Over the past decade “Design Thinking” has gained currency, initially within design agencies and their commercial work, in design education, and now within the public
and third sector. Design Thinking, as a methodology, it is claimed, solves problems – no matter what they are, no matter how hard. In the context of a wide-ranging critique of public service provision as costly, bureaucratic and often ineffective it is hardly surprising that some are looking to Design as the perfect partner for the Big Society. In this essay
we start by outlining the similarities between Design Thinking and the Big Society. Our attention then shifts to the messy and complex world of social problems and the potential of Design Thinking to intervene. We draw a distinction between the personal troubles of individuals and social problems, and argue that for Design Thinking to work within the latter, it needs to expand its conceptual toolbox. We argue for a refocus away from coming up with solutions to designing problems: for Design to actively, purposefully and reflexively participate in the making and molding of social problems. We then examine some of the features of Design that make it a strong candidate for being involved in such an activity as well as explore the demands that this will inevitably make on Design and designers.