The world has woken up to the power of design as a transformational tool, for not only commercial advantage but for social change, too. This is the reason why, in recent years, there has been a proliferation of various “design thinking” courses, which provide a simple step-by-step distillation of the techniques and practices used by designers to problem solve.
This type of design thinking, which is intended to promote more creative innovation among non-designers, is based on the different stages of the design process these programmes generally distinguish as: empathise, define, ‘ideate’, prototype, test and evaluate. And it seems to involve a lot of Post-It Notes being stuck on walls.
The origins of this particular approach to design thinking can be traced back to the late 1950s when John E Arnold, a professor of mechanical engineering and business administration based at Stanford, used the term design thinking in his 1959 book, Creative Engineering, to describe a systematic problem-solving methodology he had devised.
He outlined its four main benefits as: novel functionality, higher performance, lower production costs and increased saleability. With hindsight, it is obvious that Arnold’s desired outcomes were premised on the aspirations of the postwar consumerist society he was living in.
Ultimately, all he was trying to do was teach engineers how to think more like designers did back then – but at that stage, designers were often referred to as “industrial stylists”, which is probably all you need to know.
All too often design thinking is superficially applied as a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for problem solving