Design Thinking for the Global Community in an Era of Disruption

  • Madlen D. Simon University of Maryland


What can the entrepreneur’s version of design thinking teach architects practicing globally in an era of disruption? A literature survey and comparative analysis of design thinking in architecture and the business community leads to a set of recommendations for architectural educators preparing students to enter a rapidly changing, globalized practice environment. Two aspects of design thinking particularly relevant to this endeavor are teamwork and problem definition. Architectural projects often begin with a defined problem that embodies its solution. Typically, a client seeks an architect when the organization has determined that it needs a building. The architect’s design challenge contained within that solution space. Programming process refines that design challenge by defining elements, qualities, and performance requirements of any potential solution. Programming may be performed by the design architect, but often by a consultant, and considered additional services. Consequently, architects often enter the scene after the problem has been defined. Design thinking in architecture tends to focus on individual cognitive processes. By contrast, the entrepreneurial community stresses the importance of discovering the right problem to solve. The foundation of this process is empathy; the underlying theory is that a product or service will only be embraced if it addresses the needs, desires, and emotions of its users. The next step is to define the problem, based upon insights gained through empathizing. At this point in the process, the solution is still far in the distance. Defining the problem is like discovering a research question in what Herbert Simon termed the science of the artificial (Simon 1996), pursuit of knowledge about what might be. Entrepreneurial design thinking tends to focus on collaborative process and value of diverse teams. Lessons from this form of design thinking can prepare students for a practice environment characterized by diversity and disruption of familiar institutions and typologies.

How to Cite
Simon, M. (2018). Design Thinking for the Global Community in an Era of Disruption. ARCC Conference Repository.