Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Mystical Powers of The Designer -- aka "Design Thinking"

Recently, I was talking with a friend -- he spoke of a conversation he had had with someone in a different design discipline. This person told my friend that he felt the whole "design thinking" thing was a crock. I can see how one might come to that conclusion. It is definitely a recent buzz word. It has been receiving a lot of hype and is being used by people to stir up the emotions of non-designers and sell them the mysterious elixir from the exotic land of design. While I understand the concern, I see this as an opportunity to help people understand what we as designers do. It's a chance to demystify design, to educate non-designers and maybe even help them to incorporate some of our more useful processes into their non-design work. But, I think the real value of the "design thinking" surge is something completely different.

Once upon a time clocking billable hours for exercising our mystical powers was fun and profitable. The reality of contemporary design practice is quite different. While we continue to use words like intuition, talent, authenticity and creativity -- frameworks of understanding for each of them have begun to be developed. These frameworks are integral to "design thinking." Perhaps -- intuition comes from experience, talent lies in well developed skills, authenticity is determined by evolutionary models and creativity is determined by the value of outcomes within a domain. These developments are not to be feared or disregarded due to their hype-factor. In fact it’s good news that we have begun to understand these mystical powers of ours in a more quantifiable light.

Design thinking may be wrought with buzz or hype. But, maybe there is good reason for this. Do we work in mysterious ways? Sometimes. Examining design thinking provides us with an opportunity to better understand both our physical and cognitive process. This increased understanding can only be a good thing -- allowing us to teach and practice more effectively.

It's a good sign and a mark that our craft is reaching an age of maturity where we might begin to consider calling it a discipline.

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