Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Design Thinking

A clever bathroom solution as seen on IKEA Hacker, home of some great design thinking.

Wow. Not a good time to leave the blog for a few days. Those ass chairs had top billing for far too long.

So what have I been doing? Working too much and recovering from the world's most pernicious cold. Four solid weeks of it. But my fuzzy head is finally clearing and the beauty of all the sick time has been the reading. I'd never read Wuthering Heights, which is a perfect winter novel. I also had the great fortune of getting a brand spanking new copy of Susan McCallum-Smith's first collection of short stories, Slipping the Moorings. One of the more funny, well crafted books I've read in a long time (Baltimore readers can see what I mean when Susan reads from the book at Mina's in Hampden this Saturday).

There have also been design books: Century of the City from the Rockefeller Foundation and the new book about Seattle-based Mithun. I also picked up a copy of The Art of Possibility, which had been recommended to me by a few people. It's a self-help book of sorts for business (and personal) life and a designer I admire told me it helped transform his thinking about his practice. The opening chapter of the book hit on a thread of thought I've been having for some time now about design thinking. Titled "It's all invented," the chapter talks about how everything in our lives is a construct, it's all made up. The houses we live in, the cars we drive, the laptops we use for blogging—all invented.

As humans, we begin to accept invented forms as givens. Our brains require a sequenced series of connections to perceive and define reality. But when you strip back those connections, you realize that much of our beliefs are based on assumption.

Here's a small example. I bought a towel bar from Target last year. It didn't look right in the bathroom so I never hung it up and I forgot to take it back to the store in time to get a refund. I thought, well, I've got this towel rack and no need of it. My husband looked at it and said, "We could use that for a pot rack." Flip it upside down, hang it from the exposed wooden rafters in our kitchen, affix "S" hooks to it and voila. A pot rack. My literal mind forgot that other options were allowed. I saw the words, "Towel Rack" on the box and the metal bar was forever defined for me. (This inspired me to start a list of other breakthrough uses titled, "I didn't know you could do that with that..." )

Design thinking at its best is this kind of inversion of accepted norms. If everything is invented, then you have the power to invent something yourself, be it a product, a business model, or a more expansive worldview.