Sunday, December 09, 2012

Design Thinking Readings: Going Deeper

Now and then I post a list of what I consider to be core readings in design theory. This time I decided to call the list Design Thinking Readings: Going Deeper. The reason for this new title is that I want to promote design thinking, but also push those who are engaged in design thinking as a movement or approach to go deeper.

Design thinking is a notion that has received a lot of interest during the last decade, which is a development that I see as extremely encouraging. However, as many others have pointed out, when something gets popular there is a danger that it also looses its core and depth and grounding. I have over the years on this blog commented on many books on design theory and design thinking. Often I try to be positive and supportive to these attempts of developing design thinking as an approach, even though it is not always easy. I truly believe that to move a field ahead, quantity is important, that is, to advance the field we do not necessary need the final book on design thinking but we need many books. My hope is that with a growing body of books the chance that someone can write "the book" becomes greater.

As I mentioned, the purpose of this post is to push the design thinking field towards more depth. If the field want to stay relevant it can not only develop its applicability, it also has to develop its basic foundation. Such a foundation will not be built by an increasing stream of books that popularizes design thinking (even if that is also needed), but by connecting design thinking to existing philosophical and theoretical schools of thinking. Design thinking has to distinguish itself by comparing and contrasting itself to other existing ways of thinking by delving into underlying core ideas and assumptions. This can be done by relating design thinking to existing philosophical traditions, but also by developing design thinking as its own tradition. Both are needed.

Going deeper is not a search for an answer. You will not be able to "find" a ready-made design thinking philosophy in any readings. You have to read it all and compose an overall understanding. And this is where individual effort comes into play--you have to do the work--read and think. We are of course all looking forward to the day when someone is really successful with that composition and able to express it in a book that can help us all.

The list below is in no particular order and is very personal. These are some of the readings that have influenced me in my development of my own design thinking philosophy (as it is presented in our book "The Design Way").  I am really interested in getting feedback on this list. I know that many influential books are not mentioned. I have also limited the list to books   (except for a few exceptions) which is just my personal preference when it comes to this kind of readings. 

As many of my colleagues and collaborators will notice (since I have not mentioned their books :-), this list is focused on readings that connects to deeper ideas and intellectual traditions and less on modern attempts to develop and apply design thinking. I may develop a list with that kind of readings too some day.

So here we go:

Simon's book is a must in the area. Unfortunately, Simon is not read carefully enough by most people who criticize him. [I have found this article by Hatchuel to be a really good help in reading Simon: Hatchuel, A. (2001). Towards Design Theory and Expandable Rationality: The Unfinished Program of Herbert Simon. In Journal of Management and Governance. Vol 5, Numbers 3-4, September, 2001.]

Rittel, Horst. (1988). “The Reasoning of Designers”, 
This short paper is one of the best explanations of what design reasoning is.

I consider Schön to present the most developed design thinking philosophy and theory today. All his readings should be mandatory for anyone who engage in design thinking. But if that is too much, then this book is a good place to start.

Lawson, Bryan. "How Designers Think"
Lawson's book really helped me to form my own understanding of design. Lawson has over the years continued to publish good books on design.

Dunne, Joseph "Back to the Rough Ground"
Probably the best book ever on practical knowledge and judgment. 

One of the best contemporary books on design theory.

This book was first published in 1969 and is a wonderful book on the relation between craft and design, functionality and aesthetics.

Alexander, Christoffer. "The Timeless Way of Building"
Even though Alexander is more famous for his pattern language work (which is usually heavily criticized , this is the book that to me is still relevant and fundamental in its way of posing challenging questions about the purpose of design.

Of all the readings in philosophy of technology, this is the one that has influenced me the most. A wonderful critique of contemporary design and technology.

Still one of the best and maybe only books in psychology that has direct influence on how to think about design.

A book so full of great ideas that it is almost too much. Latour makes the case for reality in a way that makes sense to design theory, it is all about the particular, about here and now.

Another book that strongly influenced me as a PhD student and I am sure that the basic message from Feyerabend still influences me. Why methods are dangerous and why there are other approaches to change is the message.

This book made a huge impact on my thinking as a PhD student. Churchman asks the question  how we can design a system that can produce knowledge. Design, systems and knowledge, all brought together. [A short version of Churchman's systems philosophy can be found in his book "The Systems approach"]

Most people read this extraordinary influential book as being about science. I find the book to be possible to read as a book about design. Notion of paradigm and "normal science" are equally relevant for anyone reflecting on design thinking.

Marcuse, Herbert. "One-Dimensional Man"
All about the consequences of getting stuck in our understanding of the world, and why we have to critically break out of dominating thought figures. 

Another wonderful book that shows what character and calling is all about. Any designer who sees design as based on who you are as much as what you can do should read this book.

Herrigel, Eugen. (1953). Zen in the Art of Archery. 
A wonderful book that examines forms of knowing that rests on character and sensibility to reality in a way that good designers should emulate.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. 
Dewey presents maybe the best foundation when it comes to understanding experience in relation to designed artifacts and systems. Also the philosophical "father" of Donald Schon.

Cross, N. (2010, reprint of 2006 book). Designerly Ways of Knowing
An excellent book about design as a way of knowing. [A short and simple but great version of Cross's theory of design can be found in his book "Design Thinking"]

A great book about how to understand designed things.

and finally some self-promotion...

The 2nd edition is published by  MIT Press (2012).  

Well, I will maybe update and add more later.....

Featured Post

Why Design Thinking is Not Enough

If you go to Youtube and look for "design thinking" you will find a large number of videos with TED talks and other talks all expl...