Incomplete Design Thinking

Design Thinking, far from being dead, is at last being given the kind of scholarship that will allow it to make a real difference to the profession and discipline of design, rather than just being a rebranding of business-as-usual. Lucy Kimbell’s excellent historical account in Design and Culture, to be followed in the next issue by a Part II with a rich analysis of the place of design practice in design thinking work, appropriately locates design thinking within decades of research about design processes. Lucy’s scholarly and professional work, and PhDs in this area such as the one underway by Stefanie Di Russo should mean that schematic commercial 5-dot-point-versions of design thinking are dead.

In the middle of last year, I was asked to give presentations on the state of ‘design thinking’ at RMIT and UTAS in Australia as both institutions began to institute ‘design thinking’ as general education requirements of all their respective divisions. I argued that if Australian higher education was to adopt design thinking, it was important that it be a 2.0 version, one based on research of design and not just anecdotes. I argued that because Australia had forced research activity out of design when it was incorporated into the university system (with the amalgamations of polytechnics into universities in the late 80s / early 90s) it was in fact perfectly placed to develop that 2.0 version, allowing it quickly surpass the mere rhetoric of design thinking in the US.

For the last year, I’ve been trying to squeeze out some time to write up those presentations. This draft of “The Grammar of Design Thinking” is not yet finished and without any references. But I recently assigned it to an MFA Transdisciplinary Design Seminar, so I thought I’d put it out there for critique – I’m also looking for a communication designer of the completed version…

The first section has been made redundant by Lucy’s literature survey in her “Part I” Design and Culture piece. The second section attempts to ask critically what it is about the contemporary state of capitalism that might be causing design thinking to receive so much attention, but the argument is very underdeveloped. The third section attempts to sketch out what I think design thinking should be considered to be; in other words, it is an attempt to sketch out what it is about designing-at-its-best that might represent a real disruption to how we make and value product-service-systems. A fourth section still-to-come would review the argument of the third section in terms of the title of the piece – understanding design as the capacity to view the world in terms of gerundives, middle-voiced ‘-ables.’


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