Reflections on #lrnchat: Design Thinking

Image use courtesy of lrnchat and Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets)

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was “Design Thinking”.

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1. What is ‘design’ and, more specifically, design thinking?
Q2. How does design thinking relate to learning?
Q3. How could we incorporate design thinking into learning design for our learners?
Q4. How could we incorporate design thinking into learning design for our ourselves?
Q5. What can you do tomorrow or in the coming week to put more design thinking into your work(place)?

One of the challenges with discussing Design and Design Thinking is that there really isn’t a single definitive definition to what design is. This was represented by the varied responses to the initial question of the chat. One of the tweets from @ronindotca in response to this question, while meant in jest, was very representative of defining design: “I dunno but I know it when I see it.” So what exactly IS design?

Wikipedia describes Design as:

Design as a noun informally refers to a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawing, business process, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns) while “to design” (verb) refers to making this plan. No generally-accepted definition of “design” exists, and the term has different connotations in different fields. However, one can also design by directly constructing an object (as in pottery, engineering, management, cowboy coding and graphic design).

If there’s one thing that seems to be consistent across all of the different definitions of design, it’s a focus less on design as some sort of creative art form and more on design as a process of building something greater than the sum of it’s parts. One definition of design that I connected with comes from Bruce Archer in his book “The Need for Design Education.” in which he writes: “Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mold his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.”

Design Thinking could then simply become an extension on this definition, but I don’t think that’s exactly the case. Let’s again leverage Wikipedia to define Design Thinking:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

That generally follows the path of extending the definition of “Design” to a way of thinking, but the Wikipedia definition continues…

While design thinking has become part of the popular lexicon in contemporary design and engineering practice, as well as business and management, its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increasing influence on twenty-first century education across disciplines. In this respect, it is similar to systems thinking in naming a particular approach to understanding and solving problems.

It’s in that last sentence that I think the phrase “Design Thinking” is being defined in the context of the workplace learning and performance professional. It is being used as a label for a new type of thinking and approach to tackling workplace performance issues. By understanding Design Thinking, including the methods that designers use to ideate, and understanding the approach that designers use to try to solve problems, we will discover more powerful and innovative solutions to workplace performance problems.

So how do workplace learning and performance professionals incorporate design thinking into their learning designs?

Incorporating design thinking into learning design requires an open mind, and a willingness to look at what we do very differently. Too often, the ‘D’ in the ‘ID’ role stands for developer, not designer. We take a problem and immediately plug a solution into the template of our chosen authoring tool. That’s not design, and it’s not reflective of design thinking.

One thing I try to do to incorporate more design thinking into my learning design is to assume I’m wrong. That may sound strange, but I think it helps foster design thinking workflows into my design.

I think it’s human nature to try to solve a problem once we define it. The error in that approach is that quite often, we have not defined the problem correctly and are moving forward with a solution that is not addressing the actual problem.

That’s where the ‘assume I’m wrong’ approach kicks in. By assuming I am wrong, not just about the solution but also about my understanding of the problem, I am forced to dig deeper. I am forced to think more about the problem, trying to better understand it from the perspective of those living it. Since I am dismissing the first, and possibly most obvious, solution I arrived at as incorrect, I am forced to discover and consider new solutions.

This additional thought process forces me to be more empathetic to those experiencing the problem, and more creative in considering possible solutions – two cornerstones of design thinking.

In the end I may discover that my original solution is in fact, the best choice, and that’s OK. The process of allowing myself to be wrong and dig deeper opens up possibilities, and makes me remember that the process of design never really ends, which is part of what design thinking is about.

Of course if design thinking is new to you, the best way to incorporate it into your learning design is to learn more about it yourself. Here are some of the resources to do just that shared during the chat, as well as some additional resources that I found as I continued reading after the chat:

Until next time #lrnchat-ers

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