Design has been seen in the past as an end-of-the-line, aesthetic activity, the occupation of mysterious ‘creatives’ in black polo shirts, with innate and rare skills. However, as enlightened designers, followers of design-thinking, educators and employees are now seeing, design and design-thinking are skills that can be taught, that all can grasp and utilise for good, and will play a vital role in creating solutions to systemic societal and environmental problems.
Followers of design-thinking, including IDEO CEO Tim Brown, argue that design thinking can be used both by designers and non-designers to broaden the scope of their roles and to have a positive impact on the world around them. Designers can use these skills to apply their problem solving methods to growing societal and environmental challenges in fields such as education, climate change and healthcare. The same can be said of non-designers, who, in addition can use these skills to improve the way they live their lives and create competitive advantage for their organisations. This can be done by using design-thinking to differentiate themselves from competitors, enhance their over-riding strategic decision-making, and to move citizenship up the agenda.
Design skills, then, are of real value to everyone, not just to designers. The ability to probe a brief and identify the right question to answer, to constantly ask how we might do something differently, to look at problems in isolation and as part of a system, to work as part of a diverse team, and to continually observe human behaviour to find and meet unmet needs; to name just a few of the skills designers and design-thinkers regularly use, are of value to all. These skills can be used to improve the way we do our jobs and to enhance our communities and the way we live our daily lives.
Enhanced design skills also lead to improved soft skills or as Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson would say, hightened Emotional Intelligence (EQ) — skills that many organisations are finding lacking in education leavers and current employees. In these increasingly complex times the ability to listen, to analyse, to see things differently and through the eyes of others, to question, be self motivated, and to generate novel and useful solutions to problems are sought after capabilities for the workforce and for enlightened and active members of the community.
Finally design gives individuals the confidence and ability to question and challenge the status quo, and the belief that they can make an impact and create change in the world around them. In this time of continual change, reduced resources, financial crisis, growing global tensions, and increasing social and environmental problems, it is easy to become over-whelmed by the challenge and feel that you can not contribute to the solution. Design skills and design-thinking allow people to see how they can take action, to see how they can be a part of the solution.