develops, I don’t know. Right now I read the great stuff from the Design Management Institute, Rotman Magazine, the Harvard Business Review and the Innovation & Design channel—and a growing number of well-informed blogs. Here are just a handful. Experientia. Metacool. Logic + Emotion.

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