I’d like to suggest a different tack on this issue. I have, over the last few years, asked a different underlying but related question
How do we develop, refine and improve the methods by which we design?
There are some interrelated ‘meta’ issues that sit behind the question that I have been working on, such as:
1. What is it specifically that we design?
The answer to this question is going to differ across design disciplines and what we are paid to do.
2. Where should we set the framing boundaries to our design?
This inevitably changes and can result in changes to what we design
3. What criteria do we use to judge the effectiveness of the methods and sequence of methods we use in our designing?
4. What criteria do we use to judge the success of otherwise of our design?
The last two of these are at the centre of much of my research.
Note that I am assuming someone has to pay for what we do.
When I look at so called “Design Thinking” I see a number of things.
1. An eclectic set of procedures selected by a specific design agency (IDEO) from a range of design methods and heuristics that have been around for a long time and are well documented in the Design Methods literature. See Chris Jones *Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures* for a rich compendium.
2. Quite a few of the specific procedures have never been convincingly validated, and remain controversial.
3. The sequence of procedures have only a face validity, ie. they seem to make sense at a superficial level.
4. There are seemingly no agreed criteria by which we can judge the outcome from “Design Thinking”.
5. A superficially plausible narrative that allows newcomers and clients to buy in to the idea of ‘Design Thinking’ and once involved as participants to become believers in its internal self justifying logic. This much it has in common with many compelling ritual practices.
Now, IDEO and *some* of it’s followers have been highly successful commercially. And *some* of its clients have also been hugely successful commercially too. I have no figures that would tell me what proportion of the total sum of the *some* followers and clients are involved. But it would be interesting to know. Until such data is available we can either believe it, or reserve our skepticism.
In an early period of my research I was fascinated by mass communication systems, such as television, the claims made by advertising agencies, and the ways in which they ‘validated’ their claims to their clients. I was also fascinated by anthropological research and the ways in which magical rituals are validated and maintained in many societies. Below are two classic studies.
Evans-Pritchard (1937), Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande
Jeanne Favret-Saada (1977) Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage
The parallels with the contemporary vogue in ‘Design Thinking’ are compelling (at least to me).
I wrote about these and their importance in a number of works, but a brief gloss which was written in relation to mass media in our own society will suffice.
> It is therefore necessary to exercise extreme care when discussing the so-called ‘power of the media’. Like magic in primitive societies, its ability to work is less significant in the long run than the belief in its efficacy and more importantly, the belief in the institutions of practice that it maintains. In human societies of all kinds, there is a long tradition of belief in the possibility of direct power over individuals by indirect means. Religion, magic and the mass media have all laid claim to such powers at some time and their survival as institutions has never depended on the proof of their claims. In a very important sense their claims to power are not false because in each case they are woven into the structure of the society in such a way that it is impossible to understand these societies, and the behaviour of the individuals within them, without taking the power of these institutions very seriously (Evans-Pritchard, 1937). One does not have to try proving the effectiveness of prayer in order to explain the power of religion. (pp 40-41)
Sless D 1981 Learning and Visual Communication John Wiley & Sons: NY
I leave it to you to join the dots.
BTW, my publisher is considering reprinting of the above work.
Professor David Sless BA MSc
CEO • Communication Research Institute •
• researching and sharing good practice •
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