“So you want to think like a designer?…”

Here is a hypothetical conversation between three different designers (a engineer, graphic designer and AC4D student) and their thought process. This conversation strongly reflects the  views of Pacione’s “Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy”, Brown & Wyatt’s Design Thinking for Social Innovation.

Engineer: What do you even learn in design school?

AC4D Student: I do what you do: “imagine something that doesn’t exist and then plot the path from imagination to existence” (In the words of Pacione)

Engineer: So you think you can do what we do?

AC4D Student: well, the similarity is that we all solve problems. Entertain this: “how would each of you design something to solve “Food Waste”

Engineer: Obviously people need a garbage can. Let see, an average person can easily pick up about 10lb of weight therefore a garbage can that yields 4 gallons would work. The dimensions would be have something like a 36″ height and 24″ diameter. I’d have to be made out of galvanized aluminum to be not only light weight but recognizable- you know that iconic silver aluminum trash can.

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The graphic designer reached for napkin to sketch on. 

Graphic Designer: “I would make a reciprocal that is pleasing to the eye and simple. I would label it “trash” in san serif font. I probably should add an interesting feature like a pedal to open the lid. I have a feeling that will be a big seller!”

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AC4D student: I like both your ways of approaching the problem. One solutions is subjective- rooted in what we know and designing how things are. The other more objective that utilizes intuition and designing how things ought to be. They answer the question: “What do we use to dispose food waste?” However what would you design if you answered the question: “How do people dispose of their food waste and Why?” I first must acknowledge that it is a wicked problem.

The student then highlighted examples of how “food waste” is a wicked problem as outlined by Rittel & Webber.

  1.  Managing food waste is not about a right or wrong solution but rather a good or bad. A trash can is a perfectly good solution and there are hundreds of different plausible solutions that fall on the scale of bad to good.
  2. Keep in mind that food waste is a symptom of a larger problem. For example, in USA, 40% of prepared food goes to the garbage. This mentality is an influencing factor to the problem of food waste disposal.
  3. “the designer has no right to be wrong”; He or she is responsible for any unintended consequences of a design. For example our current food waste system leads to turtles getting caught in soda can plastic thing. In a way, that responsibility is on the designer.


AC4D student: Once I’ve thought about the scope of the problem, I will try to define the problem. I will observe in the kitchen how people interact with their food waste and document their behaviors. With this information I would then make a prototype and iterate. This whole theory or method, if you will, is related to the practice of”design-thinking”. A solution that best reflects the design thinking method would be the garbage disposal. It is integrated into behaviors of the user. They are at the counter preparing food or washing dishes, and the sink is a very convenient location to put food scraps. Then it get transported out of the house through plumbing. This cuts out the step of taking the waste to the curb than a truck takes it to a landfill. I am not proposing that this is the most optimal solution, but only a solution based on human behavior.

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Engineer: So did you come up with these methods  yourself?

AC4D Student: No I’m borrowing methods from other designers who practice Design-thinking. Currently there is not a true formalized discipline, like your fields.