A bit more about Design Thinking

So we are in the middle of a raging debate about “Design Thinking” versus “design”.

Whence the heat?

I am arguing that it is because design-the-discipline has accepted as the canons of its respectability an epistemological heritage that is not true to its core genius. That is, the design discipline as we currently know it has been formed in the forge of euroamerican modernity. So despite its core moves being Design Thinking

it has tried to understand its identity and characterise its offer in terms of Scientific Thinking .

This has two failure modes that show up in the current furore:

a) the attempts to characterise Design Thinking by those who are striving to break out of the disciplinary mould lack an epistemology to cohere their stance, while

b) those who feel their professionalism is being subverted (diluted? Disdained? Disrespected?) by all this loose talk don’t see that the framework they use for their defence is incongruent with their own core commitments.

The reason that this way of thinking has been submerged is because it foundationally involves emotion and, oh the horror of it all, subjectivity. It is an act of thinking in which the whole person must be present in order to establish the relevance of where you are and where you want to go. You can’t get that in a textbook or a pile of “the current literature”

No wonder that design is “humanistic”, that designers are often gentle folks, that designers aspire to change the world. It is because the act of design thinking, to be truly done, requires the whole person to be present. It requires that we think in and with our bodyness. This is distinct from the espoused, valued and pursued thinking styles of science (and management) in modernity. The encounter with the other is foundationally an act of empathy – an act of emotional towardness that opens my being to the other.

Now I am not romantic about this. The act of design is also an act of objectification. It is that that distinguishes design from friendship. I am not toward you because I want to hang out and catch some rays/tunes/waves or whatever. I am towards you within a context of enterprise, of intent. My towardness is actually with a goal of objectifying some dimension of your being. So to me the one true distinctive of design is this: That it uses Design Thinking.

And the core distinctives of Design Thinking are these (and each entails the other):

1. That it it must be an integrated act of human thought. It cannot be outsourced, subcontracted, subdivided or delegated. (Contrast the dominant ways of knowing in the production world which Taylorism was determined to show that EXACTLY that process was possible).

  1. That it is embodied thought. It requires the presence of emotion that is toward the other.
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