In the introduction to the book, Change by Design, Tim Brown talks about the critical difference between being a designer verses thinking like a designer. He describes a competent designer is able to redevelop and improve upon last year’s hot widgets, but an interdisciplinary team of skilled design thinkers is in the position to tackle and solve more complex problems. After four years of studying undergraduate ID, I finally realize the power of design that when design thinking is pulled out of the studio setting and unleashed into the real, problem-filled world, it has the power to impact and change people’s thinking of everyday life and also its problems. As a designer myself, I have the responsibility to think like a designer for my users, the community, and ultimately the betterment of the world; this thinking I start to have is what I believe to be the heart of Social Innovation.
Inside the design and art community, I find it easy to think and get caught up in the word “Design” as an activity of manipulating and making “things” and it is appreciated through celebrating just the creation of them. The “new color,” the “new feature,” and the “new technology” are what inspire people to buy and use products and they used to be the key inspirational words to what I thought designers should use to expand their creativity and become successful. Year after year, the more design work I’ve practiced, I realize my designed products are set in an incomplete picture without a person holding it, using it, or simply just with it. Also, if I can’t convince my product to be as “good design” with another user, it is meaningless, a failure, and sometimes even come to regret creating it from the first place. It takes a person, my user, and a growing number of supporters to evaluate a design success. In repetition of these exercises I came to concretely conclude that it is through thinking about a person and his or her social community that a designer must design in order to come up with something that at the end that will last its creation effort.
To the extreme, case studies of social product design, designing for the desperate needs in the third world countries, have pushed my perspective on what process is needed to design for a thirsty child, a family, a village, and even a country. The design process I was trained to think through in making an idea real -- the Inspiration, the Ideation, and the Implementation – requires not just the technical design skills, but the design thinking behind it that moves people, along with manufacturing resources, business plan, and supporting finances that maintain a permanent relationship to their lives, especially designing for the extreme situations.
Tim Brown shares of his friend David Kelley, a Stanford professor and the founder of IDEO, remarking that every time someone came up to ask him about design, he found himself inserting the word “thinking” to explain what it was that designer do. Though Tim Brown emphasizes the importance of design thinking in all areas of business and design efforts, I’d like to add an additional word in previous, “social” to complete the idea of social design thinking, a design thinking that will work for not just one designer or a user, but on a larger community scale. With that in mind, I was able to then redefine a personal definition of what a designer’s role, or at least the ideal, in our society --- to become a specialist in an individual’s human-center tasks through necessary methods and creations that ultimately offer the society the better way of dealing with its challenged daily activities.
I find this effort to social design thinking, also discussed as Social Innovation in the design community, is no longer a distinguishable concept when it comes to design. Social design thinking allows for more alert social awareness and compassion while becoming active citizen designers in our communities. Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton phrase that design thinking is the bridging of the “knowing-doing gap.” Our acquired industrial design tool, “getting out into the world to be inspired by people, using prototyping to learn with our hands, creating stories to share our ideas, joining forces with people from other disciplines” – are our acquired special powers , which allows us to bring our hopeful impact true onto the needy people’s lives.
Whether it’s the multidisciplinary areas of subject the design schools requires their industrial students to take, or just a coincidence most industrial designers are gifted with multitasking, this characteristic that most industrial designers possess is what I consider to be the greatest skill that gives me an advantage to seeing bigger pictures and quick thinking. This way, when a group of design thinkers are working together to solve a big social problem, the industrial designer is able to evaluate where each member should fit in make the wheel turn in order to move toward a design solution.
Roger Martin and Sally Osberg’s Social Entrepreneurship article provides the Pure Forms of Social Engagement chart (refer to Chart 1). It organizes the direct and indirect efforts of NGOs, Businesses, and Government as service providers, social entrepreneurs, and social activists into their selected part in promoting social engagement. Though they take on in different paths of actions and measurement of the outcomes, they each remain as separate small practices, until a team of designers join the chart with innovation strategies to break the square chart into one on-going engaging cycle (refer to Chart 2). The design solution that the designers of this chart may pursue can more possibly be intangible products, something far beyond the expected “covetable objects that fill the pages of today’s coffee-table publication” (Brown 7).
For this reason, industrial designers are starting to have interests in growing wide range of fields. “It is, moreover, no longer limited to the introduction of new physical products but includes new sorts of processes, services, interactions, entertainment forms, and ways of communication and collaborating” (Brown 7). After all, this is exactly the kinds of human-centered things we people do every day. Because our specialty is in problem solving, which is open to targeting almost any problem that we face, we find ourselves working with other professions who specialize in specific skills and knowledge such as in the architecture, graphic design, medicine, finance, and business. Companies like IDEO and Continuum represent the well balanced environments where passionate designers, engineers, and businessman come together in working toward a sharing goal. This team of design thinkers is what it takes to innovation a solution that will satisfy not just the 10% top minority of the user’s pyramid, but the vast 90% majority of the users who are the true needy to our design thinking work.
The design community I used to associate myself in is no longer confined in producing a show-and-tell innovation of product design, but open to giving to the world in many different ways. Designers are not the only design thinkers in the real world who can contribute to Social Innovation and I believe there are still many things designers and the rest of the professions can learn from each other to design solution together. “Although we tend to see people as either thinker or doer, analyzers or synthesizers, right-brain artists or left-brain engineer, we are whole people, and characteristics emerge when we are put in the right situation” (Brown 228) with the right understanding of social design thinking.
In the long run, the bigger picture I hope to see as a designer is to start helping an individual by individual and contribute to work toward a brilliant and convenient solution that the intended people can agree and appreciate. On the contrary, one design doesn’t fit for all, which is why design must be called into play constantly to cope for the different situations. If this sounds too much as a burden to the occupation of a designer, on the brighter side, the position of a designer also comes with a special privilege of connecting different areas of studies together to apply our skills to the business, society, and life.
Brown, Tim. Change by Design. New York: Harper Business, 2009.
Martin & Osberg. Social Entrepreneurship, the Case for Definition, Spring 2007.
Pilloton, Emily. “Design Can Change the World”. Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, (pp.10-47).