To provide a portal for the aggregation of effective techniques that can be used to positively change behaviour by designers and design teams.
The definition of design thinking
The term design thinking is now used regularly by business consultants, design consultants, psychologists, behavioural economists and many others. Generally the use of the term has been aimed at business to describe the advantage they get from adopting the thinking style used by designers. Roger Martin points to the circular definition of design thinking meaning thinking as a designer would. Tim Brown, of IDEO, makes a more concrete definition of “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibilities and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunities.” On this site I am using the term differently to aim at the design audience and instead of urging businesses to think like a designer, here I urge designers to think like a psychologist.
I started this site after getting increasingly frustrated with the graphic design industry after over ten years working in the sector. My frustration stemmed from the attitude that design was primarily focused on beautification or just ‘making thing look nice’ and the view of ‘if it looks nice people will react well to it’. Undoubtedly the look of a piece of communication is an important factor but shouldn’t be the only factor when considering [graphic] design projects. A piece of graphic design is a piece of communication that is made with the express purpose of achieving a desired result. Often the thinking part of design was either decided by teams of non-designers before the designers were commissioned (i.e. client teams) or not considered at all.
I once overheard a student trying to describe what graphic design was to a non-designer friend.
“Graphic designers are artists who can’t paint or draw.”
The image of graphic designers being frustrated artists who have been lowered to become pencils for hire because they can’t produce real art has stayed with me over the years. Sometimes this comes particularly to mind when I see designers get increasingly frustrated and perplexed with clients who “can’t understand the creative process” and consistently try to compromise the designer’s (artist’s) work. I could go on for ages about the designer Vs artist debate but you’d be better off sitting down with a copy of Norman Potter’s “What is a designer?”.
“A designer works through and for other people, and is concerned primarily with their problems rather than his own” – Norman Potter, What is a designer? (1969)
Before studying graphic design at college I had already read a science degree in psychology and this has undoubtedly had a huge impact on my design career. By keeping one eye of both psychological and marketing research I always strived to solicit a favourable response from the audience. Over time I started to see designers not as ‘artists who can’t paint or draw’ but as psychologists who can.
I have been privileged to work with a very talented and intellectual bunch of creatives over the years and everyone of them wanted to create effective as well as beautiful work but didn’t always know where to look or what methodologies to apply. By contrast, the advertising industry has long ago embraced the power of influencing us through psychological or behaviourist techniques. Indeed John B Watson, who I consider to be the father of modern psychology, entered into a very successful advertising career after having to leave academic life after scandals surrounding his love life (I bet that’s got you heading off to Wikipedia). In contrast, graphic design has never really felt comfortable with the methods of psychological science, possibly due to the bad feeling that the advertising industry seems to have created.
Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it. – Stephen Leacock (1869 – 1944)
What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public. – Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879 – 1962), “Discovery”, 1964
The advertising industry is one of our most basic forms of communication and, allegedly, of information. Yet, obviously, much of this ostensible information is not purveyed to inform but to manipulate and to achieve a result — to make somebody think he needs something that very possibly he doesn’t need, or to make him think one version of something is better than another version when the ground for such a belief really doesn’t exist. – Marvin E. Frankel
When creating design for products, services or brands designers create persuasion through pictures, shapes and colours. Whilst not as overt as the advertiser’s words a graphic designer can persuade a customer that one product is better than another, even when it may not be. However, I’ve always come across the attitude that the role of the designer is to try and depict the product as true to how it actually is.
I believe that after a long period of excess and fascination with materialistic wealth and the trinkets that accompany it, the human attitude has had to wake up to a hangover of guilt when faced with the evidence of its actions. The key words now are the environment, sustainability and social change. Whilst the last 40 years have been interesting I am glad to be in the design business today as we can use the power of design to help change our ingrained attitudes to the planet, to economics and to the people and creatures we share this Earth with.
I believe the nature of the modern designer is to create meaningful and effective communications that create a change for the better in the real world. This site therefore hopes to be a small aid to bridging the gap between the methods and research from psychology and the creative application of them. By showcasing projects and presenting research often hidden away in scientific journals I hope that this becomes a portal for designers and also for design buyers in the hope of creating a more accurate perception of what a design is and how to use their talents effectively.
It just wouldn’t be on-brand to create a yellow and black brand with an eye-like graphic at the top for no reason whatsoever, so I thought I’d share my thinking behind the creative.
The ¡designthinkers! marque is the culmination of a lot of influences. The eye icon was chosen to represent both the visual nature of design as a subject and also to imply looking at the design industry itself. The style of the eye is a reference to Paul Rand, in my opinion one of the greatest designers in history, and with particular reference to his work with IBM and the IDEA magazine cover designs he created.
The use of the inverted exclamation marks came from a trip to Spain where I noticed their use and also the inverted question mark. Intrigued to know why they do this I found that it is simply a method of letting the reader know when the sentence is an exclamation or question before you read it rather than after you have read it. This struck me as a clever bit of thinking, especially when writers such as José Saramago write sentences often spanning across entire pages. The use of the exclamation mark at all came from the instruction of when to use them being when you wish to indicate strong feelings. It also occurred to me that the inverted exclamation would allow the brand to live in live text as well as in the logo form. As design thinkers is a term more frequently used I thought it was a good method of identifying when the ¡designthinkers! brand was being talked about.
The yellow and black colour palette was chosen to represent the perception I came across about the contrast between art and science. Starting my education with a science degree and following it up with an art qualification always made people exclaim why I chose two vastly different areas. I had always thought the two went very well together. So the yellow represents the brightness of design and the black & white the right or wrong attitude of science. I also steadfastly use Staedler Norris pencils so this may have had an unconscious influence on me. The red was simply a good contrasting colour between the two.
So there you have it, if you’ve got down this far you really need to get out more, but then probably so do I.