Why The Design Process Truly Matters Present Day Design

In 2019 people, especially non-creatives and non-designers are aware of the design industry, at least more so than they were ten or twenty years ago. This new heightened awareness of design has led this fad term known as “design thinking.” If you’ve never heard of it, I am sure you’re thinking, what exactly is design thinking? Popularized by international design firm, IDEO, it’s basically a new, modern title for the regular old design process that we already know as designers and creatives. The process that occurs when using the design thinking model mirror the creative process we know.

Both processes are built on the same four, basic bones. Firstly we identify the problem, no proper process can happen without reason. Secondly, brainstorming, this step typically involves prototyping, drafting, and sketching. The third step is choosing the best solutions from the brainstorming phase.  Finally, we arrive at our final product.

Recently, as design thinking has become a more common topic of conversation, we see design sites with large followings like Medium, AIGA, Adobe and Abduzeedo posting articles and editorials about how successful design thinking is.

Often times, these articles are laced with steep promises that the design thinking process will change the way you work for the better or make you loads more creative. This is actually, partially, true. The design thinking process has two distinct steps that make those who practice it more successful problem solvers.

  1. Collaborative brainstorming. This allows lots of people with diverse ideas to merge them into a new, “more creative” one.
  2. Drafting, sketching and prototyping. This allows creatives to get immediate feedback on new ideas in order to find the best “most creative” solution.

Even though these steps mimic the ones in the more traditionally known creative process, there is a crucial dividing line between “design thinking” and the creative process that we know.  Emphasis on collaboration and communication in the first few steps of the process are what sets this fad apart. Design thinking doesn’t occur individually, it calls on its users to work with others in (or out of) their field, to conduct research through data analytics of groups of people, focus groups, feedback, and interviews.  Design thinking begs it’s patrons to step outside of themselves and their internal process. This is why it is so successful.

If this kind of thinking, with its emphasis on the tangible and human interaction, is such a success for large design businesses like IDEO, computer hardware company, IBM, and even insurance companies like MassMutual, is there any benefit to new design technologies such as AI design, like the infamous “content-aware fill” feature on Adobe’s Photoshop or “make your own logo” websites?

As we move forward, it’s inevitable that some processes of design will be taken over by more convenient technological advances. We’ve seen this happen in the past when we moved from wood type in 1874 in favor of the new toy known as the typewriter and now we all have laptops. So, as the design world becomes taken over by machines that basically eliminate the need for a traditional creative process, or at least the analog parts of it (prototyping, sketching, brainstorming), do we as designers need to take back the creative process?

Many designers have begun a trend known as Design Justice. Designers and artists want to make work for the “greater good” for social or political change or for activism. Often times, design like this asks creators to consider special populations that they may not necessarily relate to, understand or identify with. Computers are not culturally competent. Since design justices asks that creators consider how their work is distributed and their entire audience, the process of design thinking is relevant. This kind of consideration requires a close working relationship with individuals and groups in communities that often don’t receive the benefits of good design; something that AI and computers cannot replicate.  This kind of project demands not only pragmatic and functional success but emotional consideration and success as well; something a computer definitely cannot imitate.

I spent some time talking to Sandy Wheeler, a professor here that works in mOb studiO. Sandy explained to me that her creative process doesn’t typically happen without collaboration and that her research is largely based in having conversations and prototyping. Two of the most important phases we’ve identified as ones that make you “more creative”.

No matter how exactly you go about your design process, the tangible and collaborative nature of the traditional creative process remains incredibly important to modern-day problem solving. As emphasized on many job search sites, creativity is the second most in-demand skill from employers. If two simple steps from design thinking can make you a more attractive candidate for employers, it’s a no brainer to embrace the fad.

As AI takes over many process-driven jobs in the design industry, employers are looking for creatives to invent new, different technologies, new and better solutions to problems that AI present. Sketching, prototyping and collaboration will be important steps in the process of coming up with new solutions.  Although “Design Thinking” is noted as a trend, as we see more and more artists and designers making their way back to analog modes of thinking and production, and we see more and more corporations, small businesses and individuals embrace those same concepts present in “Design Thinking” we are ensured that the core of the traditional creative process will remain in-tact.


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