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Design Thinking to Integral Design Is Design Thinking The New Elephant?

We all like using folk stories to illustrate our thoughts: a popular one of Indian origin is the one about the Blind men and the Elephant. As the story goes, six blind men try to understand what an elephant might look like — by touching different parts of the animal — and come up with their own interpretations.

Design Thinking - Six blind men and the Elephant?
Six Blind Men and the Elephant

Design – A New Elephant?

Design thinking has become a rage and design agencies and consulting companies are falling over themselves to offer their versions of Design Thinking. We ourselves have explored (and debated) different aspects of design thinking in previous blog posts.

In their article, A Bridge Not Too Far (Industrial Designers Society of America’s (IDSA) Innovation Magazine, Summer 2018 issue), Jeff Smith and Sunil Malhotra liken the current wave of design thinking to the elephant: it is seen differently by different people—all partly true, and partly wrong—while proposing a new framework that can provide a holistic view of the design discipline.

They introduce the Integral Design Framework as a way to connect the different aspects of design to one another. They describe design from philosopher Ken Wilber’s integral reality perspective.

Mapping Design to Wilber's Integral Reality Framework
Image credit: Integral Heart Foundation

“As the theory goes, everything in the human experience happens within these four dimensions of reality (individual and collective, internal and external). Our aspiration in using this framework is that it leads to a more definitive and holistic approach for all who seek to leverage design more fully.”

The upper left quadrant is the internal, individual – the ‘I’ – and represents Design Being. The internal collective, the ‘We’ is Design Doing. When ‘We’ externalise Design through systems, it is Design Thinking, which drives Design Results.

Mapping these dimensions on Wilber’s Integral theory is the first step towards understanding the discipline.  The authors are optimistic about the possibilities to further describe, correlate, and develop the idea into a thesis for business leaders.

Start reading A Bridge Not Too Far here.

Integral Design Framework
Integral Design

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The author is a consulting designer & design thinking facilitator with Ideafarms. An avid storyteller, she enjoys connecting disparate dots to create stories.

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