Clarity: The Next Design Thinking Evolution
For those who might have missed this earlier published interview with Humantific Co-Founder GK VanPatter you can find that document plus his 40+ other published papers in free downloadable form here:
Humantific CoFounder, GK VanPatter tackles another difficult subject posting to his Linkedin Blog.
“Happy summer Humantific readers! It is a super steamy week here in New York City! This weeks’ tricky topic: Our view on the evolution of “Experience Thinking”.
Recently we were inspired to write when it was brought to our attention that over on the now giant-sized 100,000+ member Design Thinking LinkedIn group a thread was bubbling up proclaiming the arrival of “Experience Thinking” right now in 2018! Yes, the proclamation was entitled “Design Thinking Grows Up: Welcome to Experience Thinking”…“Taking Design Thinking to the Next Level”!
Who Knew?!! 🙂
Since Experience Design is part of our own practice history we decided that it might be useful to our readers if we make this subject the focus for this weeks’ post.
Most communities of practice have a time-line and Experience Design is no different. Understanding community of practice timelines can certainly help us collectively and realistically understand, not only the past, but more importantly what is going on right now and what challenges remain.”
See the entire post here:
Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter posts to his LinkedIn blog:
Hello again Humantific readers. This weeks tricky topic: Ethics in the context of design thinking. While reading a recent thread posted by someone in one of the LinkedIn Design Thinking groups on the topic of industry ethics I started to write a few comments on this always difficult subject. The tiny “comments” box was too small for my text so I will make this into a brief blog post here. Yes, somewhat by this accident I started writing about a subject that has been percolating in the back of my mind for some time. It is something that occurred to us when we were working on our recently published book: Innovation Methods Mapping: Demystifying 80+ Years of Innovation Process Design.
The topic of community ethics is a rather dry but important one and I was somewhat surprised by the focus of that Design Thinking group thread in which these questions were initially asked: “What is the ethical grounding of design and design thinking? This includes what work one chooses to do as well as how one approaches the actual design. Are designers responsible for the ethics of their [output] designs?”
See the entire post here:
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:
Araya and McGowan touch on and recognize many themes well know in the organizational culture building business including: continuous change, adaptability, agility, problem finding, problem framing, innovation, opportunities, and design learning.
“The truth is that we can no longer afford to focus on graduating learners armed only with predetermined skills and (already existing) knowledge. The workforce is becoming far too global, too digital, and increasingly too self-employed. We must instead refocus on cultivating creativity, to include not only problem solving, but also problem finding and problem framing. Students and learners need experience with exploration, discovery, re-orientation, and most importantly, design thinking.“
Evidently not so well known by the authors is the tricky part of design thinking methodology realities today. The attributes described by Araya and McGowan are those not of downstream situational design thinking methods where the vast majority of the graduate design schools remain focused, but rather of upstream meta design thinking methods where a still relatively small community of practices, some of which have executive skill-building academies themselves exist.
The starting points for upstream and downstream methods are quite different.
We could not agree more that challenge framing is extremely important but the fact is that teaching proactive upstream problem framing in the context of complex fuzzy challenges still remains relatively rare in the graduate design schools. Don’t ask the graduate design schools but the downstream situational methods have challenge type and solution type assumptions baked within. Upstream methods begin with no preconceived challenge or solution paths.
We certainly agree with Araya’s and McGowan’s observation: “Navigating this terrain requires adaptation and re-orientation.” This includes graduate design education itself.
Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter just published another post in his popular ongoing “Making Sense Series.”
“Many organizational leaders have become a tad confused as various parties pitch methods in a competitive marketplace that now includes the graduate business schools and graduate design schools seeking to reposition themselves as innovation advisory consultancies..:-)”
“In this brief post, with an objective towards advocating clarity, we share how, from a practice based methods perspective, Humantific differentiates between Design Thinking methods, Product/Service/Experience Design Thinking methods and Agile methods. While they all add value, they each add different forms of value applicable to different contexts.”
Read the post on LinkedIn here:
We love and respect the complex history of what has become the sensemaking profession today. Here are more example images from Humantific’s Isotype Institute Collection. These are from 1955.
The Vienna-based Isotype Institute team, active in the 1920s-1950s, is widely recognized as an early pioneer in the commercial application of visual sensemaking. They applied their unique skill-set to the explanation of many business subjects, in addition to their social subjects work. These “Isotype Charts” are part of a 16-diagram series that explains the chemistry, manufacture, and use of plastics, with an emphasis on their application in the building industries. They appeared in the 1955 book, entitled Plastics and Building.
Isotype Institute work was not always focused on driving towards changemaking. In examples like this one, their focus was on explaining existing conditions within industries—what we would call the “today” picture—without any particular reference or speculation about the “tomorrow” picture.
Today, Humantific would consider this to be part of the Yin (without the Yang) component of changemaking. Pictures of “today” are not only helpful in constructing collective understanding of existing conditions—they are also great jumping-off points for cocreating futures.
We might point out that Isotype Institute was not just making sense of data-sets and information. They were looking at, and deciphering, many complex phenomena taking place in the field of focus, much of it rather abstract—including processes, chemical compositions, and various applications. They were using skills which can be referred to as information design, but they were not just designers of information. They could make sense of any subject, regardless of its state. From the Humantific perspective, they were early professional sensemakers. Their professional sensemaking often informed and accelerated the everyday sensemaking of others operating in organizational settings and in the public realm.
The output of Isotype Institute is immensely impressive and still highly influential today.
Note: For those interested in the finer points of Information Design history, we will point out three additional details:
1. Design was not a word that was used within Isotype Institute.
2. Isotype images were not made by individuals, but rather by a collaborative effort, within which the ‘Transformer” played a significant role—acting as Mediator, Organizer, Shaper between the information research and the graphic form.
3. Otto Neurath died in 1945, at the age of 63. Some see significant differences in images acredited to Isotype made after this date.
Image Source: Mactaggart, E. F. and H. H. Chambers. Plastic and Building. 1955. Diagrams designed by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.
GK VanPatter, Humantific Co-Founder will give a talk on Design 3.0 / Making Sense of Design Now! at the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona on November 9 for Barcelona Design Week.