Defined by Design : an introduction to design thinking

by Saul Edmonds
"Design is not the narrow application of formal skills, it is a way of thinking."

(Chris Pullman)

Design Thinking: What is it?

It is:


Creative thinking in action.

Developing creative resolutions that work for now and the future.

Applicable to both creative industry and business practice.

The basic idea of 'design thinking' began in the 1970's with the publication of Robert McKim's book 'Experiences in Visual Thinking' (1973). The philosophy was further developed by other authors such as Peter Rowe in his 1987 book (actually titled) 'Design Thinking'. 

Design thinking - as a creative process - was expanded and incorporated into many design institutions during the 1980's and 1990's - including the Queensland College of Art (where I earned my degree and later taught students).

Design Thinking Then

At QCA (Queensland College of Art) - as a student, I particularly remember the emphasis placed upon the term 'visual problem solving' - meaning our core task was to develop creative designs that successfully communicated the brief - designs that had to stand strong in the critique arena (with feedback from fellow students and teachers). If it worked : Great! If not - you were told so in no uncertain terms.

Art with thought. Design with Thinking. Get to work.

As students, design thinking in practice meant lots of research, review, redo. Not only the 

ideas within the design - but the style and techniques used to create the design. Multiple resolutions were explored simultaneously.

As an example - for one project, I had to design the set for a play. In developing a resolution for this I drew 100 drawings of various set design ideas on A5 pieces of paper. Via this process of drawing - simple, quick sketches really - I sought to explore different elements in combination. Big sets, small sets, minimal sets - lots of ideas, juxtaposed. I was then able to review alternatives and develop a final design synthesis: knowing I had fully explored my options. 

The Result?

When eventually constructed, the set design worked as a practical yet innovative space that looked great (some said it was more convincing than the actors)…..but that is another story.

Design Thinking Now

With many years of professional design experience behind me, I feel I have stayed true to my college training. Every design brief I approach with the same intent: to develop creative possibilities/ alternatives and then refine to a successful resolution.

Design is process of discovery. I love the process of design.

Design Thinking Future

Today, I would say 'design thinking' is very much my attitude to life, not just design. For me, it is essentially a set of thinking tools - to compare alternatives, expand possibilities, create opportunities - applicable to every challenge.

What are your thoughts on Design Thinking?

by Saul Edmonds