Design Thinking: A Way of Working

You hear the term “design thinking” all the time, but what does it mean to you? In my opinion, it involves considering the relationship between design, collaboration, education, writing, politics, culture, and context. But where do we begin to unravel some of these ideas?

First, let’s start with the Design & Thinking Documentary:

“Inspired by design thinking, this documentary grabs businessman, designers, social change-makers and individuals to portrait what they have in common when facing this ambiguous 21st century. What is design thinking? How is it applied in business models? How are people changing the world with their own creative minds? It is a call to the conventional minds to change and collaborate.”


Collaboration is an important component of modern design. I have found this short, and powerful, explanation of what it means to collaborate as a wonderful introduction to its power. It is a beautifully poetic example of what we are trying to do as we work together with other designers locally and globally.

“How many sides do you see?”

“One,” I said.

He pulled the box towards his chest and turned it so one corner faced me.

“Now how many do you see?”

“Now I see three sides.”

He stepped back and extended the box, one corner towards him and one towards me.

“You and I together can see six sides of this box,” he told me.

—Eber Hampton (2002) The Circle Unfolds, p. 41–42


Good Design

It’s important to remember that ‘design thinking’ is ‘good’ design.

Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

Brush up on Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design with this video from Design Silesia


Politics & Design

What can politics learn from design? Jocelyn Bailey discusses some of the traits, behaviors and attitudes often exhibited by designers, and the inspiration they provide for those fed up with dysfunctional politics. She notes that designers “change existing situations into better situations” and that politicians can learn from designers by approaching a problem without bias, thinking of people in the context of the problem, and finding new knowledge about the situation through experimentation.

Her cross-policy manifesto states that policy-makers should:

– Don’t rely too heavily on history

– Tone down the party politics

– Find ways of generating new knowledge (and experiment)

– Care about the artifacts (material objects carry social connotations and the material quality of things matters)

– Be more optimistic

Writing & Design

Great advice from English Author Neil Gaiman. If you write, this is for you. If you design, replace “write” with “design” and it’s for you, too. If you create, replace “write” with “create”… and so on.

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


Education Paradigms

This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award. Although it is not about design thinking per se, I believe his ideas about shifting our ways of learning and making are completely meaningful for designers.