Design Thinking or Design Doing?

The term “Design Thinking” became prominent during the past decade, celebrated at places like the TED conferences, the World Economic Forum and among firms such as IBM and government agencies trying to become more innovative and more creative. Some people use the term to describe how designers approach solving problems in ways that are human-centred (rather than technology- or organisation-centred) and involve repeated, often collective activities of visualisation and prototyping during a process to design new services, products or policies, coming up with entirely new ideas rather than selecting between available options. For others, contemporary design is already all about these approaches, and calling it a special kind of thinking does not add much.

I don’t use the term Design Thinking but my elective does draw extensively on a long history of studies of how professional designers go about designing in several fields, and my own professional experience. It has a strong focus on design for services and social innovation.

The reasons I don’t use the term Design Thinking include
– it often involves descriptions of what designers do and make, rather than how they think; and
– claiming designers’ work as entirely different and special is not supported by academic studies and is confused by the idea that all professional work is a kind of design.

Other educators and researchers teaching design on MBAs who prefer to use other terms include colleagues such as Youngjin Yoo (Temple University) who talks about “design enquiries” or Fred Collopy and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University who refer to a “design attitude”. The details of our various bits of terminology probably does not matter greatly to students. What we all share, however, is a deep interest in what goes on in professional designing and exploring how that can be a resource for managers and entrepreneurs.

What I aim to achieve in this elective is for students to have a hands-on learning experience that exposes them to the ways designers working in the design school tradition do designing. This is backed up with critical and reflective readings about the design process and designers’ practices, and discussion about how these might be integrated into organisations of different kinds and scales.

Read more about Design Thinking


Bruce Nussabum‘s declaration that it’s all over in Fast Company (April 2011)

Roger Martin‘s 2009 book The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage

Tim Brown’s 2009 book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Creates New Alternatives for Business and Society: How Design Thinking Can Transform Organizations and Inspire Innovation

Harvard Business Review special issue Design Thinking Comes of Age, September 2015

My academic paper Rethinking Design Thinking published in the journal Design & Culture in 2011

Kevin McCullagh‘s post Design Thinking: Everywhere and Nowhere (March 2010)

Designthinking hashtag on twitter