Bryan Taylor

Thinking About Design Thinking 1: We're Basically Philosophers

Design thinking is simply a form of classical philosophy.

Aristotle is said to be the father of the first true academy, in a classical sense, which aimed to explore and expand our understanding of how things worked — from mathematics to physics to environmental science. These connections were explored through music and literature and metaphysical narratives. It was simply not knowing how or why something was the way it was that led to these early philosophical pursuits.

Today, we have a university system that is modeled in the likeness of Aristotle's Lyceum, in theory, emphasizing an interdisciplinary curriculum that explores the connections and explanations that can be found through a spectrum of disciplines. Problems are solved through a well-rounded education that allows a student to explore the “whys and hows” through a working knowledge of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Likewise, the discipline of design thinking is very much a process of exploring and discovering connections between disparate parts. We have problems to solve, and the answers need to connect with an audience full of certain preferences, to stand apart from competing products and services, and to do so from within an organization that is shaped by a specific culture.

The only real difference between design thinking and classical philosophy is that those practicing design thinking are usually trying to solve specific problems rather than simply understand how things work. The two processes, however, are not that different, and that’s why the best designers are often those who are most well-rounded.