The problem with “design”

Some months ago I wrote:

“Collopy (2009) expresses concern that “the drive to nail down ‘design thinking’ has the same normative flavour that has restricted the spread of systems thinking. The urge to create a framework that specifies what and how a Design Thinker proceeds seems not just futile but dangerous to the survival of a movement aimed at expanding the kinds of thinking that managers, policy makers and citizens engage in.”

The flipside of Collopy’s concern about poorly advised, premature and/or partial attempts to nail down Design Thinking is of course the “white noise” that is completely engulfing the discourse about Design Thinking, an absence of robust distinctions and durable constructions that will leave no discernable frameworks once the fad tsunami has receded.”

I remember when I wrote my masters thesis – that I drew heavily on philosophy of science, and was intimidated by Feyerabends scathing remarks that the field had been “invaded by creeps and incompetents” (This was in an early edition of Against Method – he later edited it out…). I felt tentative then about adding my voice to either class, and I am reminded that I am at risk again when I enter the design thinking discourse.

But having been at DTRS8, one of the problems seems to be that after 40+ (60+?) years of design research, and 20 years of a forum dedicated to DESIGN THINKING research, there is still not sufficient agreement in the room on what “design thinking” means for the discussion to move on without that topic being close to the surface every other half hour…

This situation of course sets up a vicious cycle. In the absence of a consensus “ever man does what is right in his own eyes”, and so people as creepy and incompetent as me are compelled to arrive at their own working definitions in order to proceed. So thats what I have done.

My only new thought today, somewhat trivial, most probably extensively reflected on elsewhere, that I will test with a linguist one day, is to wonder what effect the part of speech that the word “design” represents, and how much the difference with the word “science” hasn’t prevented some simple analogical frameworks between the two modes of activity and cognition being readily grasped. The problem is that I can say designing, but not sciencing, etc. Something as simple as this can be very disruptive in conversation. I am driven to circumlocutions exactly when i need to be crisp… Is there a science thinking research conference somewhere?


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