Design Thinking and Doing Part I—The Recursive Loop

November 30, 2016 in Notes from the Field
Traci Thomas
Senior Strategic Designer

Every so often, new buzzwords enter the design scene and disturb the industry’s status quo. They spark a healthy debate among design practitioners about the meaning of design labels, theory, and practices. This can definitely be said for the terms design thinking and design doing. We’ve accepted and embraced design thinking as an approach to human-centered design that puts people at the center of the design process. Now, some are calling for a distinction between design thinking and design doing. What does this all mean? Are the nuances too subtle to parse apart? Are they one and the same?

Instead of introducing new terms, we should think about design thinking and design doing as sharing a strong symbiotic relationship. One helps to guide and the other helps to execute. The act of doing is an intrinsic part of the design process. As designers, we prototype, build, test, iterate, refine, and engage with people to create impactful design solutions. It’s a constant, recursive loop, similar to the process of thinking. Design is an intellectual process of problem-solving. As designers, we repeatedly question, abstract, analyze, critique, reflect, and process information to disentangle complexity. In large part, design thinking is a process that sets a plan in motion for good design through the use of tools, methods, and activities.

Design Doing and Service Design

Design doing is an actionable process. It means taking the necessary steps to develop and communicate our ideas in a tangible or experiential way. Design doing as it relates to service design is a little more nuanced. Because of the systemic nature of services—coordinating processes, people, place, interactions, and information—there’s a broader range of doing that extends beyond simply moving pixels around on a screen or creating a physical model. The dimension of time (sequencing of time) makes services much more fluid and dynamic compared to the design of products. It requires different ways (both tangible and intangible) to model, prototype, communicate, and enact the interactions and services we design. There’s also the implication of doing for versus doing with. Because user participation is a critical to service design, it’s important to co-design solutions directly with people who play a key role in the service process.

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