Why Design Thinking isn’t a Rolls Royce.

There is a reason I called my blog Design for learning. I am a designer. I studied design, qualified as a typographer and illustrator and then worked in design and advertising. Design is not a subject, it is a craft. The best way to learn about design, perhaps the only way is from a designer.

Design is learned through literal and associative meanings. It is a craft not a process and it takes years of practice in a specialisation. Design is one form of Art, and art is about creativity, imagination and reacting to the world. It doesn’t seek to reduce it to a step by step cycle or even explain it.

In design, creative brilliance is the bridge to success. Designers are competitive and don’t easily settle. They argue a lot with other people, they argue with themselves even more. What designers want from a working environment are leaders who can create an atmosphere in which creative mavericks can do useful work. But it isn’t as fun as people might think. David Ogilvy said “Set exorbitant standards, and give your people hell when they don’t live up to them”.

Let me cut you in on the only rule you need to know. When you set out to design anything you have to work on the ideaL as Ogilvy called it.

X believes the world would be a better place if… Dove believes the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about themselves. It does not matter if this statement is real or true, just that it forms a rule that the designer uses to explain it though literal and associative works, in numerous forms.
My ideaL is I believe the world would be a better place if people find awe and wonder in their interactions with it. However if I want to teach kids to feel good about themselves, that would be another ideaL. Mixing them leads to confusion. Linking them leads to action.

David Ogilvy used send staff all sorts of toys, objects and messages. A Russian doll meant, “If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are larger than we are, we’ll become a company of giants.”

He also said “Lazy and superficial men and women do not produce superior work.”

He had little had little time for office politicians, bullies, paper warriors, grovellers, pompous asses, and prima donnas. More than anything else, Ogilvy placed supreme importance on honesty. “Honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, honest with the company – and above all, honest with consumers.

Ogilvy said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” This ad, from 1959 is a seminal work. Take a look at the headline.

What is that about that sentence that is considered one of the best lines ever written? – Can learning Design Thinking help you answer that question? It might, but if we ask 100 people, what would be the success rate? Would more people, with a knowledge of design thinking get it right than those without? Would they take less or more time?

Design Thinking (DT) had more failures than successes. This is well researched. Of course people rarely mention the failures in the headlines – just the wins. It’s amusing really that DT has fell out of favour with designers and researchers because it became homogenized, turning it into a linear, by-the-book methodology that delivered, at best, incremental change and innovation. Design Thinking was supposed to promote creativity, but creativity without creative intelligence resulted in N+1 adaptation.

For those who wrote down We believe the environment will be better if we build creative intelligence in others, technology has been a bonanza. They run rings around process-driven systems because CI tends to attract CI and the genomes that those networks thrive on. You can’t replicate that with a N+1 process, but you can say ‘enhanced performance’. Notice the Rolls advert headline didn’t say “goes better than before?” …

Creative Intelligence as the ability to frame problems in new ways and to make original solutions. This is what designers must do to stay designers and put food on the table. Stop moving and you are dead. Advertising doesn’t care if you don’t like change. It demand it.

This is what they strive to build in themselves and organisations because a company that oozes it, provides a climate that is more likely to keep people alive. You’ve watched the Gruen Transfer – these people have craft and they build these climates to survive. One thing that really shits people with CI is when those without it play ‘lets pretend’ games with them and later start adding rules. This is a great way to become a dwarf not a giant. People with CI see it a hundred miles off. They’ve used it their whole lives to go around issues and do exactly what they believe they should be doing. Seth Goldin – has CI. He tells people all the time about this, yet people still buy into N+1 because N+1 is enough. What if kids now need N+20 each week and you can’t do better than N+5?

Ogilvy wasn’t a design thinker – he valued and enabled creative intelligence and always said the reward is the clients, never the organisations. He did of course make a truck load of cash, but that is what clients pay for. Advertising doesn’t pretend to try to make the client or the consumer creative – just successful though creativity and craft. That is the price of an idea.

I see creative intelligence in the intellectual space of gaming, scenario and project based learning, systems, process paths and so on. What I find interesting is that Design Thinking is increasingly appearing as the ‘new thing in education, despite the low success rate. Perhaps its just ‘lag’ or perhaps something else. You can teach it – but you can’t teach it in a vacuum or in a few days. This is why kids who are growing up in Warcraft have it – and why a gamer kid can pwn an honours student if the environment was ridiculously skewed the favour of one  and NEVER (yes NEVER) the other.

Katie Salen has creative intelligence and so do kids. I know about 200 who would run rings around any topic if you designed it for them. This is another thing Ogilvy said – that you need to talk to the end user in their language and why he didn’t care for grammar in his work or care to learn the rules of it. To him, they were dysfunctional methods in actually communicating with the audience you were targeting.

In recent weeks, our Minecraft Guildies have build 12 districts from their imagination for the Hunger Games. Some of them are 6. Some of them haven’t read it, haven’t seen it. The other kids tell them the story – and reshape the story – they use their creative intelligence to design. This means that kids have (as research clearly shows) creative intelligence.

Is it on Gardner’s Nine Intelligences? to save you Googling it – no. Go watch a 14 year old play Battlefield 3 for an hour. That kid has all 9 plus creative intelligence. The fact he doesn’t know some facts, doesn’t make him less intelligent that the person asking the questions. Go on, play Battlefield with him – see how long you last … or better still build a better climate for him to learn in. It’s not hard – he’s got a map.


2 thoughts on “Why Design Thinking isn’t a Rolls Royce.

  1. Reblogged this on Class(ic) Stories and commented:
    There are a lot of take-aways and food for thought in this post for a learning experience ‘designer’ in the higher education space…

  2. Pingback: Why Design Thinking isn’t a Rolls Royce. « « Serve4Impact

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