Jumping into Design Thinking? Read These Books First

Can you think that following a design thinking process five steps turns you into creative innovator?! Believe me, it isn’t and never has been this way. The spread of the term design thinking is aligned with significant amount misleading of criticism. The doubts about the effectiveness of design thinking are influenced by the promotional language used by some companies, training places, and public speakers. The truth is that there is no secret recipe to turns someone to a creative designer. Yet, there is a way to use the design expertise inside each of us. Understanding the design thinking core values can help team members to improve their design ability and appreciate the creative practice Innside the organization.

Previously, we explored different challenges that can face applying design thinking insider the organization ( Why Companies Need to Apply Design Thinking and Why Companies Need to Apply Design Thinking). Majority of these factors rely on the lack of understanding the core value of design thinking, which can be a reason of over-promotion and misuse of a commercialized language. Above it all, many of the design thinking trainers are not designers themselves and never practice the creative practice before teaching it.

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In expand the knowledge of the core values behind design thinking, I thought to share with you some the book titles that highlight design characteristics. Each of these books explores design from a specific perspective. Learning about these aspects of design is essential for bot designers and non-designers before jumping to learn design thinking. The below books don’t teach you design thinking. They aim to guide you to understand the core values and practice of design. By acquiring this knowledge, you can effectively apply any of the design thinking processes we discussed earlier in previous articles with effectiveness. I am sure that those are not the only books out there, so please share with us your book suggestions in the comments below the article.

Design Expertise

The Design Expertise, written by Lawson and Dorst, focuses on the practice of design in the creative industry. The book aims to explore the nature of design from a practitioner perspective. It starts by exploring the different definitions of design and how these definitions contributed to identifying the border of the discipline of design.

Design Expertise
Design Expertise by Kees Dorst

The book presents design work for different designers and tries to use this overview of their work as a tool to provide a practical example of design characteristics. This book provides you with the base idea about design, what it is, and its characteristics. Exploring the characteristics through design thinking case studies and examples helps you to see the core value of design. This value is the main cornerstone behind the application of the design thinking process.

Frame Innovation

One of the main design characteristics is to solve problems or move from one position to an improved one. However, this can’t be achieved without having a clear idea about the problem and its different borders. In his book Frame Innovation, Dorst explores the problem frame and solution frame in the cognitive design process. Also, he explores how designers move from one frame to another toward an optimum solution for the problem.

frame innovation
Frame Innovation by Kees Dorst

Many of the design thinking process models move from exploration stage (divergent) to defining the solution (conversion). While this practice is having a shared principle with critical thinking, they all move between the problem frame and solution frame. Through this book, you will explore the principle and practices of creating the problem/solution frame.

The book extends discussing the principle of frame innovation by covering the opportunities and challenges related to its application inside organizations. The book ends by putting a practice action plan to move toward the use of the frame innovation.

Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work

In this small yet informative book, Design Thinking, Nigel Cross explored how designers think and reach creative ideas, and what is the nature of design from the perspective the idea formation. To this goal, the book overviews design practice based on observing and interviewing creative designers and explore with them the design process. Design processes try to explore the design expertise from creating the idea toward applying it. However, the design ability comes in an earlier stage where ideas are formulated. The first chapter of the book explores this design ability and how each of us has a level of design ability to develop new ideas. Yet, some people are more designers than others, which is known in Lusy Kimbel two papers as the creative class.

Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work
Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work by Nigel Cross

The book overviews designers practice in different fields and stories. The aim of this overview through creative designers’ experience is to build an understanding of the inspiration or exploration stage in the design thinking process. For instance, what is brainstorming and why it is applied at an early point of the design thinking progress (How to Successfully Apply the Inspiration in Design Thinking). Linking similar questions to the practice helps you to map your practice to rational reasoning and subsequently improve the progress of the process in the future.

The Design of Everyday Things

Don Norman is one of the leading professors in behaviour psychology and human-computer interaction (HCI). His book, The Design of Everyday Things, is based on a simple observation: why do we love and hate some elements in our life? And what is the psychology behind our behaviour toward products? Addressing these two questions presents a cornerstone of your design practice. For example, why some people love some products such as Apple, a Mini Cooper, or IKEA. By understanding how consumers love or hate products, the design team can target these features to build an empathic relation between the product (or service) and the client which is known as emphatic design.

The Design of Everyday Things
The Design of Everyday Things for Don Norman

The book explores the human-centred design and its impact on interaction design principles and user experience. While other books covered this aspect of design experience, Norman studied the experience from a psychological point of view to examine this complex process of design. The book covers the psychology behind our daily actions, knowledge, design limitations, and human error. Later, the book explores design thinking as a tool to solve problems and the usage of the Design Council Double Diamond design thinking process. From this book, you can learn:

  1. how the brain works and the psychology related to products and services,
  2. the limitations related to our experience with interacting with designs around, and
  3. the human error and a bad design can mistake it.

Each of the above books focuses on specific aspects of design such as 1)design characteristics, 2) problems and solutions, the core values of design, 3) and design from a psychological perspective. The different design thinking models are based on appreciating these characteristics of design and encouraging it inside the organization. By applying the steps alone, you will never reach any improved status. You need to recognize these characteristics of design and try to practice it during the design process. Again, the above books came to my mind as key books in design. I am sure there are other titles. So, please share it in the comments below.

Dr Rafiq Elmansy

I'm a design academic, author and advisor. I taught for both undergraduate and postgraduate design programmes in three universities: Wrexham Glyndwr University, Northumbria University and The American University in Cairo. I contributed to building four design programmes. My experience includes design management, design thinking, interactive design, evidence-based design and design for healthcare. I'm the inventor of the Adherence Canvas, an evidence-based design tool to improve patient adherence to health tech. Additionally, I wrote several books on design and technology. I am the founder of Designorate.com. I am a fellow and mentor for the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), an accredited lecturer from the British Charter Institute of IT (BSC), and an Adobe Education Leader. My industry experience involves 20 years in interactive design and multimedia design.

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