We were tasked to research, design and produce a design thinking manual that introduces design thinking to a non-expert.
Inspired by Victor Papanek’s seminal work Design for the Real World and the idea of survival through design, I designed and fabricated a design thinking first aid kit.
Design thinking is a dialogue that has spanned the eras. Although design thinking has a long history, its surrounding debates began in the 1960s. Since that time, it’s legacy has been maintained and passed down from generation to generation. Each generation using, removing, updating, or replacing items within it. This dialogue has numerous contributors with their own nuanced takes, additions, and critiques on how exactly design should be understood and used. This kit can be thought of in much the same way.
Further, first aid kids are often the first line of defense for the injured. They prepare, enable, and empower people to provide aid in a variety of situations and contexts. Design is similar. In a world with approaching crisis points, design is a vital line of defense. Designed solutions will be critical to our survival. But like first aid, design needs more. We need to move beyond addressing short-term symptoms alone and work in cohesion within larger, long-term systems to help humanity emerge more resilient.
I began developing my concept through reflective writing and conversations with my others. This process of writing helped me better define what design thinking means to me and which design thinkers have had the biggest impact on my perspective. Four big themes emerged during this process: survival through design, reflection, sustainability, and ethics.
Can design be used to address humanity's most pressing needs?
How can design thinking be used to think about long-term sustainability?
How might we design responsibly? Designers help shape the material world. Who benefits from this world and who does not are fundamental questions to consider.
Design process is a balance of thinking, making, and reflecting.
During my first semester as a graduate student, I was most impacted by Victor Papanek and Donald Schon.
Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World is a polemic of the popular direction of design in the 1960s and 1970s. In the book, Papanek blames designers for amplifying social inequality and unsustainable consumption, urging them to realize their social and ethical responsibilities. It is all about designing for human needs, not human wants. Design, then, must be reframed towards a practice that becomes local, participatory, and multidisciplinary.
Donal Schon's Reflective Practitioner presents a knowledge framework that stresses using a continuous cycle of knowledge and reflection.
Using the metaphor of surviving through design, I decided to create a first aid kit. The kit would be a collection of items, each item representing a different design thinker. Each item would be visually different to reinforce this idea that design thinking is a debate and has been handed down generation by generation.
Because the design thinking debate began in the 1960s, I wanted to create a kit reminiscent of this era.
kits from the 1960s
After landing on a concept, I starting thinking about digital design and fabrication. I chose my medical metaphors, sought out inspiration, and started creating digital and physical prototypes.
I designed my labels digitally in Illustrator, created quick prototypes using printer paper and medical bottles. To ensure metaphors translated, I maintained a continuous feedback loop with peers and professors.
1960s inspiration for herbert simon bottle
in progress labels and iterations
I used a number of materials and tools to assemble my kit–sticker paper, velum, laser cutters, and wide-format printers.
The final kit contains 16 different items, each inspired by a different aspect of the design thinking debate.
I would love to continue updating this kit by adding in the voices of various influential design thinkers (e.g., Horst Rittel and Donella Meadows). Further, I hope to see how this kit does in the wild.