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Not All Problem Solving Involves Design

So, I was reading through my bloglines when I came across Victor’s recent post, pointing to an article about how JetBlue CEO David Neeleman’s business philosophy is influenced by his work as a (Mormon) missionary, driving a desire for equity in how people are treated. Which is all well and fine, except Victor claims David’s approach “shows perfectly how the empathy of great design thinking improves both human experience and the bottom line simultaneously.”

“Design Thinking” is a phrase that is getting increasingly bandied about, largely in an attempt to take the methods, practices, and approach of designers and apply it to other realms. A movement I’m definitely sympathetic with.

But a problem arises when we think that any “thinking” that we appreciate is “design thinking.” It’s very much in Victor’s personal and professional interest to associate the term with successes like JetBlue. But it’s also disingenuous in this case, because nothing in that piece has anything to do with design or design thinking.

Unless we think that designers have somehow cornered the market on empathy, and anyone being empathetic is utilizing design thinking. Which I think is a pejoration of the concept of empathy, and rapidly moves the phrase “design thinking” into the realm of catchy, but meaningless, buzzwords.

In fact, for all the hugger mugger around the term, I’ve found only one reasonable attempt to capture its meaning, Dan Saffer’s post, “Thinking About Design Thinking.” I think it’s a great place to start, and, if we’re able to maintain Dan’s focus on the concept, “design thinking” has potential for truly catching on.

  1. Peter,

    I personally like this one, it’s very empathetic and user centered 😛 –

    Design is all of this but, the salient differentiation between scientific or artistic thinking and design thinking is that, the purpose of design is not to describe or explain what exists in the modality of self expression but to create what does not exist on behalf of another through other expression. This last point is critical in the understanding of design.
    The work of the designer cannot be defined separately from those for whom the designer is creating;

    taken from

  2. You’re right on, Peter. Our efforts will go much farther if we remember that our practice has evolved from others that still exist and will continue to do so basically, forever. Unless of course, we get too big in our britches.

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