Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Book note: "Design Thinking" edited by Thomas Lockwood

During these last few years the notion of design thinking has evolved into a concept that is attracting enormous attention both in academia and business. However, some have argued that design thinking is only a hype, some that design thinking is already dead, and some have already moved on to the next big thing, whatever that is. However, while design has gotten some serious attention from design researchers (such as, Schon, Rittel, Cross, Krippendorff, Nelson & Stolterman), it has also received attention from the world of business and practice.

A recent book that brings together reflections with a focus on the business world is  "Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value" (2010) edited by Thomas Lockwood. Lockwood is the president of the Design Management Institute (DMI), which is an institute that is aimed at the advancement of design in management and business.

The book contains about 24 short essays by writers that are either researching design in business and management or practicing designers in various organizations. The book is divided into four sections with fairly distinct themes. The first is about design thinking methods, the second about values and brands, the third about service design and the last one about experience design. The book is introduced by an essay by Lockwood himself on the importance of integrated thinking.

If you are looking for a book that clearly shows how people engaged in business strategy and design, this is it. You get a lot of short essays where professionals describe their design thinking and approach, each in 2-4 pages. The essays are filled with cases and examples from companies and organizations where the authors have worked or worked for. It is obvious that many of these authors have deep knowledge and understanding of design as an approach and process (while some do not). They understand the complexity of introducing design thinking in organizations. They have experience of turning design thinking into action. In many cases the chapters consist of hand-on guidelines and principles.

In our book 'The Design Way' Harold Nelson and I develop the notion of schemas. We define schemas as "compositionally ordered or organized cognitive schematics used to support design inquiry or action" (Design Way, page 7). The Lockwood book is full of schemas, even though it can be argued how good many of them are in fulfilling their purpose. It is clear that many designers try to condense their knowledge and experience into schemas of different kinds. In most cases these schemas are visual graphics while sometimes more 'ordered' lists of bullets. In most cases the purpose is to condense very complex phenomena or activities into something graspable and comprehensible. I found several really interesting schemas in the book from professional designers that in my view give a much better and richer description of certain aspects of design than many academic attempts. So, the book can serve as a provider of potential design schemas that can be analyzed and evaluated for particular use.

Overall the book does not really provide me with any serious intellectual or theoretical insights, but it does provide the reader with some professional and practical reflections on design as an approach in organizational settings. I think the book can be quite valuable to students and inexperienced design thinkers in their attempts to master the 'real world' of design.

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