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Why design thinking is like an air guitar

Design Thinking

October 24, 2014

Why design thinking is like an air guitar

The results of design thinking are hard to see, much like an air guitar or an invisible friend. What you can see is the absence of design thinking and unlike your invisible friend, the absence of design thinking is there for all to see. Let's explore the invisible using examples where design thinking is absent.

This is the tricky thing about design thinking at its best – you can't see it. Anything that is well designed becomes invisible as it fits your needs so well that you stop seeing the design and concentrate on the outcomes.

Design is a series of decisions that result in something that works better than it did before or something that is brought into existence in a way that ensures it works well. By thinking of design in this way it becomes obvious that good design will be near to invisible. But what will be apparent will be an improvement to the way something works, or the pleasure in using something that appears to be designed with your needs in mind.

Design is a series of decisions that result in something that works better than it did before.
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First example – nasty little ad. One aspect of design decision making that gets missed when there is no design thinkers on the job is matching words to pictures. Both the words and the pictures need to tell the same story – seems obvious. However it is remarkable how huge the gulf between the two can be.

The picture shows an open plan kitchen – dining – lounge room with a table and chairs jammed up against the kitchen bench and the window. A sofa is pushed up against the window and the dining table. The text says 'spacious and tastefully furnished' yet the picture shows insufficient room to move the chairs out from under the table and some fairly unattractive furnishings – bzzzt, no match.

There are plenty of examples like this where ads are cobbled together with no thought given to the outcome. However the same malady applies in much larger applications.

Poor design thinking can be harder to spot when the design that is produced has higher quality production values – sparkly baubles can be very distracting. The technique I use for pulling apart the thinking is the 5 Whys. Read more about the 5 Whys in previous posts listed at the bottom of this post. If you keep asking why, or some form of why, you will soon unravel poor design thinking.

Keep asking why, or some form of why, you will soon unravel poor design thinking.
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Second example – using the wrong analogies. I recently saw a safety promotion aimed at primary school kids that related distances to the length of football fields. Primary school kids can't make that relationship. Most adults can't either. Try it out, ask an adult how long a football field is then take them outside and get them to point to how far away the end of a football field would be from where you are standing. Do you know if they are right or not? Do YOU know how long a football field is? Are you unusual in a group of the next 10 people you come across? Would you use a football field as an analogy for distance with primary school kids now? You may do if you wan't to have to think of an alternative and that's not just lazy but it may mean that you don't have the right sort of thinker on the job.

Design thinking is an unusual skill. It takes an enquiring mind, catholic tastes and creativity. Design thinkers are annoying because they rarely agree with you, ask Why a lot and don't like assumptions at all. The final word for this post needs to come from Steve Jobs whose company seems to have embraced design thinking to huge benefit.