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What is Starting Points Shift?

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Welcome back Humantific readers. This week, Part 2 of this Revelations Series of short posts focused on sharing a few of the key sensemaking notions presented in our last book: Rethinking Design Thinking / Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived.

Previously published in this series: What is Cross-Over?

To reiterate, this Humantific book is intended to be a sensemaking contribution to the design community at a time of great external VUCA-like change in the world.

As sensemaking and changemaking practitioners, that VUCA driven change wave was visible to us early on, necessitating, from our humble perspective, significant rethinking change in the direction of next generation designerly methods more suited to complex situations…and related education.

One way to look at this book is that it provides an overview window into at least some of what is going on related to methods redesign in the emerging practice community and why.

The book defines the parameters of need for methods change and makes numerous suggestions for how our readers can build bridges to the rapidly arriving tomorrow, today, focused in the direction of rising complexity of challenges.

To help explain to our readers what Starting Points Shift is we made use of the previously created NextD Geographies Framework that describes 4 operational arenas, each with different scales/types of challenges.

Starting Points Shift is essentially recognition of change related to many of the challenges facing communities, organizations and therefore facing design professionals.

Starting Points Shift decouples the giant assumption often being made in much of design education, cascading into many practices, that the “brief-based” starting point assumptions of Arenas 1& 2 apply to Arena 3 / Organizational ChangeMaking and Arena 4 / Societal ChangeMaking. In practice we already know this is not the case.

Since Starting Points Shift is foundational to understanding limitations of the present state of the Design Thinking we felt it was important to make the shift clear in the book. It's a revelation sitting there in plain sight, in front of collective us. It is the implications of Starting Points Shift that are most important.

If methods are designed to jump from framed or semi-framed problems (briefs) what happens when one is asked to engage upstream with fuzzy organizational and societal situations where the challenges at the outset are unknown and cannot be assumed? As the book points out: Truth be told: The downstream assumption-boxed methods of product, service and experience design don't fit well in such contexts.

Ask yourself: Would it make sense for a design team to arrive into a community to help but tell community leaders that all problematic situations facing the community must be converted into product, service or experience challenges and solutions? Objectively speaking that would not make any sense but that is effectively what many schools are teaching. Many teach design philosphy as universal but the attached methods are downstream and assumption-boxed, a considerable disconnect. Shades of the elephant in the design thinking living room there.

As soon as you presume product, service or experience, you are already downstream. No such assumptions can be made in complex organizational and societal contexts. What that means is that often today the wrong methods and the wrong tools are present and being force fit….much to the dissatisfaction of rapidly realizing students.

An added layer of complexity that we point out in the book is that while many of societies so-called wicked problems are well known, we should not make the giant assumption that is the case with all challenges facing organizations and communities.

Many/most of the problematic situations that organizational and societal leaders are engaged in everyday are fuzzy and unknown at the outset. Folks working in this everyday context will require Open Challenge Framing skills, not tied to their individual discipline.

Skills and tools geared to someone handing you the challenge are different from skills and tools applicable to when you have to figure out what the constellation of interconnected challenges actually are with multitudes of stakeholders.

Not only is the shift from downstream to upstream starting points but also from one brief to co-creating a systemic constellation picture of challenges. Clearly Starting Points Shift has numerous implications. In the emerging practice community this shift, this need has been recognized for some time.

Once we fleshed out the Starting Points Shift it was clear that it did raise difficult questions regarding whether or not students should be told that the methods that they are learning in graduate design school, primarily those of Design Arena 1 and Arena 2 are perfectly suited for application in Arenas 3 and 4.

Advocates of the Magic Thinking School of Design strongly say yes and in contrast, advocates of Skill-to-Scale suggest that we not make that giant, misleading assumption. Skill-to-Scale points out that philosophy is not actual methodology. In order to be real, having broad philosophical ambitions needs to be connected to actual methods and skills.

As we pointed out in Part 1 of this series: What is Cross-Over?, we have wondered from time to time if we, as a community, have responsibilities towards the arriving generations of future design leader students regarding ethical methods related explanations in this time of great change.

Being a methods and teaching focused company, we think the community does have such responsibility.

Setting aside the often confusing, ferocious spin of the marketplace we believe a new era of Methodology Ethics has arrived.

Hope this is helpful readers.


To learn more about the multi-stream Rethinking Design Movement go here: NextD Journal

Upcoming in this Revelations Series:

What is Skill-To-Scale Shift?

What is Methods/Language Shift?

What is Philosophy/Methodology Shift?

What is Emphasis Shift?

What is Inbound & Outbound Empathy Shift?

What are Assumption-Boxed Methods?

Questions: Feel free to send us an email: kickitup (at) humantific (dot) com


We are taking a break from publishing our Humantific Newsletter so if you are interested in authentic practice-based views on the shifting subjects of innovation, sensemaking, changemaking, design for complexity, design thinking stay tuned here!

Image Credits: Visual SenseMaking images seen here are spreads from the Humantific book Rethinking Design Thinking, Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived, 2020.


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