It’s that time of year when Adaptive Path wades through stacks of design school students’ resumes, looking for summer interns and potential hires. As I was doing this, a trend that that I had suspected became clear to me: quite a few design schools no longer teach design. Instead, they teach “design thinking” and expect that that will be enough.
Frankly, it isn’t.
I was taught that design has three components: thinking, making, and doing. (Doing is the synthesis, presentation, and evaluation of a design; the bridge between thinking and making.) If all design schools are teaching is the thinking, well, they are missing the other two thirds of the equation. They have abandoned craft for craze. Thinking without the making and doing is almost useless in the job market, unless you want to work at Accenture or some other big consulting firm. It probably won’t help you get a job as a designer in a studio environment. You’d be better off getting a degree in Humanities; at least you would be well-rounded.
D schools are doing a serious disservice to their students by only teaching them “design thinking” when a class in typography or mechanics or drawing might not only give them a valuable skill, but also teach them thinking and making and doing—all at the same time. For design to be truly useful as a profession and as a discipline, designers can’t just use “design thinking” to come up with strategies and concepts. Dare I suggest that those are much easier than building a product? Some notes on a whiteboard and a pretty concept movie or storyboard pales in comparison to the messy world of prototyping, development, and manufacturing. It’s harder to execute an idea than to have one, genius being 99% perspiration and all.
What gets lost without the making is the detail work that makes us designers in the first place, the small parts where we earn our paychecks. Details are also where we earn the respect of the developers, businesspeople, and manufacturers who make what we prototype real(er). Details often get overlooked in just “thinking” projects, as do constraints. Constraints are somehow less solid in the world of thought than they are in the world of making.
What we’re going to end up with is a generation of “innovators” who are MBAs in MFAs’ clothing, who can neither create or run businesses like entrepreneurs can, nor design products and services like designers can. It’s the worst of both worlds. What we as employers are searching for are people who can do as well as think. This isn’t to say that we’re looking for glossy stylists either: we want designers who create thoughtful, meaningful designs: designs that pay attention to details, and have emotion and craft in them, as well as reason and cleverness. The world desperately needs those designers. Start making them again.