Design and the Language of Practice

Design’s value is limited in the abstract and unlocked when practiced (and only if practiced)

If you are seeking to learn the fundamentals of design — design thinking, for example — the temptation is to feel that exposure to theories, models, tools, and ways of thinking are enough to get you on your way.

This might be the big lie told by those offering courses in design and design thinking to non-designers: that taking a course is sufficient.

It’s not.

Not because it’s not relevant, but because it is insufficient. Without practice, design is like any language: it fades away from lack of use.

Confidence Building

Confidence – or self-efficacy — for design comes from seeing how design is done and in actual performance accomplishment. It means doing design.

I find the same is true with other practice-oriented fields like evaluation: if you don’t do it, you can’t build the skills in doing it no matter what kind of training you’ve had.

One of the challenges for those seeking to learn design is that their opportunities to learn may be mismatched with the opportunities to apply what is learned. Learning requires systems of support to integrate what we’re exposed to and what we actually integrated and remember.

How do we build design practice if we don’t have a project?

Designing for You

Design thinking can be applied to almost anything. While the fit might vary, the general process of questioning the problems, doing research on solutions, generating ideas and prototype options and then testing and refining can work in coming up with new and better ways to do things.

The Accidental Design Thinker blog has a great illustration of how design thinking can be practically and systematically applied to personal issues. In this post we see the journey from problem to possibility made so through the use of a design thinking process as the author applies the strategies and tools of the approach to his life.

If self-care or improvement is not your goal, try your work-life or work setting. Perhaps creating a more effective way to organize you work. This is the focus of Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ new (and second) book on designing for life (and now for work). Both of these works are intended to show how the fundamentals of design thinking can be utilized by anyone for any problem.

The point here is that design thinking can be applied to a variety of situations and if you are learning about the approach, the key is to give yourself space to practice the language of design wherever you can.

Photo by Halil Ibrahim Cetinkaya on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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