May 1, 2019

Design Thinking: What is It and Should I be Doing It?

Dr. AnneMarie Dorland, PhD'18, guides us through her step-by-step approach to design thinking

Unsolvable. Insurmountable. Impossible. These are not words Dr. AnneMarie Dorland, PhD’18, uses often. In fact, Dorland is changing the way students, faculty and the community are approaching lofty and challenging social issues. As a scholar and instructor at UCalgary’s College of Discovery, Creativity & Innovation, Dorland tasks her classes to take on challenges and engage in experiments with radical intent.

In the fall of 2018, Dorland led a Block Week course called Leading Through Design Practice, UNIV 401, that challenged students to tackle the topic of how to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050. This class provided students with a new tool kit to use in tackling social innovation and introduced a step-by-step approach to the process of design thinking.

“Design thinking is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days,” explains Dorland. “To me, designing is changing something from an existing state to a preferable one — this goes for product design, experience design, service design — it’s the deliberate creation of change for the better. Design thinking is the term we use for the mental shortcuts, practices and habits designers use to create this change quickly, repeatedly and reliably in a creative way. It isn’t a recipe for good
design; it’s a recipe for thinking about real-life problems in a new way.”

Dorland’s approach and expertise has been shaped by an extensive career in graphic design and communications, and more recently through her doctoral research. “My research examined the effects of design thinking discourse on the work of a design team,” Dorland says, adding she explored this by drawing on ethnographic observations of client pitches, team brainstorms and daily work in the studio itself. Among other outcomes, her findings will help those working inside the studio to better understand the impact of design thinking discourse on their work. To those outside the organization, this work provides insight into design culture.

In UNIV 401, Dorland guides students through a step-by-step process to address challenging social issues, but she believes these steps can also be considered when facing any challenge. Dorland explains that, as a tool, design thinking can open the doors to how we tackle the problems we face in our communities and in our businesses by using empathy, collaboration and a bias towards action. “What designers can teach us is that we can deliberately approach a problem by thinking about it in a way that has been deliberately and strategically designed, and we can all learn from that,” says Dorland.

To help people engage these strategies in their daily lives, Dorland outlines a few simple steps

To engage design thinking into your daily life, give these tips a try