- GK VanPatter
For Short and Long Readers
Updated: May 11
Happy 2023 NextD Journal readers. This week we are sharing an update to an earlier post regarding the origins of the NextD Geographies Framework, where it came from and why it was created 2005-2020. We included the origins text in our 2020 book: ReThinking Design Thinking: Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived but since we see many references to it over on the academia.edu site, some not so accurate, others just plain miss the point, we decided to pull it out and update the text here. Over the years we have created so much content on this subject that some of it seems to get lost in the mix accross various platforms.
Below we have created both short and long versions of the updated origins text acknowledging our different types of readers...:-) Practice-based NextD Geographies was created as a sensemaking framework to aid in everyday conversations on the subjects of design, design thinking. Without such a framework in play conversations on the subject of design or design thinking tend to go around in circles. As strategic sensemakers we found this was not an easy subject to take on, but we got it done and often hear from others who have found our published materials useful.
I considered calling this post A Bombshell Revisted but decided on the more toned down title..:-) It tends to light up what the various issues were, especially in graduate design education, at the time when we created the NextD Geographies Framework. Do such issues still exist in graduate design education today? You can decide.
Chapter Spread from Rethinking Design Thinking: 2020, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
FOR SHORT READERS:
THE SHORT ORIGINS TEXT VERSION:
15 Key Humantific quotes from the NextD Geographies Origins text below:
1. "Central to what our design community research revealed to us was that there were multiple disconnects between the challenges that exist in organizations and societies, what the graduate design schools were teaching at the level of methods and what emerging practices were already working on, what skills were already needed."
2. In the context of what our design community research revealed...we found that the traditional design methodology described inside the framework of the 1991 Four Orders of Design presented a rather antiquated, academic notion of how strategic design practices operate...Adapting to the marketplace goal posts being moved in a timely way, the strategic design practice community had by 2005 already changed how we engage. The boundary assumptions and methodology assumptions from 1991 were already ancient history."
3. "To be fair to Dr. Buchanan it seemed unlikely to us that he intended his 1991 Four Orders framework to be cited for decades by slow to adapt design educators as a quasi rationale for why no meaningful strategic change was needed in design education."
4. "Whether intended by Buchanan or not the magically manifesting school of thought seem to align more with the mythology of design as a form of magic thinking rather than with the actualities of the orientation, tools, methodology and skills indicated in the NextD research."
5. "At that time and still today there was a heavy emphasis on product/service design in graduate design education. People were using fancy words like “wicked problems” but what was really being taught from a methods perspective was most often product/service creation."
6. "The often cited supportive papers such as Tony Golsby-’Smith’s 1996 paper entitled “Four Orders of Design: A Practical Perspective” mirrored the conceptual and methodological antiquation stating; “Design is the conceptualization and creation of products.” (3) Not only were NONE of the Tony Golsby-Smith's referenced [Postal Service, IRS Tax Forms, Australain Tax Office] challenges “wicked problems” but from todays practice perspective all of those are downstream framed product design (Design Arena 2) challenges not upstream fuzzy organizational challenges (Design Arena 3) or societal challenges (Design Arena 4)."
7. "Our NextD research revealed significant marketplace shifts, a strategic design practice revolution and a highly complex design education mess that in large measure still exists today. Our task in that moment was to figure out a way to visualize what we learned from a methods perspective. We needed an organizing framework that made sense in this context."
8. "The picture painted by the academic literature related to “Four Orders” was not strong on methodology and conveys the misleading message that traditional design methods scale to full spectrum challenges. As practice-based methodologists we already knew this was not the case."
9. "It became evident that while this skills possession might have been true of the smaller 1991 universe depicted in “Four Orders” it was/is certainly not true of broader terrain in play within organizational and societal transformation today. Our research showed that the already magically manifesting at full scale depiction, super popular in academic circles was a false narrative."
10. "In essence what we found was that there was no research, no science, no evidence behind the design as magic thinking depictions. What we saw was that the false narrative of magic thinking was often being used to deflect what was from our perspective straight-forward problem finding and problem acknowledging related to methodology deficiencies in strategic design education today. There is no skills gap in "Four Orders". Essentially it is a design education fantasy model. It's philosophy, not connected to actual methodology"
11. "In NextD Geographies we are not mapping "manifestations" to discipline logic but rather challenge scale logic to implications from a methods perspective. We combined the notion of a rising complexity scale with an increasing challenge scale and then interconnected it to methodology differences. NextD Geographies is challenge scale focused and assumes a multidisciplinary world."
12. "The key to understanding the various reactions to NextD Geographies is that it contains change drivers abscent from the 1991 magically manifesting Four Orders of Design. NextD Geographies seeks to more clearly explain what is changing in the real world, in practice, what is present in design education as well as what’s missing specifically from a methods perspective."
13. "To be brief what all of that means is that Four Orders of Design and NextD Geographies not only depict significantly different universes but assume different strategies, (Magic Thinking & Skill-to-Scale), different methodologies, different skill sets, the former being narrower, less detailed and less methodology oriented than the later. Most significantly NextD Geographies approaches community problem finding and problem acknowledging vastly differently from how Four Orders of Design is being interpreted today. NextD Geographies steps up and bites the problem acknowledging bullet while Four Orders of Design has unfortunately been reduced to a change avoidance scheme."
14. "Among other things what we found was that not everyone was ready for more clarity around this subject of design, design thinking, design education. Clarity and sensemaking are not the goals of everyone operating in a competitive marketplace and that now includes the graduate design schools and their leaders responsible for timely adaptation leadership."
15. "Informed by several years of our community research, the subsequently published book ReThinking Design Thinking, Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived included not just NextD Geographies but also numerous additional frameworks and visual explanation models; Starting Points Shift, Activity Emphasis Shift, Intuition/Evidence Shift, Methods/Language Shift, Philosophy/Methodology Shift, CrossOver, Stakeholder/Team Shift and Reality Check Framework, as well as 10 Secrets of Design Thinking and 25 Design for Complexity Change Avenues. Aligned with the journalistic strategy of NextD Journal the book presents authentic depictions regarding design community and design education related problem finding/acceptance in the context of rising complexity of challenges. Central to all of that explantion is the NextD Geographies Framework. There is no other design community book that contains such detail.
Today we see many new design books being published from the direction of what we refer to with a sense of humor as the Avoidance School of Design Journalism, meaning that such books contain no authentic problem finding, taking positions equivalent to magic thinking, signaling no need for change in design education. This sets up two very different views on current state visible in the community; 1, Authentic School of Design Journalism and the other the Avoidance School. Not difficult to spot, we have observed that Avoidance School of Design books tend to be popular in some important graduate design education circles. From our perspective, perpetuating the myths of design as magic thinking, all set in its current state to tackle world peace is not fair to the arriving generation and does not advance design. Difficult subject, not for the faint of heart!
We do point out in the Rethinking Design Thinking book that there is a relatively small but growing, emerging practice community that has not been shy about embracing the notion of moving beyond the false narrative of design as magic thinking, moving beyond assumption-boxed methods of product, service and experience design. NextD Journal and Humantific are happy to be part of and contributors to that emerging practice community. We started talking about this subject in 2005 and by 2022 the tide was finally turning towards growing realization of rising complexity and need for change. Many finally arriving into the subject. Is it time to declare victory? :-) Delighted to see the turn eventually arrive, we most recently relaunched NextD Journal to focus on Design for Complexity / Rethinking, Reimagining, Redesigning Methodologies for Complex Contexts. Our Book 2 of Innovation Methods Mapping, now in progress, will also focus on Design For Complexity Methods." Our Humantific practice continues to operate in what is depicted in NextD Geographies as Arena 3 (Organizational ChangeMaking) and Arena 4 (Societal ChangeMaking.)"
NextDesign Geographies Framework from Rethinking Design Thinking: 2020, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
FOOTNOTE: When we created the framework we did not anticipate that its organizing architecture within might become controversial in the design education community. We soon saw that NextD Geographies bumped up against and contradicted what numerous slow to adapt graduate programs and their faculties were involved in selling, trying to convince their students that Service Design was Meta Design. Of course that made no sense but heavy investments had been made. In NextD Geographies, Product, Service and Experience Design methods are all recognized as assumption-boxed, most applicable to downstream applications. This flew directly in the face of what many vocal graduate program faculty members had been telling their students, and presumably their bosses. NextD Geographies immediately pointed out that Service Design was not, is not Meta. As practice leaders to us that was obvious. To others heavily invested in Service Design it was a stick of dynamite that is still reverberating as the graduate schools finally wake up to this realization and others around Design for Complexity.
FOR LONG READERS:
THE LONG ORIGINS TEXT VERSION:
The original interview text including the various diagrams below:
Ana Barroso: Thanks for agreeing to do this Brazil – New York conversation. Every now and then, while reading a design or innovation related article, I find myself thinking "what would GK say about this?" Humantific has been in the sensemaking / strategic design business a long time and there are a number of questions that I want to ask you including what you think of this article by Mercin Treder entitled “Why everyone is a designer… but shouldn't design".
Before I get to that let me first ask you a more general sensemaking question: For numerous years I have been watching Humantific do sensemaking work focused on the rather fuzzy subject of design / design thinking. How are you able to do that? What is your underlying interest there? How did you create the sensemaking frameworks that you use to decipher and explain the various forms of design / design thinking that you refer to as Design 1,2,3,4?
GK VanPatter: Hi Ana. Happy to do this in a sharable way. Delighted to see you revving up your interest in sensemaking. Upon your suggestion I did take a look at the “Why everyone is a designer…” article. No big surprises there.
Yes, I would be happy to start by explaining where the sensemaking framework of NextD Geographies came from, how and why it was created. Hopefully this will be of interest to sensemaking readers and it might also come in handy when we get to Mr. Treder’s article…:-)
The practice-based view that we have on the subject of design / design thinking today has been informed by more than a decade of work with organizational leaders and in particular the sensemaking research that we undertook via the NextDesign Leadership project intermittently 2002-2015. That is essentially a community sensemaking project that grew out of a concern regarding the states of graduate design education and design leadership.
As background to the design thinking models and frameworks that you see us sharing via NextD Journal we conducted significant community-based sensemaking research (See links below) that included 30+ NextD Journal conversations with numerous experts over the course of several years, the methods transparency oriented Design Thinking Made Visible Project and the cross community book Innovation Methods Mapping / De-Mystifying 80+ Years of Innovation Process Design. All of that research infomed the book Rethinking Design Thinking / Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived. It took numerous years of research and writing to construct that book.
After a couple of years of research we were ready to make sense of what we were seeing and hearing. As sensemakers we knew that some kind of ordering system framework was going to be needed to tell the story. For readers who might not know, ordering systems are integral to the sensemaking business. A central pillar in our Humantific practice is that sensemaking and changemaking are interconnected…that the effective making sense of a subject will serve to inform changemaking.
As we do in all sensemaking projects we first ask if any such ordering systems exist among the expertise of the subject. If we are doing a futures related project we would ask how professional futurists organize the future. We might or might not use their ordering logic but we would want to look at various existing frameworks. We also look in other subjects for possible related sensemaking frameworks.
RICHARD SAUL WURMAN LATCH
Some sensemaking oriented readers might know that years ago Richard Wurman created an ordering system framework for ordering systems. Known as LATCH it consists of Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy. These are universal basics that we keep in mind as we consider ordering logic options.
Latch Model: Richard Saul Wurman
If nothing that we see in existing ordering frameworks suit the findings that are embedded in our research then typically we know that it will be necessary to somehow create a new ordering framework, adapt an existing one, or combine several. This applies to all the sensemaking projects that we do at Humantific, not just this NextDesign Leadership project and we do hundreds of projects every year.
Typically frameworks are considered the scaffolds that help to structure research findings in order to clearly tell related stories. The emphasis is typically, not on the framework, but rather on the story within, what the various findings convey.
Central to what the design community research revealed to us was that there were multiple disconnects between the challenges that exist in organizations and societies, what the graduate design schools were teaching at the level of methods and what emerging practices were already working on, what skills were already needed. At that time and still today there was a heavy emphasis on product/service design in graduate design education. People were using fancy words like “wicked problems” but what was really being taught from a methods perspective was most often product/service creation.
Our NextD research revealed significant marketplace shifts, a strategic design practice revolution and a highly complex design education mess that in large measure still exists today. Our task in that moment was to figure out a way to visualize what we learned from a methods perspective. We needed an organizing framework that made sense in this context.
ORDERING SYSTEMS HISTORICAL ROOTS
In terms of ordering systems that might be applicable we knew that complexity ladders of numerous types existed in several subjects. The complexity scale idea has deep historical roots and was certainly not unique to our project or to design ecology..:-) If you Google complexity scales or complexity ladders thousands of versions come up spanning not decades but centuries.
Example Model: Aristotle's Complexity Scale, 16th Century depiction Great Chain of Being, Source: Internet.
ARISTOTLE LADDER OF LIFE
Aristotle (384-322 BC) is credited with creating numerous influential ordering systems including “Great Chain of Being”/ ”Ladder of Life” (“Scala Naturae”), an early hierarchy-based classification of organisms, ranking humans, animals and plants according to complexity of their structure and function.
Compressing hundreds of years of history; suffice it to say that since 330 BC zillions of other sensemaking thinkers have adopted and adapted the complexity scale idea to various subject contexts.
Example Model: Complexity Scale, Source: Internet.
While we didn’t have to agree or disagree with them all we were certainly aware that many complexity scale adaptations exist. Acknowledging that history, we knew that the orientation of ranking organism complexity was not the focus of our design community research findings..:-) We were interested in the implications of problem or challenge complexity scale.
PROBLEM SCALE LADDERS
Like complexity ladder frameworks many problem scale ladders can also be found by a simple Google search. Organizing systems denoting numbered dimensions of 1,2,3,4,5, etc. are quite common in sensemaking land across the spectrum of many subjects including problem solving.
Example Model: Problem Scale, Source: Internet.
LADDER OF ABSTRACTION
Problem scale frameworks often map to logic developed and refined in the Applied Creativity (Creative Problem Solving/CPS) community known as “Ladder of Abstraction” or Challenge Mapping.
Example Model: CPS Ladder of Abstraction 1959-2023, Source: Internet.
The CPS Ladder of Abstraction has its roots in the 1950s. Today we refer to this laddering in an evolved state as Open Challenge Framing.
Since the founding of Humantific Open Challenge Framing has been integrated into not only how we work with organizational leaders upstream from briefs but how we think about and make sense of problem constellations. Open Challenge Mapping is itself a form of upstream sensemaking. Often in real time with many constituents present challenges are mapped from broadest at the top to narrowest at the bottom. This knowledge is rooted in CPS methods rather than in traditional downstream design methods.
Example: Real-Time Open Challenge Mapping, Source: Humantific.
OPEN CHALLENGE FRAMING
While conducting our research we already knew that today working, not from individual briefs (framed challenges), but rather in the context of challenge constellations is fundamental to numerous strategic design thinking practices. (See Who Owns How Might We?) This orientation differs significantly from the logic of traditional design, design thinking in both education and practice. Open Challenge Maps are real-time versions of Challenge Ladders. No other type of framing that we know of, creates such systemic pictures of challenge landscapes. This knowledge, not found in tradional design connects directly to NextD Geographies.
FOUR ORDERS OF DESIGN
In terms of design as a subject, we of course knew that Professor Richard Buchanan, a highly respected design education scholar with a deep background in the subject of rhetoric had tabled an ordering logic called Four Orders of Design in 1991.
Buchanan stated: “Design is the human power of conceiving, planning and making products that serve human beings in the accomplishment of their individual and collective purposes…” (1) “In approaching design from a rhetorical perspective, our hypothesis should be that all products – digital and analog, tangible and intangible - are vivid arguments about how we should lead our lives.” (2)
“Products represent the formal causes, in the sense of the formal outcome of the design process that serves human beings.” (1)
and “the new design finds expression in rhetoric and dialectic.” (1)
It was no secret that Buchanan’s ordering framework was informed by rhetorician Richard McKeon’s earlier 4 order model that suggested philosophic thinking is “manifested” in four ways as:
Insight Into Fundamental Values
Of course rhetoric ordering logics have been around for ages! McKeon’s four part rhetoric model was likely informed by numerous earlier works including Francis Bacon’s (1561 –1626) three part model; reason, imagination, will, Cicero’s (106 BC) five canons of classical rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, delivery, memory, Aristotle’s (330ish BC) three part rhetorical triangle ordering logic: logos, ethos, pathos and Plato’s (460 BC) four part rhetoric model: delivery, style, organization, content.
Example Model: Aristotle’s 3 part Rhetorical Triangle, Source: Internet.
For Professor McKeon the notion that a type of thinking can be or is “manifest” in different ways evidently made sense in the context of depicting the shifting sands of rhetoric.
Importing the "manifesting" orientation Dr. Buchanan stated: “The four orders of design - manifested in symbols and images, physical artifacts, actions and activities, and environments or systems - represent new fields of cultural study as well as professional practice.” (2)
In Professor Buchanan‘s Four Orders of Design the manifestations were then mapped to the design discipline logic that existed at that time in 1991. The result is a two part combination manifesting / discipline picture.
Symbols, (Symbolic and Visual Communications)
Things, (Industrial Design / Material objects)
Action, (Interaction Design / Activities and organized services)
Thought, (Environmental Design / complex systems/environments for living, working, playing, learning)
From the outset Four Orders of Design was depicted in the academic community as all encompassing, full-spectrum and holistic.
While Professor Buchanan evidently found it useful, perhaps in a theoretical sense, to import the “manifesting” ordering orientation from the field of rhetoric, that three part rationale of manifesting/discipline/full spectrum made little sense in the context of what our design community research revealed. Nor was it a fit with the spectrum of geographies that we knew from direct experience were already part of strategic design practice.
Four Orders of Design Model 1991: Dr. Richard Buchanan
In addition and with all due respect, we found that the traditional design methodology described inside the framework of the 1991 Four Orders of Design presented a rather antiquated academic notion of how strategic design practices operate. The methodology described there focusing on a series of nested framed challenges is not representative of methodology being utilized in leading strategic design practices today.
Additionally we noted the highest order application for design was depicted in the “Four Orders” model as “Environmental Design”, as in designing the “environment/system” in which the designed activities and products reside. This is an “integrated product development”(1) view of how design ecology works. Such views tend to be found in settings (schools and companies) with product design legacy orientation. This is not the orientation of leading strategic design practises today.
ACTION AND THOUGHT
Even with the most generous interpretations of the terms “Action” and “Thought” such notions do not map to the geographies of organizational and societal challenges. Nor do Interaction Design challenges and Environmental Design challenges equate to diverse organizational challenges and diverse societal challenges. From our experience working with organizational leaders for years we already knew that not all organizational challenges are product related and not all involve interaction or the environment. The same applies to societal challenges.
The often cited supportive papers such as Tony Golsby-’Smith’s 1996 paper entitled “Four Orders of Design: A Practical Perspective” mirrored the conceptual and methodological antiquation stating; “Design is the conceptualization and creation of products.” (3)
NOT WICKED PROBLEMS
We saw that in academic circles three Case Studies were routinely cited when referencing Fourth Order Design. 1. Tax Forms Simplification Project, 2. DMM Transformation Project, 3. Australian Tax Office Project. (4) Utilizing challenge framing logic we could see that those case studies translate into these three relatively straight forward challenges:
How Might We redesign the US Postal Service's Domestic Mail Manual document?
How Might We simply IRS tax forms?
How Might We teach the Australian Tax Office Design 2 (product creation) skills?
Not only were none of those challenges “wicked problems” (5) but from todays practice perspective all of those are downstream framed product design (Design 2) challenges not upstream fuzzy organizational challenges (Design 3) or upstream fuzzy societal challenges (Design 4).
The picture painted by the academic literature related to “Four Orders” was not strong on methodology and conveys the misleading message that traditional design methods scale to full spectrum challenges. As practice-based methodologists we already knew this was not the case.
What we saw was that while the academic community often sought to split hairs over redefining what a product is, significant differences in methodology from scale to scale would routinely be denied, deflected and ignored in favor of depiction that traditional design methods scale to all spectrums of challenges, as taught in numerous high profile graduate design schools.
Today in practice we know, from a methods perspective, that product, service, interaction, experience and environmental design all jump off from a framed challenge (brief) and thus are part of Design Arena 2. Design Arena 3 is the operating zone where all kinds of organizational challenges exist, not just product, service, or experience challenges. Design Arena 4 is the zone where extremely diverse societal challenges exist. From a methods perspective, Design Arena 1 and Arena 2 are downstream in nature, while Design Arena 3 and Arena 4 start in a different, up-stream place.
To be brief; we concluded that contrary to much of the existing academic literature: the context, geography, scale, methods, framing and logic of the 1991 Four Orders of Design model does not map to how or where strategic design practice operates today. There was a considerable misfit there. The “Four Orders” framework therefore was not practical to our sensemaking project.
BUCHANAN'S UNDERLYING INTENTION
Certainly we could see that Buchanan’s underlying intention in 1991 was to point out that; “We are in the middle of a revolution in design thinking…” (5) It seems likely that Four Orders of Design reflected how the revolution must have looked from his scholarly, rather academic perspective in 1991. Since 24+ years have passed, it is not so surprising that the next generation practice community is operating today in a rather different universe and with different methods.
Oddly in addition what we saw during the research period was that the notion of “manifesting” as depicted in good faith by Professor Buchanan was being creatively, some might say defensively, redepicted particularly in the design education community as confirmation not only that designers already inherently had the skill to “manifest” across what was being depicted in “Four Orders” as full scale / full spectrum by magically shifting their brain focus but that this level of skill was already embedded in graduate design education programs….meaning that the faculties already possessed such full spectrum skill and were actively teaching it.
It became evident that while this skills possession might have been true of the smaller 1991 universe depicted in “Four Orders” it was/is certainly not true of broader terrain in play within organizational and societal transformation today. Our research showed that the already magically manifesting at full scale / full spectrum depiction was a false narrative.
Whether intended by Buchanan or not the magically manifesting school of thought seem to align more with the mythology of design as a form of magic thinking rather than with the actualities of the orientation, tools, methodology and skills indicated in the NextD research.
In essence there was no research, science or evidence behind the design as magic thinking depictions. What we saw was that the false narrative of magic thinking was often being used to deflect what was from our perspective straight-forward problem finding and problem acknowledging related to methodology deficiencies in strategic design education today. There is no skills gap in "Four Orders". Essentially it is a design education fantasy model. It's philosophy, not connected to actual methodology.
Of course it was not difficult to see how Buchanan’s foreshortened manifesting framing would be popular among the design education community but the logic of magically manifesting across full-spectrum was the opposite to our findings. This news upset numerous design education apple carts. Defuzzing and sensemaking can be difficult…:-)
Among our concerns was that while the design as magic thinking approach might serve the faculty political needs it was tremendously unfair to a new generation of students seeking skills synchronized to a real changing world. It made sense that giving voice to that unfairness would prove to be part of the human-centered/user centered NextD story.
Philosophy / Methodolgy Shift from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
To be fair to Dr. Buchanan it seemed unlikely to us that he intended his 1991 framework to be cited for decades by slow to adapt design educators as a quasi rationale for why no meaningful strategic change was needed in design education.
While the political/defensive posturing by numerous design educators was unfortunate, counterproductive and of no interest to us, it was clear that we needed a new generation alternate framework, a reconceptualization that more closely reflected realities on the ground in the present day context of strategic design practice.
As methodologists we particularly wanted to offer more specifics in terms of how the complexity scale plays itself out from a challenge, skills and methods perspective. This kind of focus and detail is not found in any of the existing “manifest” models.
For those so inclined Dr. Buchanan’s Four Orders of Design framework is still out there and we certainly recommend that anyone interested in the subject should read the papers from that period. (see examples below) If that logic and architecture makes sense to readers they should go that route.
NEW HYBRID ORDERING LOGIC
What we liked most about Buchanan’s 1991 observations were these comments:
“Design is a remarkably supple discipline, amenable to radically different interpretations in philosophy as well as practice.” (5) and “The pluralism that is inherent in the ecology of culture will continue.” (2)
It was in this spirit and with no disrespect to any of the historical problem solving and or design ecology models intended that we determined that a new hybrid ordering logic, acknowledging need for change, would best explain the findings and the challenges surfaced in the NextD research. This is where the NextD Geographies framework came from denoting the expanded/ reconstituted practice arenas of Design Scale 1,2,3,4 and the interconnected acknowledgement of the need for shift from magic thinking to skill-to-scale.
In NextD Geographies we are not mapping manifestations to discipline logic but rather challenge scale logic to implications from a methods perspective. We combined the notion of a rising complexity scale with an increasing challenge scale and then interconnected it to methodology differences. NextD Geographies is challenge scale focused and assumes a multidisciplinary world.
Starting Points Shift from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
Once we had laid out the NextD Geographies framework it was not difficult to layer on the various findings. This was not just about acknowledging difference in challenge scale. Ultimately we identified a dozen method related shifts underway in practice and not yet present in design education. These included: Shift from tiny scale to large scale challenges, from low complexity to high complexity, from defined to fuzzy, from internalized process to externalized process, from downstream to upstream starting points, from tactical to strategic, from strangemaking to sensemaking & changemaking, from thinking & doing to thinking, doing and enabling, from prescriptive to orchestrative, from intertribal communication to cross-disciplinary communication, from deliberate exclusion to deliberate inclusion, from magic thinking to skill-to-scale, etc. All of these insights were shared with thousands of NextD Journal subscribers. No other sensemaking framework has such expansive, acompanying explanation detail.
Activity Emphasis Shift from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
The orientation and skill change implications in figure above Activity Emphasis Shift alone, presented prior to the arrival of the big data era, will keep design educators busy for the next ten years. Add into the mix the Design Thinking Made Visible research (6) that we undertook in parallel to the NextD Journal conversations and it became rather clear that much methodology renovation work needs to be done in design education.
To be brief what all of that means is that Four Orders of Design and NextD Geographies not only depict significantly different universes but assume different strategies, (Magic Thinking & Skill-to-Scale), different methodologies, different skill sets, the former being narrower, less detailed and less methodology oriented than the later. Most significantly NextD Geographies approaches community problem finding and problem acknowledging vastly differently from how Four Orders of Design is being interpreted today. NextD Geographies steps up and bites the problem acknowledging bullet while Four Orders of Design has unfortunately been reduced to a change avoidance scheme.
Most significantly NextD Geographies approaches community problem finding and problem acknowledging vastly differently from how Four Orders of Design is being interpreted today. NextD Geographies steps up and bites the problem acknowledging bullet while Four Orders of Design has unfortunately been reduced to a change avoidance scheme. From our practice-based perspective having diversity of sensemaking lenses for practitioners, educators and other disciplines to make use of is positive and constructive.
A rough football analogy to the community research findings, sensemaking story would be a situation where the goal posts had been moved in the middle of a football game. We did not move the goal posts. The posts were moved by the marketplace. By 2005 the marketplace had moved the everyday challenges in which leading strategic design oriented firms are now called upon to engage and are engaged.
Cross-Over from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
SLOW TO ADAPT
At the time some educators seemed to be more aware of the marketplace shifts than others. Some were very interested in engaging with us. Others insisted that the goal posts had not been moved. Some seemed to be offended that practice leaders were pointing this out. Some sought to remain in isolation on their academic discussion lists.
Today some academics continue to reference Four Orders of Design as an all encompassing, not to be challenged, holy grail. Many had been slow to adapt to the goal post / methodology changes. As a result some were downright hostile towards the message and the messengers. Some are just now finally acknowledging the goal posts movement. This is part of what has happened on the bumpy road between 2003 and 2023.
Reality Check Framework from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
Adapting to the marketplace goal posts being moved in a timely way, the strategic design practice community had by 2005 already changed how we engage. The boundary assumptions and methodology assumptions from 1991 were already ancient history. The application of human-centered design at the scale of organizations and societies has been emerging and refining in the practice community not since last year but rather for more than a decade.
KEY TO UNDERSTANDING
Anyone missing that turn in the road would be having a difficult time really understanding what is going on in the design, design thinking community today.
Followers of NextD and or Humantific have known of the marketplace goal post shifts and its methodology implications since 2005. We began conducting public skill-building workshops since 2005. What the institution-based design education community has been doing is another story.
The key to understanding the various reactions to NextD Geographies is that it contains change drivers abscent from the 1991 magically manifesting Four Orders of Design. NextD Geographies seeks to more clearly explain what is changing in the real world, in practice, what is present in design education as well as what’s missing specifically from a methods perspective.
Added Complexity Layer from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
We learned a lot about our own community from the NextDesign Leadership sensemaking experience. Among other things what we found was that not everyone was ready for more clarity around this subject of design, design thinking, design education. Clarity and sensemaking are not the goals of everyone operating in a competitive marketplace and that now includes the graduate design schools and their leaders responsible for timely adaptation leadership.
As practice leaders seeking to hire design school graduates it was often rather puzzling to see the defensive reaction from design education leaders to a call for change in the direction of strategic upskilling. What we found was that new generation practitioners and students welcomed more clarity around the subject while older generation practitioners and educators found the clarity threatening to their traditional ways.
HEAVILY DEFENDED MYTHOLOGY
As sensemakers what we found was that cutting through the often heavily defended mythology around design education proved to be much more difficult than actually making sense of the research findings. To a large degree our community sensemaking made us outsiders to the myth-making neighborhoods of our own community.
The NextD story is not just about the marketplace goal posts moving. It also emcompasses what to do about it from strategy, methods, skills and leadership perspectives. It was and is a form of community leadership taking place by practice leaders without permission from institution-based design education leaders.
Today NextD Geographies tends to be NOT the preferred sensemaking framework for those academic leaders still engaged in defensive posturing due to their own slow adaptation leadership but that's ok with us. No big surprise there. Not everyone gets it at the same time.
SLOW MOTION ADAPTATION
As stories go what turned out to matter most is understanding that the dawdling, slow motion adaptation of design education leaders did not slow the change taking place in strategic design practice community. All the deflection and slow motioning by design education leaders really did was delay meaningful strategic change in design education. Now much of that community is playing catch up.
The practice community has since 2005 been steadily building knowledge of how to operate in these expanded terrains. The good news is that an ever-increasing body of research and input from practice leaders continues to suggest significant design education change, alternate tracks are not just needed but are now long overdue. It’s not enough to rename product design programs “social innovation”…:-) We have been consistent advocates of strategic change in design education since the creation of the NextD Geographies framework, first presented in 2005.
Since we were probably ten/twenty years out in front of the design education community when we started talking about this subject what we see is that much of what we have been defuzzing for years is just now starting to be acknowledged in the design education community.
What is rather humorous now is to see some of the same design education leaders who postured the magically manifesting mode for a decade now seeking to urgently reposition themselves as evidence experts and industry leaders in a movement being framed as “evidence based design”. For veterans of this arena that’s a real head spinner. It is absolutely necessary to have a sense of humor in this business..:-)
As practice leaders looking for new talent, we would certainly be happy to see more evidence based design education!
Future School View from Rethinking Design Thinking: GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor / Humantific
Still today a decade into the shifts described in NextD Geographies we still see very few graduates coming out of the graduate/post-graduate design academies with upstream skills. Most graduate design programs remain focused on teaching Design 2 skills related to product, service, and experience creation. The strategic design practice community has long ago moved on. Our focus on advancing methods related knowledge continues.
Right now what we see is rising interest on the part of savvy organizational leaders seeking to cut through the fog that has increased substantially in the past few years around the subject of design/design thinking. As strategic design practitioners we make use of NextD Geographies in all conversations related.
Without some kind of sensemaking framework linked to method and skill realities making sense of the various claims and statements being made in reference to the subject of design thinking is virtually impossible. A lot of postings to blogs and online group conversation on the subject of design thinking takes place without such frameworks and tends to go around in endless circles.
DRIVING THE TRAIN
Frankly speaking we no longer bother with conversations where no sensemaking framework is present and or where the magic thinking advocates are driving the train.
We are happy with our contribution to community sensemaking. Hundreds of readers access the NextD Futures Library every month on Issuu.
I appreciate you asking this question Ana and your patience with my detailed reply. We might need to add a few more parts to this conversation…:-)
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Related Humantific Research:
Humantific: Design Thinking Made Visible Research: See Findings Screens
Humantific: Innovation Methods Mapping: Demystifying 80+ Years of Innovation Process Design
Humantific: Innovation Techniques Mapping
Buchanan, Richard: Design and the New Rhetoric, Philosophy and Rhetoric, Design Issues, Vol. 34, No 3, 2001.
Golsby-Smith, Tony, Fourth Order Design: A Practical Perspective, Design Issues, Vol. 12, Spring 1996.
Junginger, Sabine: A Different Role for Human-Centered Design Within Organizations, School of Design Carnegie Mellon University.
Buchanan, Richard: Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, Design Issues, Vol. VIII, Spring, 1992.
Buchanan, Richard: Design Research and the New Learning, Design Issues, Vol. 17, Autumn, 2001. Copyright 1991.
Humantific: Design Thinking Made Visible Research (2001-2015)
NextDesign Geographies (2002-2015) / Making Sense of the Future That Has Already Arrived
Humantific: Innovation Methods Mapping
NextD: When [Old Design Thinking] LOVE is Not Enough
Humantific: The OTHER Design Thinking