Design Comes Back AroundMay 27, 2010 Leave a comment
“Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something the world didn’t know it was missing.”
The other day I was clearing out some file drawers at the office in advanced preparation for our impending move into Boston this summer, when I came across a 17 year old paper written by Interaction Associates founder David Straus. This paper’s date times with the founding year of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and speaks to the longer historical roots of the Interaction methods that IISC and IA share. As I read the paper, what struck me most was David’s very early recognition of the interconnections between design, thinking, and cognition.
As an aspiring architect at the Harvard School of Design in the 1960s, David found himself frustrated with the pedagogical approach of his professors who tended to pass evaluative judgment on his designs (“Yes, that’s right. No, that’s wrong.”) without ever lifting up the hood to take a look at the creative engine, the process underlying these products. David kept elaborate design notebooks that unpacked his own thinking and thought processes while designing, which eventually led him to wide-ranging explorations of cognitive structures, group processes, and problem-solving techniques with researchers and practitioners around the country. His work externalizing mental and collective processes lay the ground for what would become Facilitative Leadership, the core of IISC’s practice.
Fast forward 40 years, and design thinking is all the rage. From IDEO’s Tim Brown to biomimicry, design claims a prominent place in the growing toolkit for making social change. While David’s early work focused on problem-solving heuristics, much of what design tends toward these days is innovation. This is perhaps due to the increased understanding of the complexity with which we are surrounded and the need for more emergent and “possibility-leveraging” orientations.
In her TED talk that has become a fixture in some of our trainings, MOMA curator Paola Antonelli refers to the power of design in maintaining elasticity in our brains, such that we continue to be open to new ideas. She makes reference to scientists who thanks to their work in nanotechnology are coming to understand that they too are designers who have the capability of building new possibilities from the ground up, accessing an ever deeper realm of human creativity. This is perhaps the most profound shift in design thinking in this day and age, that we are witnessing fields merge (the hard sciences, the arts, social science) in their recognition of not just the possibility, but the need for humanity to reimagine itself, to tap more sustainable narratives and our collective empathic nature. And in many ways it seems we have just scratched the surface.
So how does design thinking fit into your efforts? How might design play a greater role in shaping the future towards which you are working?