Design Thinking…

…and why it is too important to leave to designers
Arnold Wasserman

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Arnold Wasserman leading non-designers in a Design Thinking Charrette Workshop

What most people understand as ‘design’ has to do with familiar material objects – from Arne Jacobson chairs to iPhones, from H&M fashion to the Swatch Smart Car, from Frank Gehry museums to sustainable green communities.

Design today is evolving along new paths and at an accelerating pace, blurring the traditional boundaries of design and compounding the ambiguity between ‘design as product’ – physical, tangible stuff – and ‘design as process’ – a way of thinking, a set of cognitive skills, methods, tools and techniques having intrinsic value in their own right.

everybody can learn design thinking and designers should disseminate design thinking by collaborating, not only with practitioners from other disciplines but with non-designers – the practice known as ‘co-design’

Those of us who were trained in design schools and who work every day in a design studio – industrial designers, architects, communications designers, digital media designers – know tacitly what design thinking is. We do it every day (although it must be said that few designers are self-reflective about the process itself or know the epistemology of the field). What we don’t realize is how alien our way of thinking is to non-designers and how powerful it can be as a cognitive methodology applicable to fields far beyond the traditional scope of design, such as health care, educational transformation and sustainable development — and at larger scales of strategic planning, organizational transformation and public policy.

In its simplest form, design thinking is a set of practices for gaining insight about people and their needs, building strategic foresight, discovering new opportunities, generating creative possibilities, inventing novel solutions of value and delivering these into the world as innovations adopted at scale. In application, design thinking makes use of a broad repertoire of methods, tools and techniques – expressed most often in an iterative, spiral development process model, of which this illustration is typical:

Three tenets of design thinking guide my own practice. The first is that designers should apply design thinking to improve life widely beyond the traditional boundaries of design. The second is that everybody can learn design thinking and that designers should disseminate design thinking by collaborating, not only with practitioners from other disciplines but with non-designers – the practice known as ‘co-design’. Finally, design thinking should be embedded in K-12 curricula both as a subject domain in its own right and as a pedagogical structure for teaching academic subject matter.