Trendspotting – Models of Man (In Design Thinking)
MODELS OF MAN
(IN DESIGN THINKING)
This article on Design Thinking focuses on the humanistic part of the equation and
the evolutionary trend in methods used.
It is partly built on the work of Bousbaci (2008), “Models of Man” in Design Thinking:
The “Bounded Rationality” Episode.
The “Generation Game” of Design Thinking methods (Bousbaci, 2008):
• Pre-Generation Game: Before late 1950s, the design process had been referred
largely as an intuitive and artistic form and the designers of that era (A.K.A “Models
of Man”) are known as the “intuitive and artistic” designer.
• First Generation Method: Between late 1950s to 1967, model of man is known as
the “rational and logical” designer.
• Second and Third Generation Methods: Between 1967 to 1983, the “Second
(participatory & argumentative) and Third (pattern language) generation design
methods” took place in parallel. The model of man is known as the “bounded
• Post-Generation Game: From 1983 and beyond, Nigel Cross proposed a “post-industrial”
design paradigm known as “reflective turn”. Echoed by Donald Schon in
1983’s “reflective practice” and the model of man being known as “reflective
In this “rationality of reflection-in-action” period, the research is more comprehensive
and had included issues such as poetical, rhetorical, phenomenological,
hermeneutical and ethical. Notably, the abandonment of “problem-solving process” to
a more pragmatic and phenomenological concept of “situation”.
Bousbaci (2008) argued that Design Thinking, as a movement, is based around the
philosophical idea of the models of man of:
(A) philosophical assumptions of the designer or
(B) users of design results
It is a largely plausible idea that Design Thinking has been placing its focus of
methods on the designer, and in the latest iteration—the user—as echoed by Kimbell
(2012), based on evidences of the coincidental chronological order of the Design
Thinking methods and a coherent model of man (Bousbaci, 2008).
However, in his paper, he failed to consider opposing viewpoints and has a large
element of confirmation bias in his line of reasoning. His main argument of the
generation game in Design Thinking evolving around a corresponding model of man
was predicated on the implicit assumption of causal link between the two.
And in the “Reflective Practice” period, the proposed model of man, is a descriptor
for practitioners who practiced reflective processes, that in effect, is a tool / method
employed by the designers but not explicitly, a proper model of man.
In reality, most recent advocates of Design Thinking are still using “Problem-Solution”
models as described by Vianna et al (2011), Brown & Wyatt (2010), and The
Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (Kaufman & Sternberg, 2010) in their trade, as
opposed to the more pragmatic and phenomenological concept of “situation” as
claimed by Bousbaci (2008).
Based on the premise of knowing what is the causal link for the evolution of Design
Thinking methods, this article argues that the future method trend is predictable (and
a paradigm shift is long due).
If the above argument is true, practitioners should be able to foretell a credible
upcoming trend, act on it, and to enable them to be the change they want to see.
A.K.A “Change Agents”.
LINE OF REASONING
Model of man as Design Thinking method evolution driver
This article has established the credible evidences cited by Bousbaci (2008). The
shortcoming, however, is the lack of opposing viewpoint(s), and some flaws of logic.
Here, I attempt to investigate one of the major flaw of logic entailed in the critique
The “Reflective Practitioner” model appears to be a misnomer. As it was coined after
the practitioner who adopted the reflective method of design, as opposed to be the
state of knowledge about man.
However, leaving the name aside, in the same trend as the generations that
predated this, a critically acclaimed formulation of “Prospect Theory” psychological
knowledge state (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979)—which paved way for “Behavioural
Economics” (Heukelom, 2006) as we know it today—was established just prior to the
paradigm shift to “Reflective Practice” methods in 1983.
Previous paradigm shifts:
Homo Economicus model definition in 1935 by Lionel Robbins (Sickert, 2009)
resulted in the adoption of “Rational Designer” and the ensuing “First Generation”
Design Thinking in the early 1950s led by the “Fourth Phase” Bauhaus movement.
Administrative Behavior (Simon, 1947); A behavioral model of rational choice (Simon,
1955) resulted in the adoption of “Bounded Rationality Designer” and the ensuing
“Second & Third Generation” Design Thinking in 1967.
There is still a remote possibility of the above events happening in parallel,
uncorrelated, and as a coincidence. But the rate of probability is extremely low.
And hence, it is reasonably deductive that the “Reflective Practice” method was
adopted at 1983, as an aid to help the designer-in-practice that is laden with the
discovered heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979), as a constant reality
check, to help in self-awareness during the design process.
With the lack of qualitative data at this juncture, I will cite my own career path as an
example: Reflective thinking and practice has always been a big part of my work
processes, as an art based creative, I tend to let emotion get the better of me.
Reflecting on the work and processes allows me to learn from every saga and they
act as lampposts in illuminating my career path.
Current paradigm shift in the known state of man
Bounded rationality is proving to be flawed with the rise of “Experimental Psychology”,
and the shift of Psychology from the “Arts”, to the “Sciences”.
Through the use of purposefully designed experiments, we now know that the
“Bounded Rationality” theory by Simon (1947 & 1955) and its definition of “The
behaviour of human beings who satisfice because they do not have the wits to
maximise” is flawed.
In The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More (Schwartz, 2004), the author
(specialising in “Choices”) found out through his research experiments, that all
humans both Maximise and Satisfice, in different aspects of their lives. Not because
they do not have the capability but due to a matter of personality, beliefs, values etc.
And knowledge did not influence whether a person tend to “Maximise” or “Satisfice”,
as claimed by Simon (1947).
And in the landmark paper by Kahneman (2003), the “Dual-Process Theory” was
refined and proposed. It is reasoned that the System 2 of cognition, is for deliberation
and slow thoughts. Predominantly used if a person wants to “Maximise”. While the
System 1, is the quicker and heuristics based system to make “Automated Decisions”
on the fly. It is this System 1 cognition that is most prone to mistakes and irrationality.
And whilst the System 2 do usually make a more informed decision, it is dependent
on the knowledge state of the person and has also proven in numerous research
experiments to be highly susceptible to irrationality too. Hence not being able to
“Maximise” as they desired to.
A large body of research work is being done by renown psychologists and
neurologists all over the world in the recent few years on the topic of “Irrationality”.
Notable researchers such as Loewenstein, Kahneman, Ariely, Schwartz, Cialdini
have contributed greatly to the advancement in this subject matter.
Especially in Predictably Irrational (Ariely, 2008); Upside of Irrationality (Ariely, 2011);
Influence (Cialdini, 2001); Yes! (Goldstein et al, 2008); numerous research
experiments were done to prove how irrational humans are and how irrationality
affects their preferences, choices, decisions, habits, levels of happiness etc. Even
the researchers themselves, knowing full well in this subject matter, fall into the trap
of irrationality too (Ariely, 2008).
On the other hand, Behavioural Economics and the accompanying “Irrational” model,
may simply be an academia hot air, with lots of hype propagated by advocates
wanting academese currency.
However, several real world examples such as the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team
A.K.A “Nudge Unit” that sits in the Cabinet Office (Gov UK, 2013); Behavioural
Economics and Policy Design: Examples from Singapore (Low, 2012); incorporation
of Behavioural Economics into Advertising by agencies such as #OgilvyChange ;
Outmoded “Reflective Practice” Design Thinking method push factor
While thinking reflectively and prototyping are great tools to be self-aware and as a
constant reality check against irrationality, the underlying “Problem-Solution” method
of frame creation is falling out of favour.
Numerous practitioners (as cited in the Critique section) including those in my
personal experiences with the Advertising industry, are still trapped in the “Problem-
Solution” dogma and have not evolved as claimed by Bousbaci (2008), to the
pragmatic and phenomenological approach.
An interesting phenomenon observed during my coaching sessions with my team
members and clients, I find that they are finding it difficult to “see” briefs as the
problem space and much less being capable of frame creation and reframing
Evidences point to the over-reliance of the practitioner’s level of knowledge,
expertise and experiences to accurately frame the problem state (Razzouk & Shute,
2012; Dorst, 2011) as a key driver to the failure of this Design Thinking method.
In my personal work experiences, I find this method effective. It is highly probable
that it is attributed to the years of expertise / experiences I have accrued. And I will
not be able to say for sure if a newer method will work better, or not, at this juncture.
In view of the above analysis thus far; the relatively low success rate of Design
Thinking – 4% success rate of new products in the United States (Vianna et al, 2013);
Design thinking hinging on the humanistic part of the equation as detailed in the
Global Innovation Index 2014, The Human Factor in Innovation (Dutta et al, 2014); I
will borrow a thought-starter from Darke (1979). She suggested that the most
interesting direction for design thinking to take now is to find further ways of “looking
inside the designer’s head” of exploring subjectivity.
By projecting Design Thinking’s evolution trajectory path based on the findings from
this article, and with the most relevant and current model of man (that has been
critically reviewed and acclaimed) at the time of writing, I propose, that Design
Thinking to be shifted to the “Irrational Model of Man”.
And with this “Irrational Model of Man”, the Design Thinking method can also change
from the problem focused method, to a promise focused method (Rultenberg et al,
2012). In which, just akin to the old school of psychology being problem focused of
rectifying the patients back to normal, the promise focused school of positive
psychology has taken a new spin, and has proven to be able to improve the
happiness index in humans (Seligman/TED, 2004). Rultenberg et al (2012) have
demonstrated various case studies of products designed in a promise focused
Design Thinking method, and to yield effective results amongst the users tested.
Most, if not all, of the research work done thus far in Design Thinking had been
through observations, qualitative, quantitative, focus group analysis etc. (Vianna et al,
2013) But in this “Irrational Model of Man”, we have established that focus group test
subjects are not able to objectively and rationally, provide an accurate answer to their
frame of mind, feelings, or projection of their feelings when using the test product /
idea in the real world (Loewenstein & Schkade, 1997).
Thus, it is also recommended to shift the research to an experiment-based method.
Whereby subjects are put through experiments specially designed to test the various
hypothesis and conditions. And in cases that are viable, use fMRI brain scans to help
identify affected neuro regions and neuron-synaptic connections so as to better
understand the real feelings of the “Irrational Man” (Ariely & Berns, 2010).
Researchers, however, need to bear in mind the ethical issues surrounding
experiment-based researches. It has been a highly debated issue in the academia
world, especially concerning the use of placebo in medical conditions (Trull &
This theoretical “Reflective Behavioural” method of Design Thinking, when used
properly, should be able to effectively help in designing products that are truly
human-centric, that can accurately predict real user experiences, and can improve
the lives / happiness / behaviours of the users (Fogg, 2009; Wendel, 2014).
In summation, this article looked at an overview of Design Thinking, as a movement,
how it evolved and where it is currently. Verified a hypothesis of Design Thinking
methods evolving around the known state of models of man.
Hence, giving an informed view of where this movement should be headed. By being
able to chart out the trend of Design Thinking, opens up the possibility to act on this
knowledge by cultivating the next crop of Change Agents.
Reason being, it has been established fairly deductively that the models of man have
been driving the design thinking methods; there is a paradigm shift in the known
state of man; and last but not least, the outmoded reflective practice method being
the push factor.
Thus, it is in my recommendations to relook the current “inaffective” reflective
practice method in the following ways:
• Shift from a problem focused to a promise focused method
• Shift to experiment based researches
• Shift to behavioural-changing aims
More researches should be done in this respect, to investigate and to build on this
hypothesis. Most importantly, test this hypothesis in the real world and in the hope of
the industry players adopting it.
At the time of writing and after deliberate considerations, the proposed “Irrational
Model of Man” and the accompanying “Reflective Behavioural” method, does look
like a probable Design Thinking method / model to shift to. It can be beneficial to this
entire industry if it works out. And with that in mind—hopefully—more Change Agents,
to design a better world.
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Brown & Wyatt, 2010. Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Stanford Social
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On reflection, this exercise has been a really humbling experience.
I have now experienced first hand, the difficulty of writing a good (let alone great) and
solid paper. Most valuable experience I reckon, is building a sound, logical, critical,
and considered argument based on the findings in the research process, that, does
not tear itself apart.
And as a learner, I realise there is a tendency to do the research work in a
“Confirmational Biasy” manner. In fact, I noticed many authors of journals are exactly
guilty as charged too. So, it comes as a consolation for me as I am a mere mortal
Thus a big part is to avoid falling into the Confirmation Bias rut. It is not easy, but
certainly possible. Objective. Objective. Objective.
I feel that the methods taught by Hyper Island are of great help in the whole process.
• Reflection Thinking
• Critical Thinking
• Group Dynamics
• Study Group
• Academic Writing
This exercise has, overally, challenged me to write THAT paper I have always been
aspiring to. And I am really glad that I have been given the push factor to get it done.
This is just the beginning and I really look forward to the big one, The Individual
Research Project, as the Grand Finale.