Design thinking for non-designers

What springs to mind when you think of design? You venture towards thoughts of design practitioners, you may picture someone who is ‘talented’ in making things look great in Photoshop, someone who is skilled in illustrating and has more than necessary knowledge about colour theory.

Image holder

Design is more than a department that deals with just aesthetics (how things look). At its core, it is the principle of problem seeking and problem solving, with the intention of a product, service, process or a form of communication, enhancing a person’s experience.

The paradigms of design

John Maeda delves deeper into what design is and distinguishes it into three paradigms; Classical Design, Computational Design and Design Thinking.

Classical Design

This takes place in the physical realm and has a focus towards crafting perfection. Disciplines such as Ergonomics and Graphic Design are encapsulated in this sphere.

Computational Design

This takes place within the technology realm and is constantly evolving. Human Computer Interaction, Computer Science and Software Engineering are forms of Computational design.

Design Thinking

Refers to adopting the mind-set of designers and applying creative strategies within business and social context. The likes of IDEO, have demonstrated how we can adopt a design mind-set and apply it to, non-traditional situations such as, designing a global plan for disaster response, reshaping the work environment or redesigning a school system.

The holy grail

What design is not, is the holy grail for the so-called ‘talented creatives’, it is a mind-set that requires an awareness to explore as opposed to rushing towards a solution. Let’s review the example of a doctor: they are presented a set of symptoms and they then make a diagnosis and prescribe a solution in a matter of seconds. Rather than attempting to resolve the issue without understanding the full story, if you have the luxury of time, you could try an alternative, which is to diverge (go ‘wide’ with your ideas and think of multiple solutions) and then converge (filter down these ideas), until you have the most appropriate solution.

Generating multiple ideas can be perceived as daunting and a skill which deemed for the so-called ‘talented creatives’. Creativity is a muscle, which can be strengthened. The ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to execute, comes with intentional practise.

Individuals who changed the world with their creations, they essentially viewed their projects as experiments. The likes of the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford and Isaac Newton, did not stop at their first experiment, instead they looked at failure as part of the process via trial, error and learning.

The design muscle

Remember a time when you were a child, say five years old. We had crayons and a blank paper. We played, experimented and tried things without fear of our ideas being judged. To create, is a fundamental human drive, just like curiosity and learning that requires frequent activation.

How can you start to develop your design mind-set? Here are some of the activities I regularly use to hone my creative edge:

Mind Maps

To push yourself to think divergently, use mind maps to visually explore a central topic and enable a free flow of ideas with the use of single words, phrases, symbols and sketches. Flexible, easy to create (paper or digital) and can be used for nearly everything.

30 Circles

You have a piece of paper with 30 circles and armed with a pencil and your imagination, you turn each circle into an object. Whether it’s a clock, a fan, a cycle or even a penguin. This exercise will increase your creative output, help you practise divergent thinking and break through idea barriers.

Idea a Day

Train your ideation muscle and explore an idea a day. Fifteen minutes to think of an idea and how to execute it. Using stick figures and basic shapes, create a storyboard to help visualise your ideas.

Stay Curious

Consciously question products you use and understand their core purpose. Put yourself in the shoes of the creator and you will start to develop an explorative mind-set. E.g. why has a cup been designed this way? What problem is it solving?

What is your situation?

Let's connect and explore how we'd make your initiative more successful. What describes your situation best?