Styles of design methodology

There are now numerous ways to learn “design thinking” or methods of practicing design for many types of problems: interaction, communications, service, governance, etc. There’s plenty of books and online courseware, professional bootcamps and workshops — from General Assembly to LUMA Institute to Stanford to full fledged university degree programs like at CMU, IIT, SCAD, and so forth. I myself have been through a combination of many of these. And so I’ve noticed a commonality of certain threads inherent to design philosophy and practice – empathy, framing, ideation, prototyping, iteration, validation, so forth. There’s an inexhaustible supply of methods that can be codified and card-ified (methods cards were all the rage, awhile ago!) which is always good to dip your hands into and try out. 

What I’ve begun to realize is there is a certain style — or perhaps a “playbook” — of applying such design methods, backed by the various schools of design thinking  which you have to define yourself, over years of practice and iteration (naturally!). 

Sure you could pick up just one specific school and their methods as THE ONE WAY — and you’re perfectly fine operating as such. For example, just doing the Stanford way or LUMA way or follow one of those “100 methods” books. Each is well and good, will ensure useful results guided by professional expertise and imparted wisdom from their instructors. Just pick one, get schooled up, and run with it! And increasingly there are academies or programs positioning themselves as having THE ONE WAY, mainly as a matter of business propaganda (aka “brand” ;-) It’s a capitalist market and “design” (or specifically “UX” and “design thinking”) have become a hot training commodity now, I totally get it.

But the true master of design methods is one who attains the level of practice whereby she functions as (deep breath) an artist. Yes, with an artistry for knowing how and when to blend points of view with various methods, even inventing some along the way, towards achieving certain outcomes. Not tied to one set way, but masterfully connecting methods (or “dots”) with a purposeful and subtle guidance. This is what it might mean to define a “style” of methodology per strategic design leaders, like styles of painters and musicians. 

Some points to consider as you discover and evolve your style of design methodology: 

– What signs / triggers do you look for to help shape your approach for a situation?

– Which questions and lenses do you bring to the fore upon entering a context (as design is so much about being “thrown in”)?

– What are your go-to frameworks and rubrics for structuring the mess of a situation into something orderly and manageable?

– How do you deftly transition conversations and tempos accordingly, as discussions evolve with various stakeholders (with their temperaments and baggage) 

– How do you bring your own brand of personality, philosophy, and savoir faire to the table that’s functional, yet satisfying fit for you as a design leader?

These kinds of questions can lead you to discover what and how your style of design methodology might be, regardless of the origins and labels. After all, when you are hired by a client or company to tackle projects, part of their “bet” to invest in you is that you are bringing not just some base set of skills but also an evolved model of self as a professional that is unique to you as a designer.  And along the way, you know how to connect the right dots for their problem, or even perhaps invent some new ways of looking at their problem. 

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