Design thinking as a social technology: insight from the Design Management Academy Conference 2017
Design is in demand. Everyday, we see design thinking applied to new subjects in a wider range of situations. Human-centred design has the power to bring people together to create innovative approaches to the world’s most complex and challenging issues.
The Design Management Academy is a global organisation which promotes sharing of design knowledge. Four ThinkPlacers were excited to attend its annual conference in Hong Kong in June, which gathered design practitioners and researchers from around the world.
Design as a social technology
A key insight for us came in the keynote address by Professor Jeanne Liedtka from the University of Virginia, titled ‘Beyond Better Solutions: Design Thinking as a Social Technology’. Professor Liedtka’s description of design thinking as an enabler of lasting change immediately resonated with us.
The value of design thinking is typically thought to be in the usefulness of the solution. Professor Liedtka’s research, however, indicates it delivers a much broader range of benefits.
Design thinking improves the quality of the conversations around complex challenges. It is a ‘collaborative social process’, which brings diverse groups of people together and fosters fertile discussion.
‘With its core emphasis on broad stakeholder engagement, empathy and co-creation’, a design approach breaks down traditional barriers to cooperation and creative change. It fosters sharing of information and understanding of varied perspectives, supporting innovation in complex social systems.
More than this, the conversations sparked by design thinking continue long after the solution has been created, accelerating sustainable change. Through engagement, rather than direction, design thinking promotes alignment and commitment.
Professor Leidtka’s research showed that ‘engaged and committed people seized the opportunity to act, while those operating from a sense of compliance hesitated’.
Through these effects, design thinking is a social technology. It enables the activities which are critical to addressing complexity and uncertainty, turning ideas into positive outcomes that last.