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This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on why design is valuable:

Part 1 - Why Design I: Design is in Demand

Part 2 - [You Are Here] - Why Design II: Problem Solving in New Ways

Part 3 - Why Design III: Your Growth Potential + Leadership

Learning design can definitely impact how you’re perceived on the job – but maybe not in the way you think! As Dilbert creator Scott Adams says, design can make you seem smarter:

“If you’re like me, you were born with no design skills whatsoever. I was amazed to learn, well into my adult years, that design is actually rules based… learn just a few design tricks and people will think you’re smarter without knowing exactly why.” 


But it’s clear to us at Designlab why learning design impacts how you’re perceived. It’s not just because design teaches you cool tricks, it’s because design teaches you to problem solve in new ways.

The Design Process
Remember how we talked about how big business is rapidly hiring new designers? It’s because they know that designers and the design process can add incredible value, beyond just visuals and mockups.  Here are valuable skills that you learn from the process of design.

  • Ideation – Learn to come up with new and creative concepts.
  • Research – Understand the landscape of who will interact with your design.
  • Prototyping – Make your ideas real using both high and low fidelity concepts to keep your momentum going.
  • Testing – Quickly test your prototypes and understand what works and what doesn’t and how you can revise.
  • Critique – Get feedback on your ideas and learn how to not take it personally when your ideas are criticized.

The design process is also fun!  It’s a way of working that can quickly become more exciting and creative than how you’ve approached problems in the past.

Think Different
Roger Martin, former dean of one of Canada’s most prestigious business schools, is known for championing design thinking for MBA students.  Why integrate design into an education that traditionally focuses on analytical thinking?  Because design helps change how we think about problems. 

Martin says that business rewards two types of logic:

  • Inductive Logic: Bottom-up logic that starts with a small observation or insight and builds up to a theory by exploring related issues
  • Deductive Logic: Top-down logic that starts with a general theory and finds a specific conclusion based on pieces evidence

Business has typically rewarded both inductive and deductive reasoning.  But designers don’t just take inductive and deductive logic at face value, they work to combine both into a new way of thinking, what Martin calls abductive thinking.

  • Abductive Logic:  First coined by Charles Sanders Peirce (source), abductive reasoning posits that the first step of reasoning should be wondering, not observation.  

Abductive thinking comes from the idea of abductive logic. Abductive thinking emphasizes wondering and is powerful because it results in possibility. Designers are powerful within companies because instead of only acting on what is rational and certain, designers take chances on “what’s probable.” Martin says:

[Designers] actively look for new data points, challenge accepted explanations, and infer possible new worlds. By doing so, they scare the hell out of a lot of businesspeople. 

Abductive reasoning allows for the combination of knowledge and insight to combine into something new. It’s a way of thinking that designers do naturally, but many others don’t.  It’s this thinking that is so powerful when designers work with other professions!

Adding Depth and Breadth
When you start going through the design process, your skills build on whatever other subjects or industries you have expertise in.  Combining design with another skill set is incredibly powerful – we call it combinatorial creativity.

Combinatorial creativity is the idea that combining ideas and inspiration from unlikely disciplines, sources and people is a way to create new and compelling ideas.  So if you’re studying design for the first time and have a background in something completely different, you’re at a huge advantage. You’re more likely to be able to combine new ideas from various fields, and that’s what leads to innovation.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, calls people with depth and breadth t-shaped people.  It’s t-shaped people who can have a huge impact as designers.  

Practice Thinking Like a Designer
Here’s how you can get started building your design sensibilities now with supplies you already have – a notebook and your current knowledge.

“I’ve gotten more literate in design by keeping a design notebook, and each time I see an instance of good or bad design, I write it down. Designers often carry a notebook, but for me it brought to the surface that everything in our midst is the product of a design decision. The configuration of a workplace, a city, and there was intention behind it; a human being created it. Am I ever going to be a great designer? No. But have I become more conscious of design and literate (thanks to a drugstore-bought notebook)? Yes.” – Dan Pink, Author (source)

Design can take you many places and teach you more than you could have expected.  As you learn more about the value of design, our challenge to you is to start thinking about your own motivation for learning design.

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