Design thinking, design, Change by Design, other things

I finished Tim Brown’s Change by Design last night.

From what I understand, Tim Brown, along with some other folk, popularised the term design-thinking, and it was design-thinking that resonated with the business-type folk as a way to tackle the need to innovate in order to stay profitable.

Change by Design is, in part a set of stories about how IDEO tackled different challenges, and in part, a recounting of approaches and methods to take a design approach to a problem.

There are some nice insights in the book.

“For design thinkers, however, behaviours are never right or wrong, but they are always meaningful”.

A paragraph about “thoughtless acts”, as described by Jane Fulton Suri, psychologist and pioneer of human factors research. “Thoughtless acts” are the stuff we do everyday without thinking, like propping the door open with our shoe or sticky taping different power cords to the wall so they don’t get in our way.

I really liked this sentence about first time experiences in stressful situations, like first time in the emergency ward at hospital after an accident or the first time you check out an aged care facility for your elderly parents. “In these situations we look at everything with a much higher level of acuity because nothing is familiar and we have not fallen into the routines that make daily life manageable.”

I also liked the piece about convergent and divergent thinking. “Woven into the very fabric or culture is an emphasis on thinking based upon logic and deduction”. Psychologist Richard Nisbett coined the term “geography of thought”.

And the piece on the difference between analysis and synthesis. “Synthesis, the act of extracting meaninful patterns from masses of raw information, is a fundamentally creative act; the data are just that-data-and the facts never speak for themselves”.


“You people have no process”

The other night at the Collective Impact talk I stood up and asked this question:

“How do you, as a business leader, sell design to your organisation? For example, if I go in and don’t have the answers and propose ideas that will fail, how do you, as a leader, convince others of my (design’s) value?” 

There was general agreement that a design approach was good, but that wasn’t really my question.

So I rephrased the question. I’m pretty sure I heard someone behind me sigh.

Anyways, I think this is what I was trying to articulate (badly).

How do organisations deal with a bunch of designers coming in and working on big, hairy social problems? Don’t other project members say “Hang on, design = pretty things. Why exactly are the designers here, again? Must we humour them?”? 

I didn’t really get an answer that I understood. I take responsibility that this is probably a deficit in my own thinking.

But I also wonder if perhaps what a design-lead approach may offer may not actually be well understood by business leaders. And I understand, that perhaps to academics and others in the audience, this doesn’t matter. But as a practitioner you need support from senior management to be effective in your role. Because, if you think about introducing a design process into a project or organisation where there has never been one before, there’s going to be inevitable toe-stepping, disbelief about methods and confusion about what the actual point is.

And more than that, to be honest, I’m still not really clear on what we, as designers, are proposing we actually bring to the table, either. Beyond a few design methods that may be useful, and frankly, anyone could buy a book about design methods and figure that bit out for themselves.

Here’s a possibly relevant article by Bruce Nussbaum – Design Thinking is a Failed Experiment

I think I’ve been trying to shoehorn design into something more than it is, and perhaps it is only ever useful when it’s tied back to artefacts of some kind.