Design Thinking

Having founded two university-based design centers, developed a proven workshop method to promote active participation in the design process by stake-holder and having been awarded a PhD in design theory from Delft University of Technology Terry is an expert in the area of design thinking. Terry can walk, your group or organization though a problem-solving process that makes use of the principles and methods of design thinking to help you discover creative solutions that respond to how you define and frame the problem you are trying to solve.

Design thinking is a method of generating solutions for complex problems. It has its roots in the Design Methods movement, cybernetics, and systems theory. Much of the theory that design thinking is built on comes from studying how designers think. The fundamental insight being that rather than relying on so-called scientific rationalism — where the belief is that is one can clearly define the problem, consider all the possible variables, one can through rigorous exploration identify if not the correct at least the optimal solution — some problems are such that the resist definition, all the variables are impossible to identify (never mind quantify) and depending on how the problem is framed, there are an infinite number of solution paths: these problems are better approached as design problems. 

Design problems tend to be hard to define, open-ended, and lead to multiple possible solutions. Rather than scientific rationalism, design problems rely on tacit knowledge, value judgments, and the exploration of multiple possibilities. One does not so much “solve” a design problem as one discovers a solution that be responds to how the problem was framed and defined.

As it turns out, this approach to complex problems is not only useful for what are traditionally understood as “design problems” (architecture, interiors, products, engineering, etc.), but can also be applied to any number of other kinds of problems (business organization, product development, government policy, etc.)


The Design Process

There are many approaches to the design process. But most follow a similar pattern. Below is a very simple way of understanding the over-all process. The design process does not rely on “steps.” It is a fluid process that occurs is phases. It its exploratory, iterative, open-ended. It relies on “feedback loops,” that function to test, define and re-define. 

The Workshop Process

Based on a deep understanding of how the deign process works, based on research and 35 years experience teaching design, I have developed a 5 – 7 step workshop process. This process has been implemented over and over again on projects in the USA, Europe and China resulting in award-winning projects, and solutions that exceed client expectations. Below is a basic outline for how such a process might be organized

Project Design Criteria Workshops

  • The purpose of the following seven workshops is to walk a client group through a process of establishing design criteria. These criteria are then used as guides during the conceptual design process to insure that the building and resulting spaces respond to the actual needs and expectations of the client.  There are four criteria:
  • building quality
  • project budget
  • programmatic requirements
  • building character and spatial experience

Workshops are designed to facilitate the gathering of information, educating each other and prioritizing values.  Workshops are planned to last 2 hours.  The Design Center, along with a partner, plan each workshop, process data, distribute minutes, and package results of exercises in a personalized workbook for each participant.

  • Workshop 1, Goal: Project Definition

Activity: “if this project does nothing else it…”

Complete the sentence and brainstorm goals and objective.  Break these into appropriate categories and prioritize.  Finish by formulating Aproject statement@ which everyone then signs. (This statement is displayed prominently during all subsequent meetings.)

  • Workshop 2, Goal: Establish Programmatic Criteria

Activity: Brainstorming

Break into groups to brainstorm everything you want to happen in this project using 5 x 7 index cards.  Organize activities into categories, i.e. educational, recreational, health, community, etc.  Pin up on the wall and present to larger group.

  • Workshop 3Goal: Establish Visual Criteria

Activity: Architecture 101 and Beauty Contest

Present introductory comments about architecture appreciation to provide vocabulary for discussing slides.  Assemble and show no more than 30 slides of projects related to the proposed project, but which vary in style, material, experience, and budget.  Collect comments and vote.

  • Workshop 4Goal: Establish Quality Model

Activity: Shopping Trip

Introduce concept of quality model (operations, resources, technology, image) define terms, and discuss priorities. Distribute play money so participants can vote for qualities that are important to them.  Negotiation is allowed.

  • Workshop 5Goal: Review Program Space Requirements and Set Budget Goal

Activity: “Horse Trading” (Presentation and Negotiation)

Present results of needs assessment with associated square-foot estimates based on room type and qualities established at previous meeting.  Revisit priorities to establish scope of project and acceptable budget goal using interactive spread sheet and large screen projection unit.

  • Workshop 6Goal:  Determine conceptual arrangement of spaces and budget

Activity:  Take a shot at laying it out

Present completed program and budget.  Briefly discuss concepts of proximity, axis, code, circulation, parking, natural light, etc.  On a previously prepared scaled site, hand out to-scale rooms of all required spaces for small groups to layout.  Tape in place.

  • Workshop 7Goal:  Confirmation of conceptual design and budget

Activity:  Review conceptual plan and set budget goal

Present conceptual plan for input along with budget.  Allow members to comment freely, reminding them to refer back to design criteria.

Once the design criteria are established and conceptual plan along with budget is reviewed we then refine the conceptual design based on client input to get final approval.  Additional meetings may be required.

Based on established design criteria, propose a concept for building and site design.  The proposed design will include conceptual development of structural, mechanical, electrical systems, materials and methods of construction, fire safety, security, code and zoning review.

(Note:   Workshops have been developed in partnership with several firms.  The Quality Model is based on a concept developed by SHG, and the “Beauty Contest” is borrowed from Harley Ellington.  Both have been adapted to work specifically with non-profits.)