Design Thinking Futures [Part 1]


PART 1 of 2:

GK VanPatter in conversation with Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy: In one of your articles, MAKING SENSE OF: “Why Design Thinking Will Fail,” you classified design thinking into upstream and downstream design thinking. Can you clarify this taxonomy for our readers?

GK VanPatter: Yes certainly. We see a lot of articles online like the now infamous “Why Design Thinking Will Fail” post that you referred to. Our response, posted to LinkedIn contains a reference to the situation that I just referred to above. The impact of the methodology mess that now exists becomes clear in that article. (See link below.)

Regarding upstream and downstream, we created this distinction as one part of a larger taxonomy while researching and writing our recently published book Innovation Methods Mapping to convey important differences in methodologies. In the book, readers can see and make use of the entire taxonomy as a reusable analysis framework. Our goal in creating the analysis lens is not jargon-making but rather to introduce considerations and meaning not previously present.

The terms upstream and downstream relate to the assumed starting points of the methodology. Upstream means upstream from the “brief”, which is a framed or semi-framed challenge. In upstream contexts, one cannot and does not assume to know what the challenges actually might be. Part of the work is to create the interconnected constellation of challenges, often seen for the first time. The everyday context for upstream is complex organizations and societies where many types of challenges tend to exist. Why would anyone assume all challenges on the planet are product or service related? From our open innovation perspective that makes no sense at all.

Downstream is the brief business where much of the traditional design industries (and graduate design schools) have been focused for decades. Most often in downstream methods, the assumption is that the challenge to be addressed is pre-assumed to be related to product, service or experience design regardless of what the challenges actually might be.











Both upstream and downstream methods are useful. The problems arise when downstream methods are force-fitted into upstream contexts. Today in a competitive marketplace, whether we all like it or not, many graduate design schools are, due to their slow adaptation over a decade, out pitching the quick-fix notion that down is up, that downstream methods are universal, that downstream methods are meta design. That is more about marketing than methodologies. This spin pitching has contributed, not to the making sense of the subject, but rather to the mountain of confusion that now exists and continues to grow. Ultimately that spin will likely undermine the credibility of those advocates, but hopefully not the subject and the interest in adaptive skills.

What we find is that the methodology related sensemaking that we do is welcomed by many and not appreciated by some who would prefer that these differences not be pointed out. Not everyone is going to be a fan of more clarity around the subject of design/design thinking. So be it.

See the entire Part 1 of the interview here:


Crediting “How Might We?”


Sidney Parnes Not IDEO

Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter posts to his LinkedIn blog: “Hello again Humantific readers. In the spirit of proper crediting and on behalf of Dr. Sid Parnes [1922-2013] we are returning again to this slippery subject. It keeps popping up and up! An often seen crediting error that seems to keep repeating itself over and over again in the business community media, now in the government community media is in reference to where the now widely used invitation stem How Might We? came from.

Humantific readers will already know it came from Dr. Sid Parnes not IDEO.

Sid is no longer around to speak up for himself and IDEO never seems to step forward to correct the often appearing misdirected crediting. We have ourselves written extensively on this subject crediting Sid.

The most recent appearance of this misdirected crediting can be seen here in this article entitled “The Three Words That Make Brainstorming Sessions at Google, Facebook and IDEO More Productive” appearing on July 10, 2017 in the publication “Government Executive” written by Leah Fessler.

To be fair to Dr. Parnes we have repeatedly pointed out that How Might We? actually has its roots in the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) community, not the design community. Sid is internationally recognized as a pioneering figure in that community of practice. His contributions are many.

“How Might We?” “How Might I” and “In What Ways Might We?” were all first introduced publically some fifty years ago by Sid Parnes in his groundbreaking book Creative Behavior Guidebook published in 1967.”

See the entire post here on GK’s Linkedin Blog!





Clarifying “Design Thinking”


Forbes vs Humantific

Humantific CoFounder, GK VanPatter offers Humantific readers a deeper level of leadership understanding on the murky subject of “Design Thinking”:

“A recent article appearing in Forbes entitled “Design Thinking: Your Next Competitive Advantage” reminded us that the mountain of confusion around the subject continues to grow. Most articles on the subject of Design Thinking appearing in the business media are well intentioned but many miss the mark, adding to the public confusion on this subject. This seems to be occurring for several different, often overlapping reasons:

A: Many authors assume their specific neighborhood perspectives apply to all aspects of the Design / Design Thinking community, when they don’t. There is no one Design Thinking. Different parts of the design community are engaged in vastly different types and scales of challenges. Working on posters, toothbrushes or applications is vastly different from transforming organizations or problem solving in communities.

B: There is a constant self-reinforcing stream of overly simplistic depictions of Design Thinking in the media which parrot the promotional literature of the graduate design schools whether it makes any sense in the real world or not.

C: Often historical figures are quoted from eras when the operational arenas of design were much less strategic and considerably narrower then they are today. Some historical quotes no longer apply. Others are flat-out incorrect. As design knowledge expands some of these popular old quotes remain relevant while others fall away.

On the one hand it would be easy for us to jump on and go along with the promotional parroting train around Design Thinking but none of that is really advancing leadership level understanding of the subject.

For our Humantific readers we want to offer more. In the interest of clarity for our readers we offer here a different perspective on several dimensions of Design Thinking that were referenced recently in the Forbes article.”

Read the complete post on GK’s LinkedIn Blog.



Future Work Skills Academy

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Coming Soon!

Humantific’s Elizabeth Pastor will be the Skills Coach for the SenseMaking portion of a new virtual learning program being organized by The 4th Industrial Revolution and designed around Future Work Skills 2020. Among our clients we see considerable interest in on-boarding Future Work Skills.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is a digital platform that brings together the world’s leading contemporary thinkers and practitioners in the 10 skills identified by the Institute for the Future’s (IFTF) 2011 report: Future Workskills 2020. The goal is to enable you to find and refine the humanness that sets you apart from machines. In a computational world where the rise and rise of the machine continues unabated the provides a key to unlock  your potential as a human being and find your place in the workforce of the future.”

“We do this through 30 Masterclasses – online, using the latest training techniques and technologies. And available to you 24/7 to be consumed as you want it, when you want it.”

Elizabeth will be sharing her insights as an cross-disciplinary innovation leader, designer, facilitator and educator with a unique expertise in Visual SenseMaking and Strategic Co-Creation.

See the overview here:

For more information send us an email: kickitup (at) humantific (dot) com

For information on Humantific’s Complexity Navigation Program containing skill-building in Strategic CoCreation, Design Research & Visual SenseMaking see here.


Data Visualization 1817

20170605090658_00001We love sharing the amazing history of Statistical Diagraming later called Information Design…later called Data Visualization. Also called Visual SenseMaking (broader subject).

This is a series of diagrams from Geographia Sacra 1817 published by Robert Wilkinson in London. We are most interested in HOW the diagrams were being made in that early era 200 years ago!

Above shows: Early “Chrono-Genealogical Chart” of the “Second Age of the World” showing the “Origins of Languages” Geographia Sacra 1817 Humantific Collection New York City.

20170605104419_00001“Chrono-Genealogical Chart” of the “Third Age of the World” Geographia Sacra 1817 Humantific Collection New York City.

20170605104450_00001“Chrono-Genealogical Chart” of the “Fifth Age of the World” Geographia Sacra 1817 Humantific Collection New York City.


HUMANTIFIC: Making Sense of the Early SenseMakers

HUMANTIFIC: Lost Stories in Information Design History

HUMANTIFIC: Making Sense of: “What Killed The Infographic?”


HUMANTIFIC: Isotype: Building Bridges

HUMANTIFIC: Data Visualization 1890





















Philanthropy Metrics Workshop


Bringing together leaders from the world’s largest companies driving societal investment strategies, the annual Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) Summit is underway here in New York City.

Humantific was invited to design and this afternoon will deliver a hands-on interactive session leading Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) leaders through a series of activities focused on resourcing and accelerating corporate responsibility in their organizations.  Today Corporate Social Responsibility leadership often requires a reporting style that is concise and shows return on investment.

Lead by Humantific’s Elizabeth Pastor and Amanda Greenough the session helps participants rapidly make sense of CECP’s industry-leading guidance for scorecards and better understand the role that data driven insight metrics can play in helping to gain traction specifically with senior leaders and CEO’s.

How do you find your vital few metrics that show visible value?

Exploring this question is the focus of this interactive Humantific workshop session.



Visual SenseMaking in Context








Elizabeth Pastor’s new LinkedIn post clarifies important differences between Visual SenseMaking and Graphic Recording.

“We have been practicing Visual SenseMaking at Humantific since our inception in 2001, and I have personally been practicing it for 20+ years. About 10 years ago, there was a boom in visual thinking. We see this interest continuing to rise in how visual thinking can contribute to complex change-making in organizations and societies. We are happy campers!

However, what has come with that rise of visual thinking is also confusion regarding the value and differences between various visualization techniques and approaches.

In this short post, I will share how we see the key differences between Visual SenseMaking and the popular activity known as Graphic Recording. Both add value but they do so in very different ways. One is not the other.”



The Karl Weick Question


GK VanPatter’s new LinkedIn blog post addresses this often asked question: How does 21st century SenseMaking practice differ from Karl Weick’s SenseMaking?

“Many of our clients and readers know Weick’s work well. Often the question behind the question is: How does that literature, that theory, those constructions fit with what we do at Humantific?

Widely recognized as an important American organizational psychologist and theorist, Karl E. Weick is among the pioneers of the contemporary SenseMaking movement. The author of several important books including SenseMaking in Organizations, his work connects across numerous knowledge communities of practice.

While acknowledging and appreciating Karl Weick, we think it is important to recognize that his work represents only one of several avenues that lead into what is now 21st century SenseMaking. Weick’s avenue is one that happens to have a particular texture, tone, and focus. Other avenues with different textures and tones also exist.

To place Weick in perspective we appreciate this cross-community picture:”



See entire post on LinkedIn here:


Humantific at Parsons Conference


UPSTREAM Challenge Framing Workshop

Humantific’s Elizabeth Pastor and Amanda Greenough will teach a public workshop on UPSTREAM Challenge Framing at Parson’s upcoming Design Intelligence Conference in New York City on April 1.

The theme of this years conference is “Designing for Global Volatility.”

The conference and the workshops are free and will fill up quickly so sign up asap if you want to attend.

[Elizabeth will also participate on the opening morning Panel Discussion.]

To Sign up for the Humantific workshop go here: 

Workshop Description:

ReThinking Design Thinking Series

Workshop: Introduction to UPSTREAM Challenge Framing 

The changing scale of challenges facing organizations and communities requires a new generation of design leaders to be masterful of a new set of framing skills. Gone are the days when we can assume that all design challenges are product, service and experience related. In the context of complex organizations and societies today no such assumptions can be predetermined up front. Drawing from years of methodology-oriented practice knowledge, Humantific will, in this short workshop introduce participants to Real-Time Upstream Framing. Today these are among the most powerful skills in the strategic designer’s toolbox, useful on the fuzzy front end of any innovation project in any industry. Unlike traditional downstream, discipline-specific design thinking framing, upstream framers learn how to step outside his/her discipline to undertake the cocreated framing. It takes skill and considerable practice to be able to do this in real-time in meetings. This 1.5 hour workshop is an introduction to those upstream skills.

Conference Date:

Saturday April 1, 2017

Conference Location:

The New School University Centre
63 5th Avenue
New York City


GK VanPatter in Transformations



Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter was recently interviewed by Emma Jefferies and Joyce Yee, authors of the new book: Transformations: 7 Roles to Drive Change By Design.

Question 3 of 10: “Emma & Joyce: Our book is premised on the idea that design creates value, and specifically we are focussing on how it helps organisations innovate and transform (Design 3.0 based on the NextD Geography framework). In your opinion, what role does design play in this context and what is its key contribution? For example you talked about the importance of helping people become more adaptable. How does design help in this case?”

“GK VanPatter: Adaptability remains one of the most enduring goals in organizational readiness and transformation. As a need and a goal adaptability has endured through the ages across many generations.

Charles Darwin is credited with famously saying: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Certainly the organizational leaders working with Humantific recognize that static entities tend not to survive in continuously changing environments. As a goal adaptability keeps getting creatively repackaged by each generation. As a business need it has certainly increased in importance in a now continuously changing world.

To put this in popular business media context: A few cycles ago Fast Company published, with considerable fanfare, an issue heralding in what it depicted as the arrival of “Generation Flux”. Take a wild guess what that was all about?

Readers who were aware of innovation dynamics history would recognize that adaptability, flexibility, agility, “fluxabilty” are all different ways of saying more or less the same thing and that thing as a capacity for organizations has been a recognized need in American business organizations since the 1950s.

Adaptability and efficiency are recognized as too very different things. Efficiency is about doing the same thing better. Adaptability or agility or “fluxability” is about continuously identifying and actionizing how the organization needs to change…and changing it.

In terms of innovation and transformation, there is today an added wrinkle in play that adds to the complexity and that many organizational leaders want to do both. CEO’s seek to make the most of what they presently do while simultaneously creating new paths and possibilities. Many leaders have come to the realization that one or the other is no longer enough.

In the management literature this dual engine strategy has been framed as ambidexterity as in Ambidexterous Organizations. In that stream of literature the two dimensions are often described as Exploration and Exploitation. Currently the CEO community has considerable interest in enabling this dual engine strategy. This is essentially where Humantific operates.

What Humantific does is bring the Ambidexitious Organizational strategy to life as human-centered, inclusive innovation. Everything we do syncs with a visualized ambidexitious model of innovation, rather then the more traditional single engine model. It is true that to realize that ambidexterity model we make use of tools, behaviors and dynamics from design as well as from other discipline expertise that all interconnect with ambidexterity in one way or another. It is literally how we redefine human-centered innovation today.”

See the other 9 questions & answers in the book!

Other “Expert Interviews” in the book include:

Peter Coughlan: Consultant / USA

Mark Vernooj: THNK/ The Netherlands

Mariana Amatullo: Design Matters / USA

Brenton Caffin: Nesta / United Kingdom

Christian Bason: Danish Design Center / Denmark

Beatriz Lara Bartolomé: Imersivo / Spain

Transformations / 7 Roles to Drive Change by Design.