A Design Thinking Crash Test

Erika Bäck & Sabine Maselkowski

Two days of Design Thinking ‘crash test’ (read: course) behind. All we think is we need to pass, like a car tested for the safety standards. Days went by at high-speed, challenging our ways of thinking and working, let’s start…

Design? Design Thinking? 

To get answers we looked both past and present practices and understandings. Design Thinking combines traditions from different fields and disciplines, arts and science alike. It is accepted that DT(=Design thinking) is found in the “everyday” and it is a procedural work. Often design is understood only as the final product rather than a process including several steps of e.g. researching, ideating or testing. Therefore, there have been more recent attempts to establish and agree on a design process.

‘Design’ can be a verb, noun and adjective. It is an approach to innovation that is applied in and between many different fields. The benefit of using DT in problem-defining and solution-finding processes is the focus on learning from each repetition, i.e. iteration. Design’s role is currently understood as creating something that meets consumers’ needs rather than “just” making it more attractive to them. The change lies in the understanding of consumers’ role: from passive recipients to active participants. The future component of design and DT are in “changing existing situations into preferred ones” (Simon, 1996, in Michlewski, 2015). and in the possibility of affecting the future. 

An incomplete checklist for potential designers 

(based on Brown, 2008, Michlewski, 2015, and the course)

Example of a (wicked) design problem

During our crash test, the theme of the DT challenge was introduced as inclusion at work. We were not expecting to solve the challenge in less than 48 hours. Rather this challenge opened our eyes for so-called wicked problems. Wicked problems are characterised, amongst others, by 

  • intederminancy
  • non-existence of clear definition
  • underlying higher-level problem
  • multitude of explanations 

(Rittel, 1972, as cited in Buchanan, 1996)

Such problems can have many solutions, all affected by context and actors, as our trial on inclusion at work showed.

What exactly happened in class?

During the ‘crash test’ with Katja Tschimmel, we took first steps towards “designers’ culture” (Buchanan, 1996). We shifted between the roles: facilitators, active participants, potential consumers. The role during class seemed to be ambivalent, and pointed out the difficulty to detach oneself from the DT process, e.g. when noticing how own assumptions made their way into interview questions and data gathering. We also learned to work on confidence; be brave with the ideas in order to get recognition from the audience and be confident to accept uncertainty e.g. when using the Miro Board.

Starting from not even a brief but only the three words “inclusion at work”, all these new ways of working, new people and new contents interestingly led six sub-groups to six distinct angles and solutions to the vaguely defined problem. Those pointed out a) the ability of designers to discover new relationships as well as b) design thinking as a “liberal art” (Buchanan, 1996: 14), be it by combining play with age discrimination, the environmental need of reforestation and equal access to information, or others. 

We might need a bit more finetuning after this initial test, but it seems we’ll hit the design road eventually!

Sources:

Brown, Tim (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June 2008: 84-95.   

Buchanan, Richard (1996). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In: Margolin, V. & Buchanan, R. The Idea of Design. A Design Issues Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 

Michlewski, Kamil (2015). Design Attitude. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.

One thought on “A Design Thinking Crash Test

  1. Hi Erika and Sabine, I really enjoyed your blog post and I think you have truly internalized the learnings of this intensive master class. You reflected the theory of wicked problems really well towards the group assignment. Looks like your off to a good start on your Design Thinking journey! Cheers, Hanna

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