For all the talk about design thinking, it is more than a little bit difficult to pin down just what it actually is. Who would be the definitive authority on the matter? Where is design thinking’s authoritative publication, its approved reading list, the schools which teach its tenets, organizations that instantiate its practice, or the guilds of bona fide practitioners of design thinking?
Does design thinking need all or any of these things in order to be considerate legitimate? And to be considered a legitimate what, exactly?
If, as many seem to assert, design thinking is indeed an important new capability, one that deserves a place alongside other strategic practices of business and management, then it seems reasonable that we ought be be definite about what it is exactly. That sounds easier than it is.
In line with Clay Shirky’s idea that we can now “organize without organizations” and David Weinberger’s notion that the mess of Internet culture and the disorder of our ideas is not something we necessarily have to fix, I am inclined to suggest that design thinking is not broken just because we can”t fit it into a neat schema of boxes (and arrows?).
But, neither can we accept that design thinking has no boundaries at all. Because for it to be even an idea, whatever else it might be, we have to have some minimal formula or criteria for what the idea includes, as well as what it rules out.
I recommend here a kind of light weight empiricism. Let’s start by looking at where we find the idea showing up and see what sense we can make of it as we follow it on a path from its emergence into language and along its way to shaping or informing behavior, practice, and, well…thinking.
There seems to be some consensus that the current usage of the phrase traces back to IDEO and to Tim Brown, in particular. It seems likely that instances of the term may pre-date the IDEO vernacular, but I’m happy to credit them with the genesis of the idea to give a baseline to what we all mean when we say or refer to design thinking. But, when push comes to shove, what is it precisely we are referring to when we use the phase in a sentence?
With all this in mind I offer up my very crude experiment into trying to identify the literature of design thinking, which I conducted on Twitter this morning (13 March 2009). I asked a network of people who have more than a passing interest in the currency of the idea of design thinking, what they would vote as their own top three books in the “field”.
I’ve ended up with an eclectic list of nearly 50 books from just over a dozen people, so far. What’s interesting is that only a very few books (most hits were on Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind and John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity, hmmm) were mentioned more than once.
I hope commenters will add still others, offer up reasons for why their choices belong on this list, suggest patterns and thoughts about emerging or organizing memes.
Mostly, I want to thank everyone who responded to my Tweets on this question. The list includes many titles I did not know, which I am now looking forward to becoming better acquainted with as I continue to puzzle over and think about design thinking.
P.S. As I get time and comments come in, I will both add to this list and link titles and authors as much as I’m able. I will also try to post the list with link text visible so others can borrow, add, remix, and share.
Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelly
Business Model Generation, Alex Osterwalder (forthcoming)
Mental Models, Indi Young
Art of Innovation, Tom Kelly The Art of Innovation - Tom Kelly
Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda
Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz
Design Methods, John Chris Jones
Fifteen Things Ray & Charles Teach Us, Keith Yamashita
Design Management, Brigitte Borja de Mozota
Small Change, Nabeel Hamdi
A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink
Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs.
Abstracting Craft and/or Digital Ground, Malcolm McCullough
The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger
After Postmodernism, Jose Lopez & Garry Potter
The Social Construction of Reality, Peter L Berger & Thomas Luckmann
Writings on Cities, Henri Lefebvre
Understanding Material Culture, Ian Woodward
The Real World of Technology, Ursula Franklin
Macroshift, Evin Laszlo
Web of Life, Fritjof Capra
The Heart of Enterprise, Stafford Beer
Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough
The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin
Artful Making, Austin & Lee Devin
The Green Imperative, Victor Papanek
Massive Change, Bruce Mau
Designing Interactions, Bill Moggeridge
The Difference, Scott Page
Insatiable Curiosity, Helga Nowotny & Mitch Cohen
The Innovators Dilemma, Clayton Christensen
Naked Innovation, Zachary Jean Paradis & Dave McGaw
The Creative Priority, Jerry Hirshberg
Design Thinking, Peter G. Rowe
Art & Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim
Homo Ludens, Johan Huizing
Mechanization Takes Command, Siegfried Giedion
Inquiry by Design, John Zeisel
Sciences of the Artificial, Herbert Simon
A Simpler Way, Margaret Wheatley
The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp
Sketching User Experiences, Bill Buxton
In the Bubble, John Thackara
Design Research, Brenda Laurel
Innovator’s Solution, Clayton Christensen & Michael Raynor
Critical Path, R. Buckminster Fuller
The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander