Consider the following scenario:
You are a member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. Congress is debating your recommendation to allocate more money for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as the Federal Food Stamp Program). In spite of evidence to the contrary, your fellow senators think current benefits are too generous and are leaning toward cutbacks.
How do you change their minds? Read More How do you “feel” about voting?
Several years ago when I moved from Pittsburgh to the Twin Cities, I attended my first political caucus. It was an eye-opening, communal experience: I was encouraged (yes, encouraged!) to share my opinions in a roomful of people, and to listen respectfully as others shared theirs. That first caucus in my mid-twenties forged a life rich with political engagement and belief in good government.
I don’t see the same excitement among millennials. This generation has witnessed unprecedented social change with the election of a black president, a revolution in information access, and affirmation of gay marriage, but such strides have coincided with a cynical attempt on the part of one party to dismantle functional government. That party has ridiculed government service and slowed the legislative process to a crawl; through the subsequent dysfunction, they have eroded the desire of millennials to work within existing institutions to create change. Why would millennials look to government for solutions when government is at a standstill? Read More DT vs DT: Can design thinking challenge The Donald?
Over the last three or so years I have approached the topic of design thinking from all angles: I have written a master’s paper on it; I’ve used it in my design practice; I’ve spoken to different groups about its application to everyday problems; I’ve explained design thinking to prospective clients; and I created this website to make design thinking a concept that is accessible to the curious reader.
What I should have done is ask a science writer from the New York Times to write about it. Tara Parker-Pope, one of two iconic writers whom I regularly follow (Carl Zimmer is the other one) can translate subjects as complex as quantum physics into simple concepts that have relevance in our everyday lives. She recently did the same with design thinking:
Read More Design thinking and weight loss
Today I am launching a design thinking business directed toward social impact. I have spent the last three years immersed in how design thinking can effect social change, yet I still find it difficult to summarize this work in an ‘elevator speech.’ People look at me funny and ask, “What does design have to do with social problems?”
Read More Decoding design thinking
What is design and who is a designer? These questions are certainly not new. From the late 1800s and well into the first half of the twentieth century, someone who produced art for commercial purposes—ads, signs, posters, etc.—was known as a ‘commercial artist‘. This was distinct from a ‘fine artist‘ whose work evoked something more cerebral and unbound by market forces. The boundaries between between artisan and artist seemed clear.
Read More What IS Design?
The 1990s were a tipping point. In 1992, Richard Buchanan’s book “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” changed how the design profession regarded its tools and assets. Buchanan proposed that design move beyond its traditional role as a trade-oriented profession—where skills such as draftsmanship were key to a successful career—into the realm of ‘design thinking’ where problem-solving itself is the core component of practice (Buchanan, 1992).
Read More How ‘wicked problems’ changed design
How is design changing the world? Designers are rejecting narrow job definitions and pushing into spheres of influence previously off-limits to visual thinkers. They are following the example of luminaries like Tim Brown and David Kelley who, frustrated by the ‘ever smaller canvas’ of aesthetics, image, and fashion, embraced a larger vision of design practice in the 1990s (Brown, TED Talk, 2009).
Read More Design creates experiences
Chasing the wrong problem is a significant source of frustration among designers (Tim Brown, 2010), wasting not only time and money but arriving at a solution that, in the end, doesn’t address the real issue. Problem definition, along with observation, is perhaps the most important step in the design thinking process, and both clients and designers often misstep at this stage.
Read More The wrong problem
Ever since Buchanan coined the term ‘wicked problems’ and redefined the role of the designer in solving these problems, new opportunities appeared for people who wanted to marry their design skills with a sense of social responsibility. However, there is a caveat: many designers experience a separation between working for a paycheck and working to make a difference in the world.
Read More Social impact design: a new career path?
Do people value good design? One might look at the success of the iPhone and say, ‘absolutely!.’ In the product world, people will choose functionality and a strong aesthetic over the alternative, in part thanks to Steve Jobs’ uncompromising design sensibility. However, the answer is not so clear when you look at the social sector.
Read More Doing good design . . . for free?