In the past few years, groups of people without a direct connection to the practice of design have grown increasingly fond of the word. Business Week even ranked Harvard as one of the top design design schools in the country. Not the Graduate School of Design as you may expect but HBS, Harvard Business School. Huh?!?!
Referred to by some as "Design Thinking," or more broadly as "innovation," this is a way to describe the synthetic, visual, and iterative approach to problem solving that any practicing designer has drilled into their skull during their professional training. If this way of thinking is gaining currency among non-designers, that’s because it is truly useful for any number of situations beyond the design of beautiful widgets and functional gizmos.
The converse is also important: if on the one hand the design community lends a hint of its thought process to newcomers in the form of "design thinking," then designers must also seek opportunities to take root within unfamiliar organizations and situations. You could call this the "embedded designer," one who brings the full mélange of visualization, problem solving, and prototyping expertise to bear on problems of process, strategy, and decision making from deep within a host organization.
It should be no surprise that this notion of the "embedded designer" appeals to me since it more or less describes the job I've been asked to perform here at Sitra. As a Design Lead in the Strategic Design Unit I lend the eye (and brain!) of a designer to a range of in-house issues, from refreshing our branding to the more nebulous question of how we foster a strong relationship with designers worldwide.
With the professional training of an architect and a previous background in software design and development, my experience runs the gamut from the shaping of physical objects to the design of abstract interactions. The ability to touch many points along this spectrum is part of what excites me about working at Sitra.
As our plans for HDL 2010 develop I look forward to further articulating the potentials of the "embedded designer" as a way of bringing the important skills and ethos of the design community to questions of decision making in business and government. As Marco has already mentioned, "design" seems to mean something different to each person who utters it. To rescue the term from a slow death as jargon we need to find ways for the design community to engage outsiders while championing our expertise as something deep and specific – design is broader than what you can pick up during a few courses in an MBA program. Thinking like a designer is certainly useful, but the great value proposition of design has always been in the nexus of thinking and doing. If we're successful, this is the spirit that HDL 2010 will foster.