Previous month:
December 2008
Next month:
February 2009

Rethinking Design Thinking for the Other 50%

I will get to posing my perceptions and notes from the APCI  design and innovation conference soon, but I had to share one tidbit which has been gnawing at me for days.

One of the big epiphanies I had in Paris was that in Europe, design thinking is promoted for those who do not practice design.  Jean Schneider, the organizer of the conference, told us over lunch this story that he tells to his students:

In a class of twenty students, only ten of you will make your living actually practicing in a design field. Of those ten who practice design, only three of you will make a good living from it and only one of you would be a super-star designer. We do not know which one of you the star designer will be, so we have to train you all.

He continued explaining that the other 10 non-practicing designers carry into their other fields of engagements “design thinking” as the specific sensibility they have been provided by their design training. So design thinking is for those who probably do something else besides design making.

In the US, design thinking is promoted for those who are already or emerging super-star designers. The discourse is that “design thinking” is for geniuses like Edison. This gives the perception that it is for only the best trained and most experienced designers, who are have evolved to thinking about serious problems without having to make anything.

My question is that in this framing of design thinking, where does that leave those 10 who are trained as designers but will actually never make their living in a design field (as makers)? What would it mean to promote design thinking for them, not superstar designers but the hybrid accountant/designers, mail carrier/designers, anthrodesigners, who no longer know Adobe InDesign from Microsoft Excel, etc. ?

If half the people trained in design do not find employment in the design field, how would that shift in emphasis help bring or maintain those professional design thinkers (non makers) back into the design fold, as those whose approach to the general world is colored by their design training?

Then design thinking has a clarity and perhaps nobility of purpose: embracing the, lets say 50% of, "designers" who find employment outside of the design field.


The euphoria I felt being bumped up to first class from Paris has been destroyed by the fact that I am stuck in exceptionally frigid
Montreal until tomorrow AM.

Free hotel, meals, and internet makes the situation livable, but I have not slept in over 24 hours.

Can't wait to get home.

Waiting for United

By the time I finally leave O'Hare at 10pm, I will have been in the airport for 12 hours. I am listening to the New Yorker short stories on Podcast, which makes things go pleasantly. But I want to get to Paris.

Call to Action: Redesigning America's Future

The publication of the ten top policy proposals resulting for the U.S. National Design Policy Summit is available at the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative website,

Now we are looking for U.S. Citizen and Resident Aliens to provide comments on the individual policy proposals as well as endorse the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative and the ten design policy proposals. This grassroots effort to muster support for the Initiative and the proposals will be key in our conversations with the U.S. Congress and the incoming Obama-Biden Administration.


Matt Munoz of Design Heals did an excellent job designing the booklet so that it felt both traditional and modern. Again, the publication is available at the U.S. National Design Policy Initiative website.