Design's Chapter N(ext)
Frontiers of Design is a topic we chose a year ago as a way of avoiding design thinking as a theme, but also to address members' stated desire for content on this topic.
Why avoid it? Many designers dislike labels or brands being applied to the work they have been doing for decades. This dissatisfaction was not always easy to understand because the journalistic story of design thinking brought a lot of positive attention to this profession. Yet, the articles, books and blogs often skimmed over what designers know is the hard part: Getting great design out the door is a hell of a lot more messy, complex and nuanced. Design thinking often appeared to be an elixir that if adopted would lead to good design. It did not account for softer things like brilliance, taste or luck, not to mention painful realities, like personalities that can derail a project while schooled executives, drunk with design-thinking bliss, are unaware of the irreversible damage being done in the middle of the organization.
Design thinking became a very interesting and educational conversation about what the design process can do to help business, but I'm not sure it changed what we did.
It provided a compelling story about what a designer, when confronted with a problem or opportunity, does to make something better. And it, therefore, gave lots of business leaders, product marketing professionals, engineers and others greater awareness of what it was we did. It was a better story than designers could come up with themselves. Thanks to brilliant authors, we learned more about ourselves than we could see on our own—and we latched on.
So with all that, Innovation decided to avoid the popular title and focused instead on the frontiers that design (thinkers) were forging in their work. Frontiers gave us the surface area to cover applied design that was remarkable. Chris Hosmer stepped up as guest editor, and from his frontier outpost in Shanghai has pulled together a collection of inspiring work from equally pioneering contributors.
And as it turns out, this year has possibly marked the end of design thinking's journalistic luster, turning the page on design's story. Bruce Nussbaum, design's storyteller-in-chief, has declared it a failed experiment, with many others piling on the criticism. But it really was a story that advanced the profession of design significantly—if not in substance, then certainly in application. During the scramble to write the next chapter of the story and lay claim to terms* and isms, it is business as usual for most of us until the new language emerges to help us think, talk and promote what we do.