What’s the Difference: Design Thinking vs. Design Doing


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You’re not ‘just’ a designer, you’re an architect.

Architect? Yes, architect – not just design. But architect of what, exactly? Why, of Human Experiences, of course! Joe Pine in his seminal book Experience Economy referencing Commedia dell’arte describes the key operative word as orchestration – so maybe conductor? Experience Conductor just doesn’t roll of the tongue, so movin along with times, I personally would vouch for the word Architect describing the ‘upstream’ bits in Journey Design/ Science (sub-set of Experience Management) best. Yet I digress, as usual. Today’s topic is about design thinking (and it’s much lesser known cousin: design doing).

Design thinking has always been an approach tied to observation, analysis, research — all the things you need to do (as a designer) to solve a problem for your client. And ultimately, nothing there has changed; design thinking is STILL that. But how you process that information, learn from it, and apply it to your creative solution — that’s where the doing is. And that’s typically where your talent as an Experience Architect lies. Architects need to know ‘enuf’ engineering to make their life designs work. I’d say architects need to know more about engineering that engineers do architecture and design – i know it’s subjective. Back to the upstream vs downstream view of life-journeys I proposed. Architects ‘live’ upstream predominantly, but would be required in agile pods and longtail DevOps, where the engineers, scientists feature most. I go on to argue i.e the less the attenuation between up and downstream, the more #ExperienceEquity is generated, underpinned by Trust.

It takes a village. A village of art, copy, UI, UX, consumer research, behavioral insight, business analysis, product roadmapping etc etc.

The challenge today is that many of the problems we’re trying to solve for have become complex – we live in as politicians say ‘ dangerous times’ ; the macro outlook is just sh*te. – and that translates into hyper inflation, uncertainty and (transitory) risks. For the upstream team(s) to be successful , we need to arm ourselves with as much information as possible before getting into the actual designing.

There’s a lot of ingoing hypotheses baked into functional design and plans – but we think less about the future (we need to do more of it!) – the motto goes: in planning for complexities, we design for simplicity (and simplicity is elegance)

Quite a lot of what we ‘plan’ – not even get to solve – are today’s and yesterday’s problems. I talk about Present-Forward vs Future-Back and extrapolate we need to spend >10% of our time in the future. I’m talking about ‘futures’ with least 10 years out in the time horizon – else we solve for (still) today’s problems. These are all spectrums, facets of insights/ inputs we need to design for – yes, upstream. Even a job to be done aka Jobs Theory, is but a lens to how we innovate (do things, activities better) using design. And yes, this process helps uncover the problems and friction points of a process so that we can define design goals based on true insights and behavior. Finding that balance between how much planning and research is needed before you start actually designing — that’s the conundrum we’re faced with.

Design will save us all. Design is life, hence life designs.

I’d argue that this process has always been a part of design. But, what’s been happening lately is that more industries (and consultancies) have started looking at adopting the formalized design process as the way to quickly answer the innovation challenges that continue to disrupt their businesses.

They hope that “design thinking” will be the lightning rod for change that allows them to adjust their offering before they get uber’d by the next ‘industry-disrupting’ startup.

Insights to action. Now, that’s Design Doing.

One of the things that tends to happen when we optimise the process (as in Experience/ Service Design is laden with BPR and Lx processes), is that by using research and data to make things more efficient and standardised, they become exactly that. Standard. Same. Simple. Boring. But boring is good – and this is where it gets a little mind-warping . Consistency over Intensity always – and it’s this exact consistency that we should strive for with design-doing. Hang on, doesn’t it sound a lot like DevOps and long-tail executions of Digital Transformations past? Ha-ha.

Think about how cool car design was back before we let technology optimise everything. Fins?! They didn’t make you faster, but they felt faster and they felt cool. Granted, there are still some achingly beautiful cars being made today but I’d argue that it’s a result of balancing amazing feats of engineering with a definitive sense of design personality. You’d imagine the rich being the only ones having outlandish ICE cars in the next 20 years, the ultra-rich but a sliver of entire population that would be able to use/ race them. For the rest of us, I’d imagine design to manifest in futuristic colours and shades – white, grey, black – shades in between. See how Tesla cars, or Apple cars might evolve – they look sleek alright, but they’re the ‘same’. They reek efficiency.

Hold true to your love of design.

I still love the sound of pencil to paper, or marker to vellum. Even dry eraser to whiteboard can be ok. And my favorite part of the design process are the moments where you’re interpreting all of the inputs, observations, and committing those ideas to paper. Sometimes as words, sometimes as sketches, always as thoughts… and then throwing rocks at them. Challenging them, reassembling them up, refining, adjusting, refining again. I guess today we call that ‘iterating’.

As the village grows larger, grow as well.

Our business has always been a business of opinions; so you better have one, be willing to share it, and definitely be open to challenging it. Ultimately, challenging a solution is the only way to make it better. So if you have access to all the people in your “village” who’s opinions and constructive criticism can help strengthen your design, you’d be a fool not to use them.

Never stop looking for ways to make something better. Allow yourself to learn from everything around you. Give yourself time to reflect on your solutions. And for kris’sakes get off your computer and go outside.

Luke Soon
Luke is a business transformation professional with over 25 years’ experience leading multi-year human experience-led transformations with global telcos, fintech, insurtech and automotive organizations across the globe. He helps clients activate their Purpose by monetizing innovation and building new revenue streams (experience equity), starting with their why. His personal purpose is to install the primacy of humanity in the experience economy and exponential age.


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