Design thinking
Design thinking

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Design thinking

2.3 Involving other people

If design is something that is able to improve our lives and shape our behaviour, it self-evidently originates from, and involves, people. In contrast to an activity like art, which often (though certainly not always) involves only one person in its production, design usually involves a number of people in several different roles. Design, then, is something that is inherently social or, put another way, something that creates social or cultural value. Of course, this value can come in a lot of different forms: ease and effectiveness of use, economic value, aesthetic value, functionality, meaningfulness, all these things and more contribute to the way in which design creates value.

Let’s think about the number of people that might be involved in design. First of all we have the designer themselves. For the moment we can assume that they are at the fulcrum of a design process. But perhaps there is more than one designer? If the product is complicated – a car, or a television, or a piece of software, for example – then there will be lots of designers working together. Even for seemingly simple products there will often be more than one designer involved.

The designer, or team of designers, is usually working on behalf of someone: the person we normally call the client. The client is the person who has the ‘unfulfilled need’ we mentioned earlier; they have a problem that needs solving and are usually prepared to pay to have it solved. The solution to their problem will often involve two further groups of people: manufacturers who will make the product, and users who will use or consume the product. Together these four groups form the core of people involved in design (Figure 4). Note that the design is at the centre of the dialogue with different stakeholders.

Described image
Figure 4 The people involved in producing a design

The role that these types of people play – designer, client, and user – can often overlap and, especially for design students, be the same person. Generally, however, these will be different people or groups of people. There are, of course, other groups involved. For example, makers ensure that what is being constructed is done so in appropriate ways. Market researchers may also be engaged to ask questions about the potential design.

In the past, the role of the designer was reasonably clear; the designer was the person who came up with the ideas and presented them to the client, who then chose the one they liked best. Designers also tended to stick to specific disciplines: graphic designers concentrated on graphics, architects on buildings, fashion designers on clothing, and product designers on products. In the past few years, though, a different kind of designer has emerged. This is a person who is able to bring together expertise to tackle more complicated problems, not necessarily problems that can easily be solved by just one discipline. This is a person who can ‘organise’ a solution by using a number of methods. An example of this kind of design is work that has been done in the NHS on improving healthcare services – you can find out a little more on this page [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

You can see the expertise that is available – doctors, nurses, managers, patients, technical staff, politicians even – who will all have an opinion on the best way to improve healthcare. The designer’s role here is to listen and help these different groups engage with one another in producing a solution to the problem. In a sense the designer is much quieter with this kind of design, more of a listener and thinker than a presenter of ideas; a producer of quiet design!

Activity 8 Different people

Imagine that you are designing a new countryside footpath for the National Trust after the completion of a new road. List the types of different people that you might involve to help you arrive at a solution that would please everyone.


You might have:

  • Different types of walker
  • People who maintain the footpaths
  • Countryside alliances
  • Naturalists and conservationists
  • Walkers’ organisations
  • Landowners
  • Local council members
  • Road builders.

And that is in addition to the stakeholders outlined above – the makers and the clients!

You see how complicated design can be! Everyone has an opinion on what they think should be done, and it is the designer’s job to evaluate these and weigh them against each other. And sometimes it's not possible to please everyone.

Activity 9 Watch

This video features people involved in the design thinking field, and will provide you with a perspective on design thinking. The video runs for 4 minutes, during which our guest designers talk about what ‘design’ means to them.

Download this video clip.Video player: What is design?
Skip transcript: What is design?

Transcript: What is design?

Peter Lloyd
This video sequence gives you a number of different perspectives on design, creativity and design thinking. These perspectives also give a sense of the wider uses of design in shaping the world that we live in. You’ll see how design can be so much more than just producing nice objects.
Dori Tunstall
Design thinking for me has to do with levels of skill, but [also] that innate understanding of how you successfully understand what is going on in the world to be able to change it much more effectively.
Jan Chipchase
You can find inspiration everywhere, and so, just because you’re not in the office or on the work time doesn’t mean that you switch off. We’ve had some people talking about always being ‘on’. Maybe if you’re passionate about something you’re always ‘on’. It doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant or a teacher or whatever.
Hilary Cottam
Dieter Rams gave me my prize and he said ‘This is really, really exciting because the best chair and the best shelf have been built now, so let’s use these skills for shaping society.’ So that was also really nice.
Jan Chipchase
When I was doing a Masters in user interface design, that really opened up my eyes to, actually design isn’t about designing bits - [widgets] and pencils. I think it’s about psychology and culture and all of these other things. That’s where the hook is.
Dori Tunstall
What is possible in the future is the real connection to me with design, in being able to develop the tools of how you approach that. This idea of trying to define what is possible in the future is to me the magic that happens.
Hilary Cottam
You just constantly need to ask the same questions from a different perspective. So the theory helps that. Design definitely helps it because you are asking from a really unusual lens, so partly people aren’t sure where you’re coming from and also you begin to see the problem in a very different way. So I think that’s really important.
Rachel Lowe
Creative thinking isn’t about creating it yourself. Creative thinking is about having your creative idea and then finding the way to make it happen.
Dori Tunstall
An aspect of definitions that I’ve been finding really valuable to talk about is the ‘Big D, little d’. Big Design is what we think of as … in a Herbert Simon kind of way, changing existing conditions to those that are more desirable. And that’s what everyone does. I mean, that is how we live as human beings. Everyone does that. Then there is ‘little d’ design, which is about having this innate ability in many ways but also a very skilled training sometimes in figuring out how elements of design like form and colour and all these sorts of things, actually translate abstract values into tangible experiences.
Rachel Lowe
I believe the key to creativity is your own intuition and not being influenced by other people. Along the way I had to learn to trust my intuition and trust myself.
Hilary Cottam
Everything we do costs less money. That’s the first thing we say, is that we’ll design you something - the process of working with us might cost money, but actually the solution will save you money in the end.
End transcript: What is design?
What is design?
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