Design Thinking

This morning, on my way to the doctor's office, I stumbled upon an NPR interview with Stanford Professor Dave Evans, who teaches a course called "Designing Your Life." The idea of his course is to take "design thinking" -- an engineering concept with origins in Silicon Valley -- and apply it to issues of self-growth. He describes design thinking by looking at the way Apple designed its mouse. First, researchers had to determine if users preferred a mouse with one or two buttons (they preferred one) and only then did Apple tackle the complex engineering issue of devising such a device. He encourages his students to think about their lives in a similar manner: what are three paths your life could realistically take? From those, which do you prefer, and how do you design around it? How, as an aspiring musician, can one learn to live on less income -- delete a button from the mouse to optimize for function? 

The part of the program that stayed with me, though, wasn't the concept of design thinking itself. To import the buzzword from Silicon Valley ignores the fact that to even make it through high school, you probably have been engaging in design thinking all along. Would I like to play a sport, an instrument, or both? What would I like to study in college, and what activities will help me get there? How much social time do I need, and how do I make concessions to budget for the things I value most? We're used to designing around limited resources and concrete objectives. The interesting part comes in the way that design thinking redefines failure. How many of these discontinued Apple products can you honestly even remember? The same is bound to be the case with our many, and inevitable failures. Sure, they happened, but they're gateways to something else. And if they're not, they'll define you only as much as the Apple Newton haunts the legacy of Steve Jobs.


-Jared G, Instructor