Design - kids, don't try this at home

There is an interesting article over on the Fast Company site about the new head of the Rhode Island School of design that you might find interesting. I found it inspiring - education and design (design education) are areas near and dear to my heart, having taught at Massey University's Design School in Auckland for three years.

John Maeda arrived at the RISD from MIT. He is described as a Rennaissance man, based on his accomplishments in both technology and the arts. Factions at the school distributed the meme that Maeda would eliminate tradtional craft based foundation programmes that emphasise skills like drawing and replace them with computer based activities. Not so, as it happened. Maeda used blogging in addition to usual channels to give an unfiltered, non-chinese whisper account of his true intentions.

What is interesting in the article is the criticism of the fashionable 'design led thinking' notion.

While the corporate world is obsessed with the idea of design thinking -- which relies on data and process for inspiration -- Maeda is skeptical. "Design thinking is basically about being able to make good PowerPoint slides -- the quad-chart slide, the stakeholder slide. I get that. I think it's important. But at the same time, you hear whispers, even at Stanford, that people aren't making things anymore." Scott Klinker, head of the 3-D design program at Cranbrook Academy of Art, who defended the intuitive, qualitative approach to design at this year's Industrial Designers Society of America conference, agrees: "The proponents of the strategy-based approach say, 'Don't worry about form. We'll save you with design thinking.' I think that's crap. Design has always been a complex synthesis of analytical and intuitive processes."

I agree with this idea. The fact the creativity and innovation have been embraced by business as essential ingredients for success, there is a point where there must be doing. Create is more powerful than to have creativity. Designing is a doing word and theorising about design can lead to anemic results.

In many ways I think it is important that people charged with the responsibility for creating ideas that translate into products or other consumer touchpoints remain outsiders. Design-led thinking can become a kind of spiked Kool-Aid where people without training in design research methods or the sort of unreasonable reasoning that creates break-through ideas begin to believe they are as capable at directing or worse, governing the process of innovation. In many cases it will only lead to calcification of ideas, structures become strictures and principles rules or dogma.

Most importantly I don't think design thinking should migrate to the boardroom and become a dull, powerpoint driven, theoretical process. It should be lively and hands-on and led by those educated in the process and skilled in the craft.

BTW: I've only discussed one point that the article stimulated - you should read the body of it for context.

Fast Company Article


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