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Explore. Think. Act. September 21, 2009

Posted by Carlos Lievano in Design Thinking.

Trying to consolidate the design process into a series of discrete events is a challenging task. From the reading of Innovation as a Learning Process by Sara Beckman and Michael Barry, and Design Thinking by Tim Brown, we can see that despite having many elements in common, the description of the process itself is different. The main reason for this is the fact that this is an organic, iterative process. You may go back a step, run parallel threads, merge activities, and many other variations that add complexity to the task of describing the process. To make it more complex, in this post I’ll offer yet another alternative description of the process.

Why another one? Well, my proposal is simpler in that it only has 3 steps to describe it:

– Explore: this first step is defined by observation. Not just with your eyes, but engaging all of your senses. Not passively, but with the characteristic curiosity of the pioneering explorers of centuries ago. Going into the unknown, charting the land, coming up with alternative routes.

– Think: the next step is to digest the findings of your voyage. Like Darwin on board the HMS Beagle, you search for patterns, trends, norms, commonalities and differences, which help describe what was observed. And you keep doing this, even after your exploration is over. Darwin wrote many books from those travels, many years later. You, as a designer, aren’t limited to writing books.

– Act: design isn’t just about coming up with ideas. It’s about coming up with solutions, and for a solution to solve anything, it needs to be implemented. It’s like books, that to become into a story, they need to be read.

We can’t forget that the glue that binds these steps together is iteration. For successful design, you’ll need at least two iterations: one to define the problem, the second one to shape the solution. But as we said, there are no limits to the ways iteration can take place. The steps can happen in a different order. Two or all of them can be occurring at the same time. Different instances of the same step can be happening concurrently, tackling different aspects of the problem. Like a film-maker, once you’ve learned the rules and elements of movies, you can selectively tweak them, and create a few rules of your own. When you achieve this, you master your art. You master design.


1. Sara Beckman - September 21, 2009

So, maybe we should call this class “exploring, thinking and acting – iteratively”? I would add to your description of exploration the need to get to “meaning” rather than stay in the realm of action or interaction, as it is at the “meaning” level that you get real insight. Where would you include the ability to tell a new story, create a vision of the future, paint a new picture – these in my mind precede action…

Carlos Lievano - September 21, 2009

I would say the search for meaning would be part of the thinking process. That would be what the “search for patterns, trends, norms, commonalities and differences,” would be about. On the other hand, stories, visions, and pictures are all within the realm of ideas, and as a result, are part of the thinking process. The moment you let them have consequences in the real world, is because you did something about them, and you are already taking action. They might be the common thread between thinking and acting, but I wouldn’t put it as a step in between. They are important elements, but are products of thinking, inputs of acting. Wouldn’t you agree? Thanks for your perspective.

2. Sara Beckman - November 28, 2009

How would you match up the exploring-thinking-acting model with what we are coming up with in class now? Perception/conception, intuition, framing/context, reasoning, decision-making, implementation? Similar, but with more elements?

Carlos Lievano - December 15, 2009

I think those new elements are components of the steps in the model. For the most part, they are some of the types of observing and acting that you can have. On the other hand, implementation is part of what you do when you start acting. I believe that’s the beauty of having such a simple model: it remains a carcass to guide your process, but the actual content, the way yo do it, remains to be defined by your own style and preferences, or the needs of the project at hand.

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