Jarrett Fuller


More on design thinking (and the value of blogging)

One of the things I loved about blogging in the mid-2000s was how you could volley ideas amongst a community of like-minded thinkers. You’d post something on your blog and someone would respond to — and expand upon — it on their’s. Maybe you’d respond again and someone else would join in later. Back and forth you’d go, ideas bouncing around, accumulating momentum. As much as I love the email newsletter renaissance, this type of volleying rarely happens when everything is sent to our inboxes. This back and forth had largely moved to Twitter (and Twitter threads) but the character limit forced truncated responses and brevity. (I haven’t been on Twitter in a year but in its early days, some of that excited was still possible on the platform.)

My recent post on design as cultural invention, in many ways, as a case study in old school blogging. The entire post was a response to Suzanne LaBarre’s Fast Company article. It wasn’t an essay, just a collection of half-formed thoughts I wanted to throw into the discussion the way we used to with our blogs. Interestingly, that post generated more response than anything else I’ve posted here over the last year. It mostly came through emails and notes but Paddy Harrington, over at Frontier, wrote a thoughtful response and suddenly I felt like I was blogging in 2006 again!

Perhaps that’s why design’s halo has faded somewhat in corporate America. There is nothing predictable about it. Design Thinking can never guarantee the desired outcomes in a corporate project, especially once the methodology came to be associated with one-off phenomena like the iPhone. There is a reason why the largest design company in the world has about seven hundred people on staff: creativity, intuition, and emotion are not commodities and do not scale. You can set the stage for the arrival of a breakthrough insight that leads to a new product, like the iPhone, but, again, you cannot guarantee it.

Even if you have the insight, you need the perfect environment for it to succeed—and much of that environment is outside the control of a designed process. Unfortunately, the world we live in tends to erase risk: breakthrough innovations only happen when there’s a dogged will and the ideal cultural, environmental, and economic circumstances to foster them.

I agree with Paddy’s entire post and he captures a bit of what I was starting to circle here:

I’m sure design thinking has a place somewhere, in some forms of design. I’m not saying we forget it wholesale. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that when design becomes too much like engineering — problem solvers and not cultural inventors — we risk losing the skills the made us interested in design in the first place.

In my recent conversation with Maria Nicanor on Scratching the Surface, she said (I’m summarizing): the value of design thinking is that it makes the process visible. I like this shifting of design thinking from a prescriptive process that we should always follow to one that, in essence, open-sources the process; making it legible and understandable to everyone. I found myself reflecting on this reading Paddy’s great thoughts. You can read his whole response here.

Anyway, this post is mostly just a reminder for myself to keep blogging. Even if it’s just a series of half-formed thoughts1, it helps keep the dialogue going.

  1. I’ve enjoyed the seemingly return of James Bridle’s blog booktwo.org, an old favorite of mine. In the last few days, he’s been posting thoughts and reading responses just like I want to do more of.