Design & Thinking Documentary Redux


Design & Thinking at the Rialto, Raleigh

by Rebecca Cochran

Last evening, I had the pleasure of a second viewing of the documentary, Design & Thinking. My initial viewing of the film was nearly a year ago at the North Carolina screening premiere in Greensboro. Last night’s screening was arranged through the Raleigh chapter of AIGA. The excellent opening remarks were given by David Burney, CEO of New Kind and former VP at Red Hat.

The film is very well done with an energizing soundtrack and inspiring interviews with designers from a variety of disciplines. I particularly enjoyed the spots featuring writer and former Dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin, IDEO’s David Kelley and Udaya Patnaik of Jump Associates. Each is a clear communicator and truly passionate about design thinking. I included excerpts from them and many others in my 2012 post on the film.

Despite some recent nay-sayers who’ve suggested that design thinking may already be a thing of the past, my take is this. It doesn’t matter what term we use (if we use one at all). What does matter is that each and every one of us, no matter what our role in business, can and should learn to be designers. In fact, we should become design do-ers. Whether we’re designing things or designing services, rapid prototyping and failing early and cheaply are the best ways to discover the customer’s true needs. Or, as Innosight’s Clayton Christensen has been reminding us for decades, how to determine the customer’s job to be done.

Design Thinking: Methodology, Mindset or What?

Chamber musicians perform trio sonata
by Rebecca Cochran
During the past several years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring design thinking. I’ve read inspiring and insightful books and blogs on the subject, heard in-person keynotes by design thinking experts including Claudia Kotchka and Roger Martin, attended a design thinking conference, engaged in numerous online discussions around the topic and have had many face-to-face conversations with others on this often elusive topic.

My still looming question: Is design thinking a methodology, a mindset or something else?

David Kelley, a founder of IDEO and co-founder of the program at Stanford, in a video interview with Reena Jana of Business Week, stated that design thinking can be learned. Design thinking is not a new methodology, according to Kelley, “it used be to be called design.” Companies are finally recognizing the value of design and many are working to make design thinking part of their corporate DNA.

I tend to agree with Kelley in that design thinking can be learned. But, at the same time, I feel that design thinking is a mindset. According to the World English Dictionary, mindset is defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.” If this is an accurate definition, then I’m convinced that design thinking also falls into mindset mode.

OK, so design thinking is both methodology and mindset. But, which comes first? How does one acquire the design thinking mindset?

In my case, design thinking has been a way of life for as long as I can remember. At the age of 10, I (luckily) embarked on a path towards becoming a serious classical musician. That meant years and years of developing both sides of my brain and, just naturally, blending analytical thinking with intuitive thinking.

Of all the arts, music is the one which best grooms the mind in that hybrid way. During tens of thousands of hours in the practice room, a musician taps into a blended skill set of analysis and intuition. In learning a new piece or re-learning a piece from our past repertoire, we prototype hundreds of times. That prototyping is done alone, with a teacher, in rehearsal and then again during each actual performance of the work. Whether in a chamber music ensemble or in an orchestra, the nimble musician combines what he has analyzed with what he has prototyped and then adds the layer of intuitive thinking so necessary when interacting with other musicians onstage.

So, for some, design thinking seems to come naturally. Design thinking is a blend of years of learning, prototyping and doing.

What are your thoughts? Are there other fields of study that naturally train us in design thinking? I’d like to hear from you.

This post was originally published in March, 2011