Thinking Design

This piece is in response to two recent contributions to the subject of Design, Design Thinking, and Design in successful companies. One was a blog by Kevin McCullagh following the recent Design Council/Economist conference, The Big Rethink, the other a ‘tweet’ by Clive Grinyer on Apple and Jonathan Ive.

Both shed light on the following two conundra:
* What is the role of Design in management?
* Is it possible to be a ‘design-thinker’ and not a designer?

McCullagh’s piece addresses the overuse and abuse of the term ‘design thinking’, and the extent to which the term has been hijacked by managers and innovators, at the expense of designers themselves – who have often felt excluded and de-skilled (‘design thinking’ is often positioned as a ‘superior’ type of design, which only certain designers can aspire towards).  He explores some of the history of the term, and the different ways in which it has been interpreted and applied.  Finally, he comes up with the no-less-intriguing alternative: ‘thoughtful design’.

Grinyer’s tweet on Jonathan Ive and Apple, though much shorter, also helps shed light on the conundra.  Here it is in full:

“Ive says design is not important, good design is important. But good design requires an organisation to be designed to deliver it. Apple is.”

Putting these two reflections together leads me to the following very simple conclusion which I think helps to make sense of the challenge of design in management, where design-thinking fits in (if at all), and the importance of – how can I put it – ‘proper design’.  Again, with reference to Apple (though one can apply this to various other companies):

Steve Jobs is a Design Thinker, whose insight into the importance of and contribution of design to business competitiveness has led him to appoint the very best designers and to put his Head of Design, Jonathan Ive, on the board of his company.

As McCullagh puts it: “Let’s forget about design thinking as a magic process, and focus on how designers and managers should best work together to deliver great quality outputs.”

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