Inspiring controversy – more following the design thinking unConference

The second day provided a terrific opportunity for a comprehensive exchange of information and insights. The concept of forming discussion groups based on pitches from attendees is fantastic. My topic for a session stated the question “What is the Language of Design Thinking”. The medium size audience for this topic allowed all to participate and this group turned out to be enthusiastically engaged in it. This was definitely inspiring.

Awareness is probably the strongest force in coming to terms with our discussion. One of the highlights in our discussion occurred when Design was suggested as a verb before Thinking. For many in the room it suddenly opened the scope of our term into new territories: not only a type of thinking anymore but also the creation of thought. My own practice of design has always involved the process of thought and provoking.

Interpreting our reality into innovation involves dissecting of our tools for the purpose of reconstructing them. We can then tweak them for optimum use. Language being one of our core tools of communication is thus an endless source for thought and provocation. Although the LinkedIn DT group is a fine platform for valuable insight into the field, before the unConference started I tried to follow some of the discussions and felt somewhat disenchanted. I got the impression as if some people out there are trying to appropriate the term; as if some of us deserve control over its meaning and rights of use. The urge to blow the air out of this Design Thinking Balloon grew stronger as I tried to keep my research going.

The information of the Foo Fighters’ Garage Tour got to me just as the unConference concluded. I look at it as a fabulous illustration of challenging the thoughts of a target audience. It also installs an updated if not new look at marketing and management of resources for those who have an open enough mind for interpretation. Who would believe this: an international rock band with a fan base of millions promoting their new record release by hauling megatons worth of equipment through the humble garage spaces of six or seven lucky fans? The language of design thinking is loudly speaking from this case. You don’t have to be an official ‘design thinker’ to tweak people’s minds into new perceptions of what can be done.

IDEO, who are credited for promoting the practice of design thinking in the past decade seem to have used the term to allow design to be perceived as more than just decoration. Needless to say I whole heartedly agree with them. They too might not have been the first or last to engage in this effort. IDEO certainly managed to do so with a fair bit of success. My grandmother once asked me “so what do you do there all day, draw nice pictures?” She wasn’t the only one who found it hard to understand what sort of money can be made in this “non business”. Associating thinking to that artsy word was definitely a useful way of using language to elevate IDEO’s positioning in the market. The image of Thinking injects a more lucrative level of business making to the process of Design.

Of course the question what design thinking is, still prevailed throughout the unConference. My sense of where the confusion comes from is that there is a spectrum of engagement under the intellectual umbrella of our term. Some of the younger designers were humbly curious as to ways of actually making money. It was also apparent that some of the more established professionals in the room were gently or not so gently trying to promote their business(es). What is Bruce Nussbaum’s demise of DT if not a direct economic threat to anyone immediately dependent on the term’s image for their business? This year’s event was definitely more than just a response to Bruce’s article. Like many conferences in any field, ours was an array of opportunities.

If we look at the DTUC as an excuse to engage in inspiring conversations; a platform to connect with peers; a way to assess an industry; the Design Thinking unConference managed to stir its audience with more than just one spoon. I hope to expand on this metaphor later sometime.

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One thought on “Inspiring controversy – more following the design thinking unConference

  1. “Design” as a verb modifying “Thinking”. That is a powerful phrasing and captures much of my own approach. I am hoping that there will be some follow on projects from the Design Thinking unConference. One that is being discussed is a wiki where a wide set of metrics for sustainability can be developed. I would also like to see Design Nerds grow and have a bigger impact. We have a lot of work to do to redesign the event for next year.

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