If you search the internet, you’ll find a wide array of people and sites defining design and design-thinking in different but overlapping ways. To me, at its most delicious and accessible, the verb design refers to a four-step process that anyone can use as a tool to problem-solve or create change. I call the four steps:
Now, these aren’t my favorite words for the steps - in my client work, I like to use longer phrases that get at the rich creativity and community-based attention I believe is inherent in each - but they are very clear and easy to get your head around.
However you name the steps, the key point is that they’re in an ongoing loop or cycle - after you observe, you’ve got to start again at “assess.” In more depth, the design process is the cycle of mapping and assessing needs and desires, generating ideas and a plan of strategies to meet those needs and desires, implementing / testing / trying out a first version of that plan (often called “prototyping” or “rapid prototyping” if you’re somewhere that needs to make change or money fast), observing and obtaining feedback on that tryout, and then re-assessing and re-doing the loop.
Theoretically, we could loop forever, and in some ways we need to, if we want to build resilient systems for land and people as we continue to experience escalating and extreme changes in the eco- and human- systems around us. Design-thinking is one version of resilience - to be able to notice change (and notice which lenses we’re noting through and who’s in the room and who’s not), map changing needs, make a plan to meet those needs, try it out, and then re-loop the cycle both to hone in on a design that truly serves the constituents (the people and organisms and land you’re collaborating with), and to deal with continuing shifts and changes that emerge both internally and from the outside.
Design looks a little different depending on what discipline or perspective you approach from - interaction design, permaculture design, interior design, and so many more. I myself have come to know design from many angles, from my years as a visual artist, to my training as a permaculture gardener, designer and educator, to my experiences in democratic pedagogy and inquiry-based curriculum design, to my time spent teaching design-thinking and tinkering to kids of all ages (some of whom had large power tools in their hands!) I also spent my graduate school years creating a framework called “Re-Storyation Design,” which unites design-thinking with narrative-based practices, to help re-design the stories underneath our systems (more on that here).
But throughout all my experiences, almost every single type of design - and in my opinion, all of the ones that are doing their due diligence to not rush in a way that skips steps and causes harm - include some version of those four steps mentioned above. This design process, along with design thinking (the capacity to use the process in everyday endeavors), are key tools in the toolbox of anyone working to re-story their inner or outer world. It can be used from therapy, to agriculture, to organizational behavior, to curriculum planning, and beyond. It balances deep presence, inquiry, creativity/ideation, and action, and creates a flow pattern for how to move between them. And, I might be biased here, but it’s really, really empowering and fun.
Want to learn more about my collaborations with clients, where we’ve used design thinking to design everything from gardens, to career-path next steps, to rituals, to meetings, and beyond? You got it! Come check it out!
Copyright 2019 Rachel Economy