Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Little Leonardo Da Vinci's

I participate in a few groups on LinkedIn and noticed something very interesting in two of them shortly after joining.  Much to my surprise, there seemed to be broad disagreement over not only the definition of Design Thinking, but Industrial Design and Product Design as well. That hit close to home, as my undergraduate degree is in Product Design and my alma mater has been at the forefront of teaching Design Thinking for many years.

Rather than draw any hasty conclusions, I decided to research the use of the terms, some of which I've already shared in other posts. From my perspective, there wasn't much question regarding the definition of either - after all, my diploma declared that I was a Product Designer and the early methods of the Design Thinking had been taught by my professors.  But there is another area which deserves some consideration, having to do with "ownership" and use of those terms.

In a June 22, 2000, interview, Dean Hovey stated; "Bob McKim particularly was trying to create little Leonardo da Vinci's. A person who was diverse in their expertise, skilled in many things, and diverse enough to create a whole product."

Leonardo da Vinci - If he could lay claim to being the first Design Thinker, that would be very interesting.

Although both the comment and the concept initially struck me as smacking a bit of hubris, the association with Leonardo was particular disquieting.  (Mention his name and angels sing.)  Leonardo has become a modern icon of brilliant creativity and trans-disciplinary intelligence. For Hovey to suggest that what Robert McKim wanted was for Stanford's Product Design Program to produce "little Leonardo da Vinci's" bordered on blasphemy.

Then, I refreshed my memory of da Vinci's life.  Leonardo was an amazingly brilliant artist and inventor, however, there was one area where he really struggled; business.  He had little commercial success during his lifetime, constantly needed patronage and often left projects unfinished for years at a time.  Not Harvard MBA material. Today, Design Thinking is supposed to bridge art, engineering and business viability.  (Perhaps someone should tell Dave Kelley that DT's goal now surpasses even replicating Leonardo.)

Which takes us to another question; Who could claim the crown of being the original design thinker - if that is even possible?  Brown follows the breadcrumbs to Edison, but I'm not sure the physical form of his works qualify as "beautiful" or art, let alone any considerations of ergonomics, or even safety.

We just disqualified Leonardo because of his lack of business success... 

Of course, we can't overlook L. Bruce Archer.   A brilliant theorist and teacher of Industrial Design methods, 1962 his team designed solutions for several significant problems in British hospitals.

Regarding that effort Archer recalled that they presented a report to their client, the Nuffield Foundation, who expected a series of "beautifully presented designs for funny-looking cutlery for patients to use lying in bed, and possibly ingenious devices to hold up their reading books, and other such stuff." because, "That was 'what art schools did'.

Nuffield told Archer and his team "...to go away and never darken their doors again." Hardly a roaring success.

How about Harold van Doren?  He literally wrote the book on Industrial Design and his work is much more refined than Edison, even if they aren't the timeless Mona Lisas of consumer products;

I was really excited about Edison because he pushed the horizon all the way past 1900.

Surely, there has to be someone with the artistic flair of van Doren, or even Leonardo, the business sense of Warren Buffett and the consumer instincts of Thomas Edison... but who?

Send me your suggestions, and maybe you'll win a nice prize.  (No kidding!)

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