The Value of Design is the Thought Behind It

I am a full-time graphic designer/illustrator and part-time design educator, so design thinking is a familiar and routine part of my life. In my experience, design thinking can make all the difference in how a thing turns out. So, what is design thinking? It is the process of recognizing a need, framing a definition, developing novel solutions, and then testing, refining and implementing.

The exciting part of design thinking for me is the ability to make connections between things that don’t necessarily relate – to lead people to “see” something differently without imposing a pre-fab solution on them. This concept pertains not only to creating design solutions that serve clients, but to other aspects of life in general. Design thinking can be applied in managing people, teaching, developing systems, construction, business, logistics, manufacturing…you name it.

Design thinking requires observation and inquiry – research – because solutions need to be informed and founded on a rationale. The design solution will prove the thinking that went into it, or it will reveal the flaws and need for tweaking.

Success Through Failure

In developing design concepts, a multitude of ideas ensures at least one of them is viable, but every idea that is implemented needs to be evaluated through testing and then refined if necessary. Often you won’t know you have a viable solution until you’ve exhausted the unworkable ones. The idea of achieving success through failures is not new, but for many, failing is not an option. Unfortunately, failing is often the way we progress, become stronger and prevail.
Good design solutions are the result not only of process, but of relationship – the relationship of the design (s) and the stakeholder – in my case, the client and their stakeholders – the “audience” or end-user. The designer needs the ability to directly relate to the audience and/or the client in order to dialogue and understand how the problem should be solved.

The design solution will prove the thinking that went into it, or it will reveal the flaws and need for tweaking.

Design Thinking Benefits the Client

Explaining this thinking process to clients will help them understand the effort made and time I invest on their behalf to developing the right solution for their design problem, whether it’s a web site, logo and identity system, branding strategy, email marketing, or publication. It reveals why the quick and cheap solutions – crowdsourced, bought “off the rack” or holding “contests” – do not do the work that an originally-created solution does.

Design Thinking Benefits the Student

Explaining this process to my design students will help them understand how it’s the thinking behind the solution that will make them valuable to their clients when they enter the profession. It will convince them to spend quality time in research and inquiry, and to generate a variety of ideas and then select the most appropriate to develop and implement. It will convince them that design adds value to people’s lives and that design is a service profession – focusing on fulfilling the needs of others, personally or in enterprise – rather than being mere self-expression or decoration. Students will often decide on an idea and attempt to conform the design solution to that idea. They need to be willing to let go of what’s not working and start over. When they emphasize the process of design and do the hard work up front, the result will be greater than if one is simply creating a  graphic.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.