A Project to Frame Design Thinking

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, p.272).


This introductory post outline a personal project to frame my understand design thinking by analyzing it’s intellectual roots, that I believe are shared by many other movements and disciplines.  The question has been asked; “Is design thinking dead; just another business fad”?  I believe that a good way to avoid yet another faddish outcome is to ground Design Thinking in solid intellectual and epistemic roots.  I also think that a well grounded conception of Design Thinking can serve as a template for other disciplines.  My interest in design thinking springs from a recognition that it reflects what I believe is a zeitgeist, a general spirit of our age that is reflected many disciplines.

Design Thinking as Zeitgeist

The story of this zeitgeist will be the subject of a second and third post in this series.  It will begin with the success of a 19th Century reductionist mechanistic style of enlightenment science.  This style of science is important, successful and it is the basis of most of the technology we see around us.  But it’s success has also brought us to the point where it’s limitations and contradictions are becoming apparent.  It is my belief that Bakhtin’s artistic model (quoted above) is consistent with design thinking and needs to be understood as a way to address the aforementioned limitations of scientific thinking.  This artistic model is important, not as a substitute to linear mechanistic models, but as a way of freeing ourselves to think differently in order to clearly recognize the limitations of a linear mechanistic and monological science and enable us to act beyond it’s limitations.  In other words, we can use the contraindications from this monological perspective to form a complimentary dialogical foundation.

To understand monologic technology within a dialogical world there is an additional struggle we must take to develop this artistic model because our common way of understanding art is also monological.  Art is often reduced to an object; a painting, poem, or performance.  But art can only truly be understood as a dialogic communicative expression by an artist that demands our response.  It is through this dialogical understanding of the arts that brings out it’s social productivity and makes it familiar to cross-disciplinary design thought.  As an object art has little use.  As a medium to enable a new and unique expression to be formed within us is it’s only artistic goal.

Case Studies in Transformation: Psychometrics (past) and Education (future)

In a fourth and fifth post I will analyze how other disciplines have attempted to deal with the historical limitations of a monologic perspective with psychometrics as the focal disciplines.  Psychometric began late in the 19th Century firmly within a monologic style of science, but has been increasingly cognizant of potential limitations since mid-century.  These changes can be seen as a move toward dialogic principles.  A second example will look at the changing nature of 21st Century educational institutions that are being challenged by digital scholarship and how a dialogical perspective could meet that challenge.

What is Design Thinking: Dialogic Artistry in the World

As a sixth and last post, I will consider why design thinking is a good representation of  Bakhtin’s dialogic artistic and complex model and will become increasingly important as a trans-disciplinary guide for acting in many fields and disciplines.