Design Thinking for Social Innovation

I enjoyed reading all the anecdotes/examples included in Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Examples like Shanti and the inconveniences associated with the water treatment plant show just how important it is to incorporate the perspectives of stakeholders/users. It seems to me that successful human-centered design very much relies on the incorporation of the codesigning processes we discussed earlier. The Vietnamese children and VisionSpring examples were also illuminating and demonstrated how much can be learnt from different perspectives/communities.

I also enjoyed the discussion of a “T-shaped person.” I think this describes our group pretty well given how we all come from different backgrounds but are united by an interest in sustainable design and learning about others’ perspectives. As the article points out, interdisciplinary teams can generate a wealth of novel, creative ideas and we should take advantage of this as we move into the design studio next semester.

Audrey, I’m glad you pulled out the T-shaped person bit from this article. I read that too thinking of the different backgrounds we come from in our little community here.

Want to share a quote from the section on the T-shaped person just for context:

To operate within an interdisciplinary environment, an individual needs to have strengths in two dimensions–the “T-shaped” person. On the vertical axis, every member of the team needs to possess a depth of skill that allows him or her to make tangible contributions to the outcome. The top of the “T” is where the design thinker is made. It’s about empathy for people and for disciplines beyond one’s own. It tends to be expressed as openness, curiosity, optimism, a tendency toward learning through doing, and experimentation. (Brown & Wyatt, 2010, emphasis mine)

I emphasize those last couple of sentences because I’ve seen a lot of that openness in our time together so far. Not only a willingness to learn from one another, but to offer one another our experiences. It’s been great to operate in a cross-disciplinary environment, and I’m looking forward to getting more “hands-on” with everyone, really nailing down that “learning through doing, and experimentation” piece.

Thanks for highlighting Brown and Wyatt’s description of the “T-shaped person’s” horizontal axis. Borrowing language from the ECCD field guide, humility and empathy are absolutely crucial to successful design for social innovation. I had some misgivings about how the authors characterized the vertical axis of the T though. From their emphasis on skill and their conception of multidisciplinary people (trained professionals with a combination of high educational attainment and diverse work experience), it seems like they leave little room for designers and collaborators who may lack traditional qualifications but possess critical lived experience and associated insights. This is expertise of a different but necessary sort in the practice of community-based codesign. In general, I appreciated IDEO’s approach for its capacity to facilitate creative and collaborative idea generation but I felt some aversion to human-centered design’s insistence on observing end-users rather than asking them what they need. I understand the implications of Ford’s “faster horse” comment and I know that HCD does invite user feedback in the implementation/prototyping phase, but there are opportunities for projects to be improved and better tailored to user needs during the earlier stages of ideation and inspiration through actively involving community collaborators, if they are willing. I think both observation and active engagement with end users have a place in the design process. So long as these collaborators embody the horizontal axis traits, I don’t see why people with nontraditional expertise can’t be effective team members. Perhaps IDEO’s conception of skill and the vertical axis of the “T-shaped person” could do with some modification and expansion.