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Another Underdog Concept: Design Thinking

A manner of thinking that I studied and how it is pitifully slept on.

By Carmen PetraliaPublished 7 months ago 6 min read
“What Is Design Thinking? - Updated 2023.” The Interaction Design Foundation, Interaction Design Foundation, 13 Oct. 2023,

Design thinking is another way to think. It can be thought of as the opposite of linear thinking. This concept of design thinking dates back to the mid-19th century and is incredibly useful. It is a way to proceed with innovation in a manner that works for unusual thinkers. In fact, it’s malleable to whatever person decides to use it. This mode of thought incorporates something we all contain; creativity. This method uses a human’s innate ability to create, make mistakes and adapt. We all have an imagination that could potentially change the world. A bold statement, yes, but an exaggeration, absolutely not.

When I went to college, I started off in finance with an art minor in Duluth, Minnesota. After a couple years studying, the beginning of the pandemic, many protests and my first legit finance class, I changed my mind. My finance professor said in class, “to survive in this field, there will be blood and tears on your back.” I took this as ‘you will take advantage of others for your own benefit’. To me, that meant changing my plans and my major.

Looking through the list of majors, I found cultural entrepreneurship. Wtf is that?, I asked myself. To my delight, it is the study of creative enterprises and their impact on the economy. The major itself was only seven years old, meaning my advisor, and professor for most classes, was also the creator of this major. I felt immediately intrigued and connected to the major seeing as it combines creativity and business which are both topics dear to me. The fact that I would be working closely with a person completely in-tune with the topic felt like a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I still kept my art minor, and chose cultural entrepreneurship. The ultimate choice to start my dream at once; running my own artisan business.

Cultural entrepreneurship is what led to my discovery of design thinking. Both were ideas new to me, and my fascination only grew from there. The idea that there is a general, yet specific, plan to open a business, while being creative, while helping to change or maintain culture in societies, blew my freaking mind. What a dream! Being in finance prior to this realization, I felt released. Previously being used to having a start-to-finish business plan set-in-stone made this finding all the more powerful.

Design thinking is still a specific process with definitive steps to reach a goal. However, the difference between design thinking and analytical thinking is freedom. With design thinking, you have the ability to follow all the steps in whichever order is right for you. Analytical thinking limits you to a process without much wiggle room at all. The former allows for taking baby steps, whereas the latter says to plan it all from the beginning and jump off the edge of a cliff, and hope for the best. The biggest difference between the two is the allowance of mistakes. When starting a business of any sort, errors will occur. Design thinking says planning for those mistakes, but knowing some are unpredictable is realistic. Adapting to whatever changes makes for a more innovative, and peaceful, approach to a very big decision. Analytical thinking leads to making that decision from the jump without room for problems, and leaves us terrified of failure. When that failure inevitably occurs, we may stop believing in ourselves, or worse, quit completely. Design thinking is a process made for humans, and analytical thinking is best left to AI. Both are valuable, but one is restrictive, and the other frees us.

Something I learned while studying design thinking is how to open a business. Okay, Captain Obvious, we know. What I really mean is that we literally opened a business during class. We worked with the First Ladies of the Hillside; a grassroots, women-led organization that is centered around helping traumatized and addicted mothers leave poverty. Our class began with studying food insecurity in the East Hillside neighborhood in Duluth, MN. We conducted interviews, gathered statistical information and consistently met with the First Ladies to figure out what we could do. We followed the seven-step process of design thinking; define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn.

Through this method, we figured out what food insecurity was, and began researching. We learned everything about food deserts and their impact, the neighborhood and its people, and how this community declined from the steel mill shutting down. We collected information on surrounding neighborhoods, and who might be willing to help us on our journey of turning this community around. We brainstormed over and over again, with and without the First Ladies. Our precious college bubble was burst many times by our friends in the First Ladies. Their limitations and suggestions were always different from what we expected. We then figured out what solutions would work for them, and plausible for our budget. Then we hit the ground running.

Something about design thinking that is preferable over analytical thinking is the immediacy of it. There is no time to waste when talking about food deserts and insecurity, so we must start now. It is this way for many issues in our society and economy. These wicked problems are so grand that if we wait any longer, they will continue to spiral out of control. Understanding this and going into a solution as quickly as possible is very intimidating. Yet, the way all businesses begin, non-profit or not, is by starting in any way you can. That’s why the learning step is so important. When something goes wrong, we address it, discuss our potential choices and adapt. Sometimes with design thinking, we have to repeat all the steps again. At times, we must go back to the same step many times. We bounce around. We spring back, and are flexible like a gymnast on a trampoline. Flexible people don’t get bent out of shape. Neither do flexible methods of thinking.

This leads me to why design thinking is unknown. The process has been around for almost a century, and yet, every time I tell someone about it they have no idea what I’m talking about. This absolutely revolutionary method is slept on. Analytical thinking seems more straightforward and easy. However, looks can be deceiving. Again comparing the two, thinking in a linear manner says ‘1+1=2,’ but it takes so much more planning and money. Thinking in a non-linear manner lets us begin with no money at all. Of course, my class had a small budget backing our project, but that is not the case with others. We have all heard the rags to riches stories, and more often than not, these stories come to fruition at the unsuspecting hands of design thinking. Think of Starbucks’s Howard Schultz, who grew the franchise from 60 stores to 16,000 after growing up in poverty. Oprah is another creative star who had a rough start. Or even my own grandfather, who began as an orphan in Sicily, married my grandmother, moved to the US, and became a successful doctor with a whole, loving family. The common misconception that one must have ‘X’ amount of dollars to start a business, or that’s only for rich people, is untrue. We all know that, but here is the method of thinking to back it up.

All in all, owning a business isn’t for everyone. On the other hand, you do not need to be an entrepreneur to use design thinking. It is a method that can be applied to life in general. We define something, research it, test the waters, practice and adapt when necessary. It is a healthily risky way to navigate big decisions. Maybe design thinking will inspire you to start your dream life. It is possible, and this method is one of the many ways to achieve anything you want.


About the Creator

Carmen Petralia

A little lady from Chicago itching to rid herself of the overload of ideas stuck in her brain.

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