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Why design needs sports bars not design thinking

I don’t care about sports. I’m pretty much in agreement with this old cartoon.

However, I can describe sports rules and regulations quite easily. I do know the Off Side Rule.

Sports pervades school and then work. Most people know something to share in a meeting or at a dinner.

The embedded nature of sports in work is interesting when discussing the failure of design to similarly embed itself.

Thinking about design

I’m just back from the first O’Reilly Design conference and there were many talks and conversations about making design part of corporate life and how design thinking might be a tool to achieve that.

Oddly, mention of the latter methodology causes quite weird reactions. The announcement of IBM’s commitment to design thinking came across like someone rushing into a room shouting about how they’d discovered Cheers and it's a great series.

Not so much that it’s necessarily a bad thing to say; just that’s it’s an odd thing to say now so many years after it came out.

Dark matter

Tho perhaps not just that. Design seems too often framed within User Experience in engineering terms. As a tool. As something that, if only we could find the right screwdriver at the right time all would be good. The way people grab hold of an idea and put their hopes into Waterfall, Agile and SCRUM. This time it’ll work.

This time, now, that design thinking will work.

I was recommended to read Dan Hill’s critique of design thinking whilst at the conference. It’s available on Amazon. It’s very good and much, much shorter than some other critiques I’ve been recommended before. Look at Strategy without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action perhaps.

One of the points made is that design thinking comes out of management consultancy. It’s designed as an intervention not as a part of the system. It’s an ongoing sales request creating a dependency not a solution.

This is why I was thinking about sports. It is successfully embedded into corporate structures without even having anything to do with the actual purpose of the organisation.

What can design learn from sports?

Just a quick idea – why not mimic sports bars and create design bars?

Places to meet, drink and eat.

Places where people actively critique what they love and hate about their favourite things.

Sports is remarkable for being a long term shared discussion of failure. That’s why sports bars are needed – you need to share a drink when your teams fails to make the finals again.

That open critiquing, using historical examples of success, framed by in-depth knowledge of rules and techniques is something design needs too.

A design fiction

Imagine a bar with design classics on the walls.

Big screens playing movies that barflies flick popcorn at because the framing choice is cliched.

Tables where groups of people chat about the failure of a new website design.

A place where design is simply part of life.

Not design thinking. Just design (perhaps with Buffalo Wings).

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