'Design Thinking': Is it Just a New Buzzword, or a Whole New Way to Think Creatively And Solve Problems?

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It is emerging as one of the hottest new offerings from the world of design: No, it's not a sleek new smartphone or the latest must-have handbag. It's "design thinking," a new approach to creative problem-solving that is being touted as the next big trend for companies, governments, or just about anyone trying to bring about innovative changes in the world around them.

Design thinking is not a silver bullet that will solve all our problems

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A wave of new books and studies on the red-hot subject of design thinking is coming out this fall from academics and design-industry insiders. But only one book steps back to analyze and explain this trend from the outside perspective of an award-winning journalist. In Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life, and Maybe Even the World (Penguin Press, on sale Oct. 15), author Warren Berger, a longtime writer for The New York Times and Wired magazine, gets past the jargon and shows how design thinking really works--and what all of us can actually take away from it.

"Design thinking is not a silver bullet that will solve all our problems," Berger says, "but there is a lot we can learn from the design world--such as how to look at problems with a designer's eye, how to figure out what's currently lacking and what people really need, and how to create new solutions in a methodical way that leads to innovation. Design thinking really does offer a fresh way of tackling problems--and it looks like this trend is going to have a big impact both in business and in society."

For Glimmer, Berger interviewed more than 200 top design experts, working particularly closely with the internationally renowned design guru Bruce Mau. He also ventured into top design think tanks, including the Rhode Island School of Design and Stanford University's groundbreaking "d-school," to examine the latest research that is driving this trend.

Berger's real challenge was in trying to simplify and clarify the complex theories behind the design-thinking phenomenon, in order to make them accessible to anyone. "What I found is that design in general, and this new strain of design thinking in particular, is rooted in solid principles that anyone can grasp and use, if they're presented clearly," he says.

Glimmer breaks down the design thinking process into a series of ten simple yet counter-intuitive principles, that starts with "asking stupid questions" and ends with figuring out how to "begin anywhere" when tackling a problem.

So who needs design thinking most? "Everyone from the business person trying to reinvent a small company or service, to the individual who might be looking to reboot a career or create change in their own community," Berger says. "Basically, whoever or wherever you are, if you're trying to improve and innovate, design can provide a way of thinking and a process that helps you figure out how to do things differently and better."


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Laura E. Kelly
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