Thinking about design thinking? Try thinking about design instead

I’m in the middle of several threads with friends, co-workers, former co-workers, and the voices in my head about what to do with the on-again off-again me-che (meme + cliche, pron me-SHAY) of design thinking. Having just read Designful Company with others, I felt that the book and the me-che of design thinking makes it far too easy to say we’re all deisgners, or that a couple articles will help us do design thinking. I can’t resist quoting Dr Malcolm in Jurassic Park:

I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility… for it.

So, I’m thinking, instead of thinking about design thinking, why not learn something about design? I’m not suggesting a career change, or even a massive effort to learn some new tools or software. Rather, read some books that help people understand the DNA, rhythm, and thought patterns of a design discipline. Dig deeper into a craft and see what makes it tick.

I just love 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. It’s quite literally a whole series of things — grand and trivial, obvious and subtle — that one would learn in architecture school. And, like all great books that dive deep into a specific area of expertise, it finds universal truths or univerally useful ideas. Examples:

“Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop” — this emphasizes the importance of understanding the problem and putting the time into it, moving between concept- and detail-levels of the work, understanding the value of dead-ends and near-misses.

If you can’t explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms that she understands, you don’t know your subject well enough — emphasis mine. The ability to communicate simply and clearly is something we all praise (and that I’ve praised here) or at least give lip service to. What I love about this is that it places the onus on the person — if you can’t do it, you’re not that good at it.

A good building reveals different things about itself when viewed from different distances — much better than a big idea, how about having a rich idea?

Less is more
Less is a bore — yeah, yeah, not a news flash, but putting them on consecutive pages forces one to recognize that they are both truths and then think deeper about how and when to exercise them. Typically, we use the first to reflexively justify cutting something.

True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely – even accidentally – out of a holistic process. — it results obliquely!

Roll your drawings for transport or storage with the image side facing bold — from the lofty to the mundane, but useful.

On the parti:

Some will argue that an ideal parti is wholly inclusive — that it informs every aspect of a building from its overall configuration and structural system to the shape of the doorknobs. others believe that a perfect parti is neither attainable nor desirable.

Music to the ears of a person who is sick of the nattering insistence on having a ‘big idea’ when designing a large, complex, rich experience.

Finally, my personal favorite, scanned directly:


Be careful of your design accents, or be careful of trying to create meaningful spaces where there aren’t any.

Love it.

For those who don’t remember the Dick Van Dyke Show (or Mary Tyler Moore before her show) or UHF:


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