Design Thinking and Uneven Futures

Design Thinking has come onto my radar lately. Its thinking was established in the 1970s or earlier through “engineering design”. It’s a problem solving process, which interestingly mixes with creativity, engineering and technology. See Bernie Roth’s description of its “design process” principles from 1973.

Design thinking is an established field that’s so established it was part of my understanding already. But when I heard of “design thinking” as a thing lately through Limerick Climathon, I didn’t know what “design thinking” was. It’s been useful to reaslise it’s a “thing”.

In his Stanford TedX talk “Designing Your Life”, Bill Burnett points to the quote by William Gibson: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” (The Economist, December 4, 2003).

If you’re creatively going through problem solving, the problem is probably already solved elsewhere by others. That future is already here, but you can find the people who are already living it and speak to them. Burnett gives the example of a person who’s considering going back to college but doesn’t think she’ll fit in. So he suggests that she attends a couple of lectures as a “prototype” of her goal, and she finds that she really did get energised by being there.

Burnett also speaks about keeping an opportunistic eye on the periphery, as good solutions probably come from left-field, rather than being very obvious. He talks how it’s OK not to know the solution ahead of time, and it’s not too late to start.

I can see where tactical urbanism probably shares ancestry with design thinking. Change is scary, and change needs deep empathy with the people involved. Change can happen through experimentation, prototyping and “radical collaboration” (mentioned by Burnett), rather than a take it or leave it approach to change.

Patrick Street, Limerick. A bit more than tactical urbanism, but a couple of traffic cones can do a lot for prototyping change.

For evolving business models, I see that design thinking as at the heart of the Business Model Canvas.

As a colleague of mine recently suggested as an approach to organisational change, “Speak in the language of experimentation”.

Thanks to Madeleine Lyes for bringing “design thinking” onto my radar.