Lately I am more convinced than many companies still don’t understand design? Let alone design thinking. A lot has been written and many are just started to explore design thinking 101. Most of the efforts are applied on the front end of ideas generation which is really 10% of the problems. The problem we have not been training people to do this. Many design schools with a few exceptions are slow to respond to the market needs for design thinkers, or critical thinkers with design training. These require rethinking design education that no longer conform to the boundaries of design disciplines.
There are many schools of design, with one end being the ultimate form of self-expression, and the other end being completely user-driven. The methods used in each school range from being completely focused on self-discovery, to being highly analytical and market-driven. Regardless of the extremes, design methodology has always been more focused on supporting the process of designing or making, and less focused on design thinking or critical thinking with rapid visualization and feedback. Today, 90% of design tasks are aimed at resurfacing the existing face of things or, at best, changing the form of functional objects. That is not to say that there is no value in enhancing an everyday object to make it intelligently strong and emotively connected. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t push existing models beyond these simpler tasks.
First, however, we must understand the three models that we consciously apply to design and what they mean. Let’s start with the designer-focused model. This is most commonly imagined as groups of designers sketching away an endless number of beautiful – but rough – sketches. With this model, a greater effort is needed to prevent our consumer culture from adopting the cheap and disposable, a pattern that is largely responsible for our sustainability problems. After all, the concept of designing for sustainability has been non-existent for centuries, until now – and it falls on designers today to embrace it.
Next, let’s consider the problem-focused model. This is commonly viewed as a collection of circles and boxes that shows the intersection of spaces, or as sticky notes plastered all over the wall like random and unorganized components of a design problem (or, the intersection of problems and opportunities). The model of any specific problem can have a systems view, technology view, business view, user view, and even a social view, but picking and mixing these views helps to illuminate the real problems that we are trying to solve. Combining different views is not related to design craft – it is actually more about sensemaking, which Dave Snowden defines with this question: “How do we make sense of the world so we can act in it?” This idea carries with it the concept of sufficiency (in other words, knowing enough to make a contextually appropriate decision).
Our third consideration is a design process model. In this process- based view, there is no best model to use, be it brand-driven, user-driven, or feature-driven. Everyone can follow a different model of what the process (linear or otherwise) should look like based on the context of the design mission in order to determine what is best. Often, these models are oversimplified into a three-circle process, which does not communicate anything of value. Sometimes, the uncertainties lie in all three parts and the design problem is undefined or misinterpreted. The interpretation of the design problem and the creation and selection of suitable creative or technical solutions are often left to be decided during the design process, using an oversimplified view from the designer. It’s true that, on rare occasions, a designer can come up with a brilliant and simple answer to an overcomplicated problem, but most of the time, the problems range from complicated to wicked – and this requires a lot more from the methods.
Outside of the design framing problem mentioned above, the other issue is the notion that the designer is, to a large extent, free to design according to his or her own taste, style, and interpretation of the brand language. While this is sometimes necessary, most of the best commercial designs follow a unique design language that is well established – just think of Chanel, Porsche and Hermès. This is not happening even many top brands.
There are a lot of shortcomings of today’s design methods and how we teach them, despite a number of practitioners pushing for more updated methods. Design is not simply about ideas and craft; there is not enough attention being given to the structuring of design problems. Design itself is action-oriented or solution- oriented, and it needs to start with a definable problem – not just random exploration or an exercise in search of serendipity.
Design can even be evidence-based. Yes, this is still a new idea in design education, and it is traditionally associated with healthcare, but evidence-based design (EBD) is making its way into the general design process. It focuses on conscientiously, explicitly, and judiciously using the best research-derived evidence available to make critical decisions and solve problems. As service design is slowly attracting interest, evidence-based design will be added to our current set of models.
Scientific theories are a matter of constructing new models through experimentation, predicting future experimental results, and then producing new models. By this definition, many design disciplines are a work of science – not art – and as such, design should be treated as a science too, much like engineering. So, which will be the first design school to issue a Master of Science in Design?
In Leonardo da Vinci’s time, specialization in art and science had not yet been polarized and educational systems were not divided like they are today. Perhaps it’s time to return to this way of thinking and doing. After all, art, design, and engineering are not meant to be enemies. A Master of Science in Art, anyone?