XVII.2 March + April 2010
Page: 5
Digital Citation


Richard Anderson, Jon Kolko

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Popular discussion of "design thinking" has reached a point of frenzy. Unfortunately, there is often little depth to the discussion, and for many, the topic remains elusive and vague. While each issue of interactions has included articles about or reflecting the application of design thinking, this issue addresses the topic a bit more directly.

We open with Chris Pacione, who believes there are likely to be profound benefits if design thinking becomes the next pervasive human literacy. "In the end, I do think pervasive competency in the collaborative and iterative skills of 'looking' and 'making' to understand and advance our world, or as [Herb] Simon put it, 'turn existing situations into preferred ones' may prove to be another watershed moment in our history."

Pacione quotes two of the most prolific sources of discussion of design thinking, Roger Martin and Tim Brown, whose recent books on the topic are reviewed in this issue by Paula Thornton. Martin is also in this issue, teaming with Jennifer Reil to advocate the application of principles of design thinking to avoid what often derails innovation—terrible interactions between design teams and business leaders. Jeffrey Kim, Arnold Lund, and Caroline Dombrowski go on to explain how storytelling can also help prevent such derailments.

Select tools and techniques to facilitate and improve design are the focus of the next four pieces. The first addresses storytelling, as mentioned here; the second (from Liz Danzico), improvisation. Alan Blackwell and Sally Fincher critique the common practice of creating design patterns for developers, arguing that design patterns were originally intended for the architect, and, thus should be created for designers, albeit in a different form. Then Jeffrey Bardzell, Jay Bolter, and Jonas Löwgren provide examples of how design criticism can benefit the design process and our ongoing design discourse.

Three articles in this issue pose or address challenges to what is generally considered an essential part of design thinking: design research. Sam Ladner discusses the need for greater clarity and consistency about what this research really is, and presents provocative views on the relationship between qualitative research and sample size. Don Norman pushes the envelope even further, questioning the importance of design research to the achievement of break-through product innovation; an advance copy of this piece has caused quite a stir. Last, Lauren Serota and Dan Rockwell examine the prevalence of the collection of "casual data" on the Web—how easy it is to misunderstand such data and the role of the design researcher in making sense of it.

The impact of gender on behavior and design is addressed in the next section. Shaowen Bardzell offers a "feminist lens" on sustainable design, Elizabeth Churchill examines historic and popular references to women and design, and Desmond Ballance and Jodie Jenkins describe a manifestation of design in pursuit of cultural change in their work targeting teenage girls with eating disorders.

And there is more: pieces on technology-mediated participation in society, humanness in social capital in rural Africa, and the importance of an anthropomorphic design to effective communication with robots.

Overall, this issue is about a new intellectualism of design—one that embraces discourse, dialogue, systems thinking, and the larger role of designers in shaping culture. We trust you will enjoy thinking about design thinking.

—Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko

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DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1699775.1699776

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©2010 ACM  1072-5220/10/0300  $10.00

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