Charles Owen on the characteristics of design thinking

Owen, CCreativity is of major importance to design thinking, just as it is to science thinking and thinking in any other field. But as is true for each field, characteristics other than creativity are also important. Charles Owen has identified several others that are key characteristics of design thinking.

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1. Conditioned inventiveness: More interested in the “what” questions than in the “why” questions, with an emphasis on producing results

2. Human-centric focus: client-directed, with emphasis on fulfilling client needs

3. Environment-centric concern: fulfill client needs while serving the best interests of humankind and the environment

4. Bias for adaptivity: approach problems with intention to solve user needs now but also as those needs change

5. Predisposition toward multifunctionality: solutions to the given problems can often solve others after minor modification so think in terms of potential applications and dividends

6. Systemic vision: think holistic, in terms of problems that have impact between and among several systems

7. View of the generalist: prepare and think with the Big Picture in mind, one that is multifunctional, ecumenical, cross-disciplinary, etc.

8. Ability to use language as a tool: express diagrammatically to illustrate connections, relationships, functions, features, etc.

9. Facility for avoiding the necessity of choice: increase or sustain options and possibilities rather than eliminate them, “have your cake and eat it too”

10. Self-governing practicality: encourage “flights of fantasy” with a latent sense of the practical

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Charles Owen is a distinguished professor emeritus at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, where he has taught design thinking since 1965. To read his article, Design Thinking: Notes on its Nature and Use, in an edition of Design Research Quarterly, please click here.

Also, I highly recommend Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine, co-edited by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen and published by University of Toronto Press (2013). Owen is among the contributors to this volume.

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