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Are all designers Design Thinkers?

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~ by Aaron Keller

Not all designers are design thinkers and not all design thinkers are designers. 

There, said it.

If you've been down the wandering path of Design Thinking and looked around for your design colleagues, this thought may have crossed your mind.

This, from my experience, is a fact.

It isn't an insult to either camp you may occupy. It is more about knowing who you are, what you enjoy and where you can contribute the most to society. For the sake of classification and speaking on equal footing, here is a perspective.

Design Activist: 
This is the individual who tends toward putting pencil to paper, pixels to screen or clay to a mold. This doesn't mean they don't think, but rather they prefer action and getting to solutions by acting on the information at hand. They may have gone to any number of schools, but their discipline ties back to the arts in some manner (graphic design, industrial design, architecture, writing, theatre, etc). The group is more likely to be able to bring something to life through their discipline (design a product, write a book, design a logo, write a song, etc) They will also have a tendency, if given the change, to find ways to improve anything that enters their purview. This group is equally essential to any successful effort to improve a product, building or the world.

Design Thinker: 
This is the individual who tends toward observing the world around them and discussing the patterns they see with others. This doesn't mean they navel gaze and are unable to put writing utensil to fiberous material, but they prefer to spend more time immersed in the human condition. They too may have gone to schools with an art background, but may also just have a highly diverse educational background without any depth in one subject matter. This person may be less likely to carving clay in a studio, but isn't afraid to get their hands in the mirky waters of understanding patterns in human behavior. They too have tendency and desire to improve the world around them, but may rely on inspiring others to make this reality happen.

A real paired example, who just presented at FUSE a few weeks ago.

Design Activist: Marian Bantjes

Both use the discipline of design in similar but vastly different ways. Marian finds a line between art and design, then blurs it ever more. She makes you wonder, study, consider and ponder in awe of her beautiful work. Bruce works collaboratively with diverse disciplines to use design for the greater good of our global society.

Now, you're wondering. Could this be one person? Certainly, they are rare, but do exist. Though, both these qualities do exist in anyone who has been in, around or passionate about innovation, creativity and design. Though, if you know which of these you favor, then it makes it all the better if you can pair up with someone in the other camp. But, with all this lead up, this isn't the big question to ask in the world of innovation, product development and design.

Which one appears where in what part of your process? Do you bring design activist or design thinkers into the early stage of an innovation process inside your organization? Can you bring both? Or do you wait until the concept has been vetted with the proper titles and egos?

Answer with a comment or stop me at FEI in a few weeks. I'd know and write more about it.

Aaron Keller
Founding Partner

Heading to Boston in a few weeks for The Front End of Innovation conference? If you're not going, look into tickets, it is worth the 30 minutes with the boss to carve out some budget. I've been before and the content is a Venti Frappuccino blend of practical and inspirational.

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