Design Thinking As The Intersection of Science And Design

Another publication that I always look forward to is Rotman Magazine. It is published three times a year as the alumni magazine of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. You probably recognize the Rotman name because I’ve mentioned Roger Martin, the Dean of that School, a number of times in my past posts. He is one of the gurus of design thinking, and actively promotes the re-engineering of MBA education to focus as much, if not more, on design as it does on business theory and practice.

The latest issue, Winter 2008, has as its theme the subject “Thinking About Thinking.” That sounds somewhat nebulous, but there are quite a few informative and thought-provoking articles in this issue. If you seek to learn more about design thinking you should definitely have a look – the whole issue is openly accessible. I started my reading with the article “Design Thinking: On its Nature and Use”. The author, Charles Owens of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, has, according to his bio-blurb, been teaching design thinking since 1965! And I thought design thinking was something relatively new – I certainly have a lot to learn.

Owens lays out some interesting observations about scientific thinking and design thinking – both how they differ and where they intersect:

Whereas the scientist sifts facts to discover patterns and insights, the designer invents new patterns and concepts to address facts and possibilities. In a world with growing problems that desperately need understanding and insight, there is a great need for ideas that can blend that understanding and insight in creative new solutions.

He also talks about the importance of creativity for designers and provides his list of characteristics of creative thinkers; it will likely seem similar to other discussions of creative thinking you’ve read, emphasizing the importance of flexibility, intellectual curiosity and originality. Owens completes the article with his list of design thinking characteristics which adds to our understanding of what it is and how one develops it. It’s a list of ten items, not a top ten though, and I won’t rehash it here. What I do see are themes that pervade many of the ongoing conversations among library professionals as we endlessly discuss how we may best avoid marginalization while doing more to connect with our user communities. For example, the quality of having a “facility for avoiding the necessity of choice”. Presenting library users with far too many choices is of concern because it adds to their research confusion. Owens advises us to develop “have your cake and eat it too” solutions. I wouldn’t exactly say that federated search is such a design, but we may be moving in the direction of designs that offer a better balance between simplicity and complexity that will result in fewer choices for researchers.

I commend you to give the latest issue of Rotman Magazine a look, and if you have some time left over take a look at this interesting innovation model designed as a map – I’m still trying to digest it.

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