Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Three Faces of Design Thinking

One of the hot topics in the Design Thinking Group on LinkedIn is the question of exactly what Design Thinking is. This is often manifested by the length of conversations with titles like; "Why Design Thinking Will Fail" or which accuse Design Thinking of being mere marketing hype.

My training in DT goes back four decades. I was at Stanford, in the Product Design Program, in the late 70's at the same time that David Kelley, founder of IDEO, was getting his Masters and Matt Kahn, Robert McKim, Jim Adams and Larry Leifer were teaching.  The Joint Program in Design, which had been formed in 1958, was a step on the way to the creation of the in 2004.

Expanding on Herbert A. Simon’s work, Robert McKim wrote Experiences in Visual Thinking in 1973. It focused on the ways which perceptual thinking skills can be observed, utilized and improved, and how powerful these skills are in their "capacity to change your world of ideas and things.”

John E. Arnold, arguably DT's grandfather at Stanford had picked McKim to teach there and was also a significant influence on Jim Adams, both of whom wrote books which were used as texts in the Product Design program.

Beginning in 1984, Rolf Faste expanded on McKim's work, defining and developing the core concepts which David Kelley would later call "Design Thinking" in describing IDEO's design process, which he had learned at Stanford.

The focus of  the PD program was to explore, learn, and develop ways to solve problems creatively, in a multi-disciplinary context. The core sequence included classes in art as well as engineering, with heavy emphasis on what would today be called project based learning.

 In 1991, Kelley merged David Kelley Design with Matrix Product Design, ID TWO and Moggridge Associates to create IDEO.  In 2004, David led the creation of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design also known as the "" Kelley recalls that it was about that time that he started to refer to IDEO's process as Design Thinking. He also credits Bob McKim with being his primary influence and mentor at Stanford.

In a very informative and revealing 2016 interview with Kelley, Maria Camacho mapped out the trail from PD to DT at Stanford;

Upon my graduation, David's and my path began to diverge; I went to work in industry, including Apple Computer from 1986 to 1996, followed by PD and PE roles primarily in consumer high tech and aerospace, while David began teaching and consulting.

Fast forward four decades and the controversy over what is and isn't DT still rages. Unfortunately, that creates ambiguity, complexity and confusion around the value of what is arguably the most powerful tool to resolve ambiguity and complexity. David is aware of this, as he stated to Camacho;

"Everyone means something slightly different by the term. I guess this is OK. It doesn’t bother me, but I hear people using design thinking to mean something quite different from what I mean. There are many words in the English language that people use, and they all mean something different by the same words."

Reflecting on this, I recently realized that what has happened may actually be worse; People are also using different words to describe the same things. This came to the forefront for me recently while reading Alex Osborn's 1940 book Your Creative Power.

Osborn is probably most remembered for his theories on brainstorming. In fact he came from a marketing background and was a prominent creativity theorist in mid 1900's. With Sidney Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process.

Your Creative Power is a handbook of Osborn's thoughts on imagination, creativity and creative problem solving. It contains a wealth of ideas which parallel the core principles of Design Thinking. This should come as no surprise, as they are exploring the same subject area. There are also touch points between Osborn and John Arnold, who's 1956 summer program included presentations by R. Buckminster Fuller on the “comprehensive designer,” J. P. Guilford’s concept of measuring and developing creativity,[ and A. H. Maslow’s “Emotional Blocks to Creativity,” with considerable attention given to Osborn’s notion of brainstorming. James Adams would later expand on the subject of creative blocks in his book Conceptual Blockbusting.

So with such common roots, how have we come to this state of confusion? Perhaps the trouble lies in the multi-disciplinary nature of the subject.

Design Thinking purports to encompass three areas; Technology, Humanity and Business;

One of the consequences of this blending is that conversations about DT span three areas having to do with three areas; Feelings, (Art/Humanities) Thinking (Science and Technology) and Business (Doing). Today, each of these areas has become so specialized that they are treated differently in graduate education and have their own academic vocabularies.

I've written previously about the idea that DT actually is whole brain problem solving, but a consequence of that can be problems in communication, like the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, we are biased in our perceptions and expressions.

“Think” statements refer to the denotative aspects of the environment. They attempt to define, assert, opine, rationalize, or make causal connections between environmental events. They are bound by the rules of logic and scientific inquiry; they may be true or untrue. Many times a think statement can be proven or disproven. Think statements require words to be communicated. They are the venue of the rationalists, the engineers.

“Feel” statements refer to the connotative aspects of our environment. They attempt to report our internal affective, immediate, non-rational, emotional, “gut” responses to environmental events. Usually, feel statements are personal and idiosyncratic in that they refer to inner states, what is happening inside of us. 

Feel statements, like dreams, cannot be true or false, or good or bad, but only honestly or dishonestly communicated. Feel statements may not require words at all; when they do, they usually take the form of “I feel (adjective)” or “I feel (adverb).” They are the framework and coin of artists and designers.

The difficulty is that Engineers tend to be more comfortable with the verbage of Thinking, Artists/Designers are more comfortable with the vocabulary of Feeling and Business-people are more comfortable with the language of Doing.  Simply throwing them together and not expecting some conversational conflict is unrealistic.

This can be illustrated by some images from three different sources, all claiming to be describing Design Thinking:

Jeanne M. Liedtka is an American strategist and professor of business administration at the Darden School of the University of Virginia, particularly known for her work on strategic thinking, design thinking and organic growth.  Here is her explanatory design thinking "Invention" graphic:

Of design thinking, Liedtka states:

"Design thinking is a problem-solving approach with a unique set of qualities: it is human centered, possibility driven, option focused, and iterative. We ask the question “What if anything were possible?” as we begin to create ideas. We focus on generating multiple options and avoid putting all our eggs in one particular solution basket. Because we are guessing about our stakeholders’ needs and wants, we also expect to be wrong sometimes. So we want to put multiple irons in the fire and let our stakeholders tell us which work for them. We want to manage a portfolio of new ideas."

For Liedtka, Design Thinking exists within the world of Business, integrating People and Technology by examing the relationships between Possibilities, Uncertainties and Constraints (a.k.a Gap Analysis)

Here is Liedtka's process flow chart:

Compare this to the 2011 IDEO model;

Or this model, from the inside cover of Tim Brown's book;

Or this image from MIT's DT program;

Or this recent expression of the Osborn-Parnes CPS model;  (BTW- Osborn had no illustrations in his 1940 book, but displayed a masterful grasp of the skill of writing - unlike some engineers.)

Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process

"Judicial thinking must be kept out of such brainstorming. Even discretion is unwanted. As one of our radio-men remarked, 'At any brainstorming table the villainess is a gal named Prudence.' In this operation all present must shoot wild and pile up every possible alternative by way of ideas."

Now, we can start to see the differences and similarities; 

Alex Osborn is the quintessential Ad Man; smart, witty, good with words.  He fills over 350 pages with written insights from decades of experience in problem solving and, like the Product Design Program at Stanford 30 years later, his central theme is creativity and the need for imagination.

Steven Eppinger, a self-declared systems oriented engineer, uses simple, direct PowerPoint style graphics and a mere dozen words to describe the phases and skills of Design Thinking in the terse, precise language of an engineer. His YouTube video on MIT's Design Thinking process feels like a design review. 

IDEO's Tim Brown, MA - Industrial Design, Royal College of Art, lays the process out like a hand drawn, spilled spaghetti, cartoon.

Is there something wrong going on here, or something perfectly normal, even expected?

More to come...

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