Theories in Practice: Part 1

We have started our journey with an overview of theories that can be premised on the practice and the study of design thinking. In particular, we have discussed Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and formal logic. This and the next post aim to crystallize fundamental learnings about these theories, through a series of practical examples.

Let’s start with formal logic! This was first introduced by Peirce (1839-1914), and was then taken up by Dorst (2011) to explain the difference between analytical thinking and design thinking. Dorst (2011) aimed to overcome misconceptions about design thinking (e.g., ‘it’s just post-its and stuff’), by going back to the roots of the term ‘design thinking’. This implied using formal logic to understand how designers think, and how this differs from business.

In short:

Analytical thinking is typical of business, and was derived from the sciences. It is comprised of two main logics: deduction and induction.

In deduction, we can determine a result with little error. We know the working principle (how), and we just need to apply it to our object (what) to determine the result. For example, let’s assume that Apple wishes to calculate the market share of its Apple Watch vis-à-vis other smartwatches. They know the formula to calculate the market share, and have a clear object onto which this formula can be applied (Apple Watch).
What: Apple Watch
How: Market share formula (Total sales of your company / Total sales of all company)

In induction, we can predict a result (with a greater degree of uncertainty). Here, we know the object (what) but need to find out the working principle (how) to predict the result. For example, let’s assume that a marketing professional is trying to increase sales for Apple Watches. They analyze data and find a pattern suggesting that stores in small towns generate higher sales than stores in large cities (per square foot). They can inductively posit that small towns are a more valuable market for Apple Watches; and define their ‘how’ in terms of targeting small towns.
What: Apple Watch
How: Target small town
Result: Likely increase in sales

As compared to deduction, induction involves some creativity in the development of a working principle (how). Induction is, thus, the ‘bridge’ between analytical thinking and design thinking.

Design thinking is a novel paradigm that has the potential to change the world of business. Derived from the world of design, it builds upon two main logics: problem solving (or abduction-1) and abduction. There is a fundamental difference compared to analytical thinking: In problem solving and abduction, we are not thinking in terms of results, but in terms of expected value for our customers.

In problem solving (a.k.a abduction-1), we know the expected value that we want to generate for our customers, we know the working principle (how) to generate such value, but we still need to find out the object (what) that can deliver such value. For example, let’s assume that Apple needs to develop an Apple Watch that is water-proof: Here, the expected value is the customer being able to wear an Apple Watch under water, and the working principles are offered by previous models (e.g., ‘splash-proof’ Apple Watch). The designer will have to create the new water-proof Apple Watch.
What: Water-proof Apple Watch (to be created)
How: Improving the splash-proof Apple Watch
Value: Swimming with your Apple Watch

In abduction, we only know the expected value that we want to generate for our customers. We do not know the object (what) that can deliver such value. We do not know even know the working principles (how) to deliver such value.  This is pure creativity, and it starts with wondering (or guessing): How might we? (Brown, 2009). Asking this question leads to a re-framing that has the potential to actually deliver the expected value. For example, in the 1970s, while IBM was focusing on improving giant-room size computers, Apple was asking how to make the computer portable, personal, and cheaper.

Share any other examples that you might have!

And stay tuned for upcoming examples of cultural historical activity theory and their application to design thinking.

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