Our Inspiration

Design ideas

A main domain to look into for inspiration for our thought experiment is the field of design thinking.

Ian Gosher’s blog calledBeyond Design Thinking: An Incomplete Design Taxonomy, on Design Thinking and the many trends that inspired the field is worth a full read.

Design Thinking emerged in the 80’s and gained popularity at the turn of the 21st century. In its most simple formulation, it might be “characterized as the scientific method applied to the creative process” (Ian Gosher). 

  • It is human centered and iterative. 
  • It uses iterative prototyping in its journey “from the abstract to the concrete” (Ian Gosher).

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby distinguish in their book ‘Speculative Everything’, between affirmative design and critical design (watch an interview with the authors). Affirmative design focuses on problem solving and serves to improve our live as it is now. It “is problem solving, with design framed as a process that provides answers in the service of industry for how the world is” (Ian Gosher). On the other hand, critical design “is characterized as problem finding, with design framed as a medium that asks questions in the service of society for how the world could be” (Ian Gosher). According to Gosher, “if Affirmative Design is problem solving, then Critical Design is problem finding, which is to say, it is a critique of the context and culture in which the designed object exists“.

According to IDEO, one of the first studios to lay the groundwork for design theory, “design thinking is a mindset. It is the confidence that everyone can be part of creating a more desirable future, and a process to take action when faced with a difficult challenge” (IDEO, 2013).

IDEO’s blog on Design Thinking for Educators’ (2013) presents how design thinking is not only useful, but already present and essential in the classroom environment, from designing daily schedules to teacher feedback systems. “The challenges educators are confronted with are real, complex, and varied. And as such, they require new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches. Design thinking is one of them” (IDEO, 2013). IDEO also created the Co-Designing Schools Toolkit, to support “educators to collaboratively create equitable change in schools through a community-led, equity-centered, and design-driven process” (IDEO, 2013).

Human Centered Design

Human Centered Design (or User Centered Design) was popularized by Don Norman’s seminal book, ‘The Design of Everyday Things‘. In the book he “urged designers to consider the user experience throughout the entire design process, rather than employing top down “engineering” strategies, which are often framed around technical solutions and ignore the actual needs of stakeholders. Human Centered Design places a high value on design research methods that cultivate empathy with the user. Methods for visual thinking and storytelling are especially important for this kind of collaborative process. By asking the users you’ll get unexpected answers that are more likely to be taken up and adopted. As long as your ideas are ‘grounded into the desires of the people’ then you’re on the right patch. Human-centered design is bound to lead to ‘solutions that are adopted and embraced’” (Ian Gosher).

Participatory Design

Participatory Design is a close relative to Human Centered Design as it seeks to engage all stakeholders in the design process and has a very explicit political dimension. “It aspires to democratize the design process, blurring the distinction between the designer (or engineer) as expert and the user as expert. Participatory Design attempts to coordinate the experiences and insights of all stakeholders in order to develop outcomes that benefit everyone” (Ian Gosher). 

Critical Design

“Critical Design has its antecedents in Critical Theory, which emerged from the Marxist critiques of the Frankfurt School in the 1930s. Critical Design is a creative strategy that establishes design as a medium for making visible that which is usually obscured in our daily interactions with the quotidian objects of our material culture, including the relationship between the object and the labor that went into its creation (i.e. commodity fetishism). Critical Design creates affordances for awareness, framing how we understand, question, and critique the society and culture around us” (Ian Gosher). 

Discursive Design

According to Ian Gosher, Discursive Design is “closely related, if not synonymous with Critical Design. The term implies that the function of the object – what it does – is secondary to how it makes us think about the context in which it exists. The object is the site of discourse. These kinds of objects tend to be prototypes, resisting commodification and mass production. They often shock the viewer into a new awareness of the social context from which they emerge (Ian Gosher). For examples of discursive design also check out Core77’s Discursive Design channel

For a quick understanding of Discursive Design read Tharp & Tharp’s 2016 blog on Discursive Design as ‘thought catalyst’, “What is Discursive Design”. “While “good design” is often professed to be unobtrusive, intuitive, invisible and something that does not make the user think too much, discursive design instead actually targets the intellect. The primary goal is to prompt self-reflection, ignite the imagination, and foment contemplation—to deliberately make the user think (deeply)” (Tharp & Tharp, 2016). 

In the UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded the ProtoPublics project, “which ultimately aims to get researchers and the community together to craft “new services, experiences, projects and policies that address contemporary issues.” In support of this objective a sub-project, ProtoPolicy was organized to investigate how design fiction “could be used to help politicians and community groups imagine the future implications of policy initiatives in creative ways.” This past summer they looked specifically at the issues of aging in place, loneliness, and isolation with the help of discursive practices. Their 38-page report, Using Design Fiction to Negotiate Political Questions discusses their process and findings. For example: Design fictions appear to be more readily adopted by the civil service rather than politicians because of the shorter timescales usually adopted to take political decisions. However, through additional advocacy and research, the ProtoPolicy team seek to demonstrate that design methods, particularly design fictions, could contribute to a shorter decision-making cycles through rapid problem definition, co-developing solutions with citizens, rapid prototyping and refining concepts before full-scale deployment” (Tharp & Tharp, 2015). For more information on ProtoPublics check out their website

Responsible design

Tharp & Tharp talk about another type of design thinking done in the name of service, to help those in need “where products are helpful, but less commercially-viable, especially due to very small market target. Examples given are the bite-size fork for those less dexterous – Ableware one-handed cutlery set” (Tharp & Tharp, 2009)

Speculative Design  

“Speculative Design is another sibling to Critical Design and Discursive Design. However, Speculative Design is explicitly oriented towards future scenarios. User scenarios are an important method found in many of these design strategies. These kinds of scenarios allow us to imagine things not as they are, but as they might be. They allow us to ask questions. What does the object do? For whom? Where does it do it? When? How does the object do it? And why?” (Ian Gosher). 

The MIT Media Lab are an interdisciplinary research lab working to invent the future of #politics, #archives, #data, etc. Check out some of their publications as good examples of speculative design.  https://www.media.mit.edu/groups/lifelong-kindergarten/publications/ 

Potential implications for our thought experiment

We could draw concepts from design thinking that might be helpful in framing how we think about education as a system, as a service (either public or private) for users and as politics due to its extensive stakeholder groups.

“Innovation with design thinking demands critical thinking because we must understand our assumptions that frame our ideas and shape our design.” (Turnali, 2016)


Gosher, Ian, ‘Beyond Design Thinking: An Incomplete Design Taxonomy’. cd-cf.org website, accessed on 29 Mar 2021 at  http://www.cd-cf.org/articles/beyond-design-thinking/ 

IDEO.org, 2013 ‘Design Thinking for Educators’, Jan, 2013, IDEO Website, accessed on 29 March 2021 at https://www.ideo.com/post/design-thinking-for-educators

IDEO.org, 2015, ‘The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design’. IDEO Website, accessed on 29 March 2021 at https://d1r3w4d5z5a88i.cloudfront.net/assets/guide/Field%20Guide%20to%20Human-Centered%20Design_IDEOorg_English-0f60d33bce6b870e7d80f9cc1642c8e7.pdf 

Turnali, K., 2016, ‘Innovation with Design Thinking Demands Critical Thinking’, Aug, 2016. Forbes Website, accessed online 29 March 2021 https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2016/08/25/innovation-with-design-thinking-demands-critical-thinking/?sh=7b2d48486908 

Norman, D., 2013, ‘The Design of Everyday Things Rev. and expanded‘, Boulder: Basic Books. 

Tharp, B. and Tharp, S., 2009, ‘The 4 Fields of Industrial Design: (No, not furniture, trans, consumer electronics, & toys)’, Jan 5, 2009, Core77.com, accessed on 1 Apr 2021 at https://www.core77.com/posts/12232/the-4-fields-of-industrial-design-no-not-furniture-trans-consumer-electronics-toys-by-bruce-m-tharp-and-stephanie-m-tharp-12232 

Tharp, B. and Tharp, S., 2015, ‘Governments Warming up to Discursive Design?’, Dec 9, 2015, Core77.com, accessed on 1 Apr 2021 at “What is Discursive Design” https://www.core77.com/posts/41991/What-is-Discursive-Design 

Tharp, B. and Tharp, S., 2016, ‘Governments Warming up to Discursive Design?’, February 2, 2016, Core77.com, accessed on 1 Apr 2021 at https://www.core77.com/posts/45693/Governments-Warming-up-to-Discursive-Design 

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