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What is CrossOver?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Welcome back NextD Journal readers. This week we are beginning a new Revelations Series of short posts focused on sharing a few of the key sensemaking notions presented in our last book: Rethinking Design Thinking / Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived.

To be clear, that book, 6-8 years in the making, is not a how-to book focused on Humantific practice, but rather a sensemaking contribution to the strategic design community at a time of great external VUCA-like change in the world. That change wave, visible to us as practitioners for more than a decade, called for, from our humble perspective, significant rethinking change in the direction of next generation methods, more suited to complex situations…and related education.

In that book we are essentially synthesizing and explaining what we found during the 30+ community conversations that we undertook as part of the multi-year NextD Journal expedition.

In undertaking the Rethinking Design Thinking book we did not set out to invent new terminology, however what we discovered is that several issues that we determined to be key to understanding the current state of Design / Design Thinking were missing from community conversations and literatures. In other words, no terms existed for such phenomenon because as far as we know, they had never been acknowledged or explained previously.

One such phenomenon became known as Cross-Over.


To help explain to our readers what Cross-Over is we made use of our previously created NextD Geographies Framework that describes 4 operational arenas, each with different scales/types of challenges. Interconnected is the notion of Skill-to-Scale.

Cross-over is essentially a bridge approach, a methods stretch activity where the giant assumption is being made that methods and skills from Arenas 1& 2 are perfectly suited to the challenges of Arena 3 / Organizational ChangeMaking and Arena 4 / Societal ChangeMaking.

Of course it is not easy story to tell, but it’s an important one that journalistically was not coming from the design education community or from any other direction. Since it was foundational to understanding the state of the Design Thinking subject today we felt it was important to table that revelation in the book.

Once we saw Cross-Over it was clear that it did raise the difficult question of whether or not students should be told that the tools and methods they are learning in graduate design school, primarily those of Design Arena 1 and Arena 2 can be directly applied to Arena 3 and 4. Skill-to-Scale suggests there are notable differences in tools, skills, assumptions and methods from arena to arena.


At this point the Cross-Over era is all around collective us, in the marketplace and also embedded in graduate/post-graduate design related education. Is Cross-Over an elephant in the Design / Design Thinking living room? You decide.

On the other difficult question of where Cross-Over came from?..Why was it occurring? A difficult truth that we could see in the research was that the glacial pace of meaningful adaptive change in the graduate design education community related to methodologies, spanning more than a decade, likely played a significant role in the manifestation of the Cross-Over phenomenon. Cross-Over was and is a slow-to-react emergent Band-Aid.

Once Cross-Over was there, as kind of not prescient, missed-the-bus, caught-off-guard, late-breaking emergent reaction to a not anticipated, not recognized degree of change, not seen in previous generations, it was often accompanied by heavy selling as if it was naturally occurring.

Suffice it to say there are multiple institutions, organizations and generations of designerly entities engaged in Cross-Over, which is often being repackaged as Design Thinking. Our conversational research suggested there was confusion heaped on confusion. Suffice it to say that unpacking the state of Design / Design Thinking was not an easy subject to take on from a sensemaking perspective.

At the end of the day our concern was not about what was, or was not, going on in the wild-west design practice communities related to Cross-Over but rather its impact on graduate design education.

We did wonder aloud, often while speaking at conferences if we, as a community, have leadership responsibilities towards the arriving generations of future design leader students regarding ethical methods-related explanations in this time of great change.

Being a methods and teaching focused company, being methods focused researchers and authors, we think the community does have such responsibility.

Long ago we decided as Humantific which side of the elephant we want to be on and we are consistantly present there. In our own workshops we have no problem discussing Cross-Over. Its existence implies there is change related work to be done and that Design / Design Thinking is less a fata comple and more of a work in progress, in a new age.

Some late breaking good news is that we do finally see change in this direction coming from a few threads within the graduate design education community as the subject of complexity catches fire, igniting new acknowledgement of need for change and interest in methods related evolutions. Several threads of change in the direction of Design for Complexity are looking promising.

As we pointed out in the book:

The Challenges: HUGE!


The Stakes: HIGH!

The Opportunity: GIGANTIC!

Hope this is helpful readers.

Stay tuned for more in this Revelation Series.

FootNote: We wanted the Rethinking Design Thinking book to be about more than problem unpacking, problem explaining, problem acknowledgement so we included in the book 25 Change Avenues: How to Fix Design/Design Thinking for Complex Situations. We might do a book 2 expanding on those Change Avenues and we do see other books from others beginning to appear on this subject as well. The Rethinking Design Movement is in motion.

Upcoming in this Revelations Series:

What is Skill-To-Scale Shift?

What is Starting Points Shift?

What is Emphasis Shift?

What is InBound Empathy Shift?

What is Philosophy/Methodology Shift?

Questions? Feel Free to contact me directly here on LinkedIn.


* Note: This post was originally published in the Humantific blog.

Image Credits: Visual SenseMaking images seen here are spreads from the Humantific book Rethinking Design Thinking, Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived, 2020.


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