Design Vs. Design Thinking--The Talent Battle Continues.

Bruce Nussbaum

There is a nasty civil war going on in design education between traditionalists who want to focus on form and a new generation who focus on concept. This generation is into design thinking. It's an important battle for the entire business culture because it touches on the most important changes going on in the global economy--the rise of Asia, the evolution of the US economy, the future of the American/European job market, competitiveness, profits. It's big stuff.

So check out Dan Saffer's post on Adaptive Path for a pure traditionalist point of view. I'm in the design thinking camp so I don't get the bipolar, either-or-point of view expressed by Dan. To me, visualizing ideas for products, services, experiences via prototypes or videos is an important component of design thinking--of any design. So positing the education of form AGAINST the education of design thinking makes no sense. Apple's success is in large point due to its obsession with materials and form making. We made that point in the cover on Jonathon Ive in Inside Innovation.

So if design schools are beginning to just jump the teaching of form making to only deal with concept, Dan has a point. Then again, there are thousands of Chinese designers pouring out of hundreds of schools who know how to do form. There are thousands of Koreans who know how to do form. A career built on form-making will soon be in jeapordy in the US and Europe.

Design thinking merely takes the core components of design--its human factors focus, its empathetic anthropoligical viewpoint, its iteration and speed and other core concepts, abstracts and formalizes them and applies them to a broad array of spaces, including the business process itself. It is a very powerful methodology, a strategic methodology. Why would anyone turn away from using design thinking? Why should design schools deny themselves and their students this power--and opportunity? Why, as David Armano points out, would anyone want to be a purist?

As for Dan's comments about the design of real things being much harder than JUST design thinking, well that's argument by ignorance and attitude. The graduates of Patrick Whitney's Institute of Design in Chicago are heavy hitters doing big things.

This is a civil war not worth fighting.