Locating “Design” Thinking

I suggested to one of the coordinators for DTRS8 that a process that might have guided conversation could be derived from the adage that “truth proceeds more readily from error than from confusion”. After a few rounds which seemed to pivot on what we even included in design, let alone design thinking, I would have been happy to let the conversation rage around my own proposition, not to emerge triumphant, but just to have a locus for the conversation. This is some text and a graphic that didn’t make the cut into my paper for DTRS8, but I still find useful:

It is one thing to identify a distinctive kind of human thinking, and observe that it has a distinctive toolkit. It is another to presume to identify that with the profession of design. So why “Design Thinking”?

Why “Design” Thinking?

Firstly, I am comfortable to call this observed phenomenon “Design Thinking” because of where it fits in a taxonomy of thinking for human enterprise (Figure 1.)

Figure 1: A partial taxonomy of thinking types used in human enterprise

The language and concepts in Figure 1 are intentionally “naive”, and unashamedly metaphorical. This is not a taxonomy based on brain scans or cognitive research. It is an illustration of the patterns of thinking observed to occur when humans are pursuing purposeful enterprises. Within those patterns, it is most natural to our routine conceptual categories to place Design Thinking in the same class as other activities that make things in the face of indeterminacy. And as the figure suggests, it is useful to continue the “taxonomy” to distinguish the new design genus – Design Thinking.


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