July 16, 2017

Is design thinking a fad?

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about design. She asked me, "is design thinking a fad?" Will something else will come along and take its place? As someone changing directions to learn and practice design, I have to admit: the thought of design thinking being a fad gave me pause. The last thing I want to do in my second go-round at my career is put my efforts into a fad. While I don’t agree it is, it’s not far-fetched to think that something else will come along. Everything ebbs and flows. But I was quick to defend design thinking. My reasons at the time for coming to design thinking’s defense were pretty ungrounded, largely based on a feeling and that everywhere I turned were references to it. Of course, the environments and people I’m surrounded by now bias my perspective.

Is design thinking a fad?

For my third term at Ei, I have the privilege of working at frog design in the Austin studio. I’m working with a team on a project called Aging by Design. We are focused on concepting and designing a product that will help ease the journey of aging for seniors and their family caregivers. While one of Ei’s core competency is design thinking, this is my first experience working in a design firm.

Design thinking, or human-centered design, is an approach to problem solving that puts user needs at the center of the design process. To date, the experience has been intellectually demanding and inspiring. Being in the thick of it has made me reflect on design as a method or a “way.” Design is more than a way of thinking, but a way of seeing and doing. As I reflected on the design way, I identified more concrete reasons why I felt design thinking is not a fad. Here are three:

I. The design way is multidimensional

Doing good design requires a multidimensional approach. Designers have to see the big picture, think for now and the future, and execute work in precise detail. It’s a macro-micro approach that is critical for solving complex challenges. Therefore, I don’t see that as being time-limited like a fad.

II. The design way is methodical

In a previous blog post, I talked about how the space between a problem and a solution seemed like a black box. After several weeks at frog, working alongside seasoned creative directors, strategists and design researchers on Aging by Design, I have seen, and been a part of, a very methodical process. It’s a creative, non-linear and iterative process, but there are clear methods of moving toward feasible and innovative solutions.

III. The design way is multidisciplinary

The design way brings into play multiple disciplines--strategy and marketing, art, technology, engineering and more, depending on the challenge. For some, the mark of true creativity, and genius even, is the ability to connect multiple, disparate parts. Design brings creativity to problem-solving through multidisciplinary thinking.

Design thinking is spreading across industries and sectors. Business schools are beginning to teach design; and the public sector and social impact organizations are adopting the approach. The multidimensional, methodical, and multidisciplinarity of the design way makes it a very powerful approach.

My hunch is that it’ll be around for awhile.

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