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Perry Klebahn


I enjoyed your post and thank you for your kind words.

I too think the engineering discipline has played a critical role in the development of the 'design thinking' movement. As a product design student of David Kelley's at Stanford, I was taught the user driven design process that is design thinking. It was a terrific process for product design as the scale was perfect. Products lend themselves to rapid prototyping an testing. The products themselves solve for needs uncovered in user observation that usually defines a unique problem. Further the engineering discipline itself is one that supports tinkering, failing, solving problems,and defining new ones.

That said, at the d.School we now apply the Design Thinking process to problems well beyond product. We also train students from all disciplines, AND most important we teach all this in the context of leading multidisciplinary teams (even the teaching teams are set up this way). The process is evolving in its the scale it is applied, the disciplines that now can call it 'theirs', Both are great developments. I am happy about.

I think the next challenge we face is around the tools for LEADERSHIP of 'design thinking' and the multidisciplinary teams I see so successful in my work at Stanford.

Perry Klebahn
Consulting Professor d.School

Daniel Christadoss

I am happy that we have talked about the missing link in Design Thinking. I have always wondered why no one was talking about engineering when they talked about Design Thinking. Time fro bridging the gap between Design for Six Sigma and Design Thinking. Extended Design Thinking?

Peter Evans-Greenwood

Great post. It's nice to see the genesis of design thinking laid out in such a clear and consistent way.

Many pundits want to position design thinking as something new, a paradigm shift to a less structured but more holistic approach, which requires us to all change our world view. This attitude has always had a bad smell to me. Firstly as new ideas/tools/techniques are incremental improvements on what has come before (it's just that you didn't see the journey the designers took[1]), and rarely represent a dramatic shift. Secondly, as one facit of design thinking is good engineering design practice, and design thinking should not an excuse to ignore best practice to help the creative juices flow.

Design thinking, as with too many good ideas, seems to be transforming from a useful doctrine into dogma[2], with various groups trying a claim it as their own, codifying it in a way that supports their position and excludes others.




Bob --
Great insight. We used experience modellers (usually PhD's in anthropology) to observe client activities and then work with them to synthesize the key aspects that create a great user experience. Trained as a mechanical engineer, I always appreciated that kind of input to generating something uniquely valuable. It's amazing how that frame sets the challenge, but seeing how great it can be helps bust through the obstacles of actually building the work product.


Carol Murchie

I would like to add Alan Cooper,, to the list. I had been working in the digital information field for several years when a colleague directed my attention to a new book by Cooper, "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" on software design. I had to read this book, realizing I had been living it.

The dilemma in the real corporate world has been, in the past, that when times are tough, the human-machine interaction specialists tended to be the first to go in a move to downsize (some so-called 'geniuses' thought it more efficient to have software engineers work directly with marketing staff). Cooper pointed out, turning the hot glare of his criticism on himself as a former programmer, that what makes a good software engineer does not necessarily make a good product designer, and marketing staff I encountered were always so mystified by the technology as to be almost like drones--alternatively, the relationship could descend into an acid-bath of anger and frustration, destroying any hope of healthy collaboration. The human-machine interface specialists were able to act as an intermediary and translator, a buffer between the two ways of thinking.

So it is heartening to see business schools arming graduates with new tools to enhance the design process, or at the very least recognize the need for this expertise.

Having had to recently tackle a newly-launched government website in my state (Massachusetts), I was dubiously recognized by a support desk person for my email that characterized the new website as little more than a "steaming heap" and certainly not ready for primetime. Seems my diatribe sent by email made the support staff's day. I suggested that they should make the programmers who designed the thing provide the phone support with the proviso that they could not talk back to the client--actually, it would probably have worked even more effectively to make the programmers go to sites to activate the website for the customer base and see how woefully inadequate their design was first-hand.

Nicolay Worren

Bob, I agree that engineering is the driving force in the design movement. You mainly focus on the contribution of Stanford, but with all due respect there are many other "thought centers" that have contributed to different facets of design theory and thinking (for example, design oriented practices/frameworks/theories have a long history within the field of organizational development, eg sociotechnical systems theory).
But the more embarassing question to ask is why the discipline that could have - and in my opinion should have - contributed to the design movement, namely organization theory, has played a very minor role. The main reason I see is that most organization theory academics are mainly interested in abstract "descriptions" of reality, rather than ways of creating structures/objects/systems, and that few journals would accept design-oriented research or prescriptive theory. But the implication is, as you describe, that organizational structures are being re-designed by engineers; given the current status of organization theory that is perhaps not so bad but I feel that the field should be able to produce its own practitioners. It would be interesting to hear your views on this.


So, how do you really think about Design Thinking Mr. Gandhi? Great idea, we should try it! :) Not to poke at something long overdue and dangerously missing but two points to extend the argument. In various guises we've used "design thinking" since the early 80s to understand the end-user requirements in complex software development and built several major and effective solutions. The point generalizes to all products and services. Along the way we also learned that bridging the chasm between business/customer needs/wants and design is just the first step and only solves about 20% of the problem. To get from aha to development to delivery to Kaching there needs to be a revolution at least as big in the way we manage the total end-to-end innovation process:
Innovation is something that existing businesses do poorly at because they are sclerotically locked into things as they are. Which is the reason it's been outsourced to the Valley. But we face so many challenges of such a scale that the future prosperity of the country is at stake. At least IMHO. As a figure of merit let's assume that 90% of business is not in fact effectively innovative in the sense of conceiving and delivering new value-creating solutions. Where does that leave us?

working girl

I think design-focused training is essential. I have seen engineering teams try to follow agile design methodology but without a design background they get un-agile pretty quickly. Incidentally what do you think of UCSD's cognitive science program?

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