Design Thinking Course

Charles Burnette received his BA, MA and PhD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania where he was also a Charles BurnetteResearch Associate doing research on the uses of information during design. A licensed, award winning architect, he became Director of the Philadelphia AIA, founding Director of the Center for Planning Design and Construction in Philadelphia, and Dean of the School of Architecture, the University of Texas at Austin. He returned to teaching to become the Director of the Industrial Design Department at the University of the Arts, both while co-directing the Design Based Education K-12 Program. The graduate program was conceived and implemented to explore the design thinking model and to demonstrate its potential in a computer support system for interdisciplinary design.

Dr. Burnette has been a frequent speaker in European design schools and at the European Union’s Cumulus Program on Design Education and is widely published on topics such as design management, design systems, ecological design and design education. He is now writing a book about the design model, its foundations in cognitive science and its application.

The seven principles of Dr. Charles Burnette’s IDeSiGN:

  1. I is for intending
  2. D is for Defining
  3. e is for Exploring
  4. S is for Suggesting
  5. i is for Innovating
  6. G is for Goal getting
  7. N is for kNowing

Download PDF Transcript of Podcast

Note: This is a transcription of a podcast. It has not gone through a professional editing process and may contain grammatical errors or incorrect formatting.

Related Podcast: A Platform for Teaching Design Thinking

Transcription of the Podcast

Joe Dager:  Welcome, everyone. This is Joe Dager, the host of the Business 901 podcast.

With me, today is Charles Burnett. Charles is a licensed, award?winning architect, design researcher, frequent speaker and teacher of Design Thinking. A storied career in design and I am honored to have him on the program.

Charles, could you update with me, with what you are doing presently?

Charles Burnett: I’m primarily writing, at the moment, about Design Thinking. I talk a bit, but not that much, now. Barcelona was the last time in November that I was really overseas with it. I’m really doing what I should have done a little earlier, which is get it all in writing in a way that’s digestible to people.

Joe:  Is there a book in the making?

Charles:  Yes, but it’s been in the making for a number of years. Don’t count on publication tomorrow.

Joe:  What intrigued me about your background is your teaching in Design Thinking and especially with younger people. You developed a design?based education K through 12 model. What prompted that at the beginning?

Charles: Basically, that’s where we have to start. We have to start with kids and teach them the value of Design Thinking and the critical thinking that comes with it. Design is just a lot of fun. Kids really need that in their daily educational experience, too. They need to have a goal?directed kind of efforts, their own goals, mostly, fulfilled in ways that they have actually brought about. They really need to learn by doing, and it’s a nice way to get Design Thinking out there.

Joe:  Is the program still being utilized?

Charles: Here and there, and every now and then there’s an interest to start it going again, for example, in India and Colombia and places like that. Korea. I’m no longer at the university, which is where most of my work, in this area, was done in the K through 12.

I got very interested in what the design council in England was doing to bring design into the national curriculum, which it succeeded in doing. We set about to bring design into the classroom around the university and move from there on to teaching teachers and statewide programs and things like that.

It was very important to me, to simply influence a younger generation to take over and go with it. Take advantage of what powers it offers.

Joe:  Design Thinking seems to be the rage now with IDEO and Service Design Thinking. You seem to have done a large part of your work beforehand. How do you think Design Thinking has evolved and why the popularity, now?

Charles: I think people realize that just doing things the same-old way isn’t necessarily the right way to go. The problems are different. They have to improve the circumstances they confront. Problems are more complex.

There are a whole lot of reasons, more or less; design has to come into play now. It’s not just a pretty little detail on a product or even the product itself anymore. It’s the bigger issues. Service Design is a common one in a very strong way. A lot of other recognitions are coming out.

Business schools are realizing that they have to have a way to improve circumstances. Design is that way. It’s broader, more general thing than most people think of.

Joe: I find your iDesign model intriguing, and you related it to purposeful thinking so much. So many people think design, is the artsy type stuff, is all about the free spirit; it’s not purposeful thinking, but you look at it that way.

Charles: To me, Design Thinking really extends purposeful thinking in a way that makes it more innovative and more aimed at higher values; improving the world, improving any problem that you address. Coming up with a new scientific answer, or even a new song, is a creative act, and it involves Design Thinking, whether people understand it that way or not. You can design anything. You can design a house. You can design a product, and you can design an experience.

You still use the same mental skills, and attitudes, and ways of working to do that. They’re specialized by discipline or goal, by and large, but they’re still there. The same mental capacities are involved.

Joe:  What have you found the best way to introduce teaching Design Thinking to someone?

Charles: Getting them engaged in the process of designing, getting them engaged in a collaborative design process. What I mean by that is, working with other people to design something using a formal, structured method, the one that I call the “iDesign” model.

The reason it’s formal in structure is that it gives people something to hang on to and to talk through. It’s sort of a language. It’s a way of saying, “Oh; I’m talking about this now,” and you’re only talking about one aspect of the problem. It’s an aid to communication; it’s an aid to thinking. It’s also necessary. You have to do all the things in the model to really do anything purposeful.

Crossing a street is one example I like to use because it’s so simple. You never think of it as involving design, purposeful thinking, or Design Thinking, but it truly does. To give you an idea, or a quick summary, you have the need and desire to cross the street. You have to get the information about the conditions on the street and your relationship to them. Then you have to decide what critical relationships are. How fast are cars moving? When’s the light going to change?

All of that and then you have to come up with some plan, a proposal of what you’re going to do. You have to do it, and then you see as you do it, whether you’ve done it well, or you need to make a course correction in the process. Then you’d evaluate it and say, “Well, I’ll never do it that way again, or I’ll wait for the light instead of running across.”

All of those things are different ways of thinking about the same thing, just crossing the street.

Joe:  Did you develop the “iDesign” methodology?

Charles: Yes. It’s actually based on my PhD dissertation. It was basically a computer approach to architectural communications, but in order to explain the approach I came up with a problem solving method. A way of getting people involved in the process because it was just evident, to me, that they wouldn’t understand what I was talking about unless they experienced how it worked. That led to the teaching of models and using it at college levels and experimentally, even with companies.

I’ve used the model in many countries, in different schools and things like that. It’s been a very interesting way to go from a study of architectural communication, in effect to actually problem solving.

Joe:  Do you feel that there’s a difference in the “iDesign” model versus let’s say PDCA or the typical scientific methodology in problem solving?

Charles: It’s interesting because the scientific model is another form of the Design Thinking model. You can’t really disclose or write a scientific report, without using every distinction in the model.

You have to explain what your goals were. You have to say what the facts of the case are. You have to come up with the relationships you’re going to consider. Y have to describe the experimental situation and the actual way you conduct the experiment and your findings and what their significances are.

All of those distinctions are just the same ones you use in Design Thinking. Science and design are not that far apart. Business and design aren’t that far apart, either.

Joe:  How would you approach adults differently? Do you use the same basic methodology as you do with the K through 12 model?

Charles: Sure. There’s one way in which I’ve used it to teach teachers. What I mean are university professors in ways to collaborate and use the Design Thinking model. One of the ways that I do it sometimes is with table cards. Where there are seven people that sit around a table and each one takes the role of a certain way of thinking, and they’re responsible for it. They have to come up with things that relate and solve the problems that they all mutually decide to address.

Each one actually plays out the role that their cards represent. Other people see what their role is, and they contribute to it. Before long, they’re talking and helping one another. They’re all using the system to design.

If you take a team in business, and you put together seven disciplines, all of them really distinct from one another with responsibilities for their own discipline and they start trying to solve a problem together. You’re going to do better than just one person from one discipline. That’s part of the whole idea.

Joe:  Kind of the Edward De Bono type of six thinking hats there.

Charles:  De Bono’s done a lot of things that are quite related to this, the hats, for example. Every person wears the hat representing a different mode of thought.

I think what the iDesign method and the way of working with the role?-oriented problem-solving approach does, is it brings it all together in a very, usually understood way. Even kids can understand the ideas behind it and use it.

In Korea, we developed a whole website to support early-childhood learning, perhaps a little too early, from my point of view. The idea there is they have a lot of time with the kids after school, and the parents want them to learn all the time, all day long. So, there’s a real demand for that over there, where there isn’t in the US, possible to develop a computer-based thing in which interactive role playing was part of it, and showing how each role contributed to the solution of the problem.

Joe:  This can be done and learned virtually?

Charles: Oh, yes. I don’t know exactly what’s happened in the Korean model anymore because my former student, who launched me into it, left the company. They pulled down the animation from level to such a point that I’m not sure they really implemented it, as well as she had done when we started it off. I’m not sure exactly where they are now, is what I’m trying to say, but it’s a very big program.

Joe:  I always think of engineers. Should they receive more training in this type of design, or something similar to this model?

Charles: I think everyone comes close to it. How can I say that without sounding totally arrogant? What I mean to say is, Engineering Design is Design Thinking. They have their own way of doing it, but if you really get down at what they’re doing, you’ll find that, in all of it, these things are there. They’re just not drawn out as clearly, I think, as the model does.

Joe: The reason I ask that question is because much of today is; it’s gotten so cheap to prototype, so inexpensive to iterate and to solve problems by bringing the customer in with the different tools and methods that we have nowadays. Sometimes, less expensive to go out there and say, “Let’s try it,” or “Let’s show it to a customer,” versus completing a complete model and making something very formal. That is at the essence of most Design Thinking is prototyping and involving the customer.

Charles: Absolutely. That’s part of the model, as well. In other words, just whole idea, though, is that you don’t even get a rough model unless you have some idea of what you’re trying to make it represent. All the thought processes go into even the crudest thing, and if you prototype faster, terrific. That’s really good because it communicates well, three dimensionally, and often scales.

In fact, I used to teach industrial design, and ran a department and a graduate program in Industrial Design. Part of the processes was that we taught were very much the kinds of things that you’re talking about. We even created new ways of blending different elements of the design quicker, so that we could see where we were going and what we could integrate, and all those things.

The issues in a design are not…You don’t really make the final thing anymore, the first shot. Everybody knows that. The modeling methods can go from anything, paper. Frank Gehry’s an excellent example of an architect who uses every single way of representing his ideas that he can come up with, the most sophisticated computer representations, usually at the end of things rather than at the beginning.

Joe:  I was a young engineer, probably 26, 28, out in the field working on a product, and I did not appreciate what some guy told me at the time. He had years of wisdom, an older guy. He says, “Engineering really never starts until you turn the key.” It took me years to understand that. It was part of my maturity lesson, but it’s something that I always remember. I think that is so true, is that until it gets in the customer’s hands until you see actually how it’s used…

Charles: Absolutely. Also, going back to the education thing a bit, kids need the opportunity to fail without it being something that hurts them. Design, because it entertains failure so often, really is a good way to go. If you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done that way before, you always have a chance of not doing it well enough. That’s the chord here. That’s your point; I think.

Joe: Yes and I think the other part is that now that we’ve been moving from a goods-?dominant type logic thinking, a product-?centric thing; into a service economy, design has also moved from the rear of the process to the front of the process; it seems to me. I think more people need to be trained in design. That’s what intrigued me, because there should be simple methods that you can introduce to people.

Charles:  I think that once they see the issues involved, people learn really quickly. If you can get them to collaborate while they learn, extend it into their institutions or companies, then that’s even better.

We used to bring teachers for a summer institute to teach them for a couple of weeks the processes of designing that related to their lesson plans and everything else. The next year, we’d get them to bring five of their colleagues back for the same thing, and help them get grants and things to keep on going.

But trying to institutionalize the whole process, it’s very hard work. It is very discouraging. Because it’s hard to just get it into the minds of people that control the curriculums in schools. Same thing in companies, people who are used to being successful in one way continue to be that way without realizing that they could improve what they do.

Joe: I’m a sales and marketing guy. I look at Design Thinking, and the tools as great tools for sales and marketing people to learn, because you stop looking at yourself internally. In your background, your experience, have you seen where this makes good evidence for sales and marketing to learn Design Thinking?

Charles: My opinion is it ought to permeate the company, all the way from the main office right down to the janitor or whatever. Toyota taught us that everybody on the assembly line could contribute new ideas, and I think that’s really true. It’s not just sales. It’s everybody that ought to learn about Design Thinking, but sales definitely.

If you look at sales and marketing, they’re right at the hub of Design Thinking, how you communicate what it’s all about, what your product or your service or whatever you’re trying to market or sell is.

We have a little character in the animations in Korea called Mary Media. She was basically the person who explained everything to everybody. If that’s not sales and marketing, I don’t know what is.

For sure, the central part of design is coming up with the representation of what you want to do for the thing itself. Today communicates very well to their intended audience, the customer, whatever.

So, it’s key for sales. It’s key for production. It’s key for accounting. It’s the key for resource specification. Everything that one does to create a product or service could benefit from Design Thinking.

Joe:  Could you briefly go over the iDesign model and what it stands for?

Charles: The iDesign model, you can explain it in as complicated a way as needed, or as simple a way as needed. The first part of the model is intentional thinking. What it is, what’s your goal? What are you concerned about? What do you want to do?

The next part of the model involves referential thinking. What kind of resources? How do you describe them? How do you define them? How do you find them? You really are looking for the things that might help you reach your goal. If your goal is to make something that won’t show stains, then it depends on what the problem is, but it runs all over the place. Stainless steel is a resource for some things, and so forth.

The third part of the model is analogical thinking. It’s associate thinking. It’s centered all the things that brings ideas out as networks and is expressed in networks or linkages between one thing, and another, and that’s called relational thinking in the model.

There are seven parts, and I’ll tell you why in a minute but the fourth one is formative thinking which is how you express your thoughts and how you express your proposals and the conclusions that you think you’ll reach, how you project the word to the audience, how you use the media that are available to you. I mean; language is one medium, but so it television and what have you. You have to represent your ideas for the medium and the audience, of the user that you’re addressing.

Then there is procedural thinking, a kind of time sequence. What do I do next? How can I be a better craftsman? How can I reach a state of flow where I’m doing everything at the best of my ability and being challenged all the time?

After that, there is evaluative thinking, where you’re constantly judging what you’ve done with respect to your intentions and the situation that you’re in. Evaluating what you achieved and going with it that way.

Then the final one, the seventh one is reflective thinking where you commit your prior thoughts to memory, you edit them, or you assimilate them into what you already know. When you come around again to a new situation which always occurs in the formative thought, your perceptions then you use reflective thinking to call on what you know to interpret what you’re experiencing.

That starts the whole process and usually if you want to keep on going with that train of thought once you have interpreted your situation from reflective thought, and nothing is wrong. You understand it because you’re there, and then there’s no real stimulus for intentional thinking because you already have the knowledge that you need.

But if you went into a slight need or desire of any type, then that’ll kick intentional thinking and the process starts going again. I don’t know if I gave you a model of the kinds of thinking, but also a bit of a clue about how they work together or get started and kick one another off.

Joe: Oh, I think you do, and you mentioned in there, why are there seven?

Charles: Well, it is short-term memory, or you have seven plus or minus two, the magical number seven plus or minus two.

One of the things I did early on was to get every sort of categorization that I could find of things that attempted to be comprehensive. All of those invariably you could map them into seven plus or minus two distinctions. Nobody wants to pay any attention to more than that.

Joe:  What would you like someone to take away from this conversation as far as from Design Thinking? If you could leave a message with someone, what would you like it to be?

Charles: Well, try it out. Go to and pretend you are who you are and just use the information, whether you are a teacher, a student, or anything, and you’ll find that it’s useful. Or if you can get seven friends to sit down and role play then do that.

I have a set of table cards that I often send to people, which are great because, on one side, they say what you’re supposed to do and what you’re responsible for. On the other side, they say the same thing, but they are pointed towards the other people in the group. The group can teach themselves to use this model just by themselves.

Say going into a company that decided they started a little side exercise in Design Thinking but just do this with seven people who wanted to do it and have a little group and then a larger group.

I have done it with 50 people at a time so anybody can use it just to think with or to write with, to structure their writing or to collaborate with others or to compute with. It is very computer-oriented. It started with computers to begin with.

Joe:  If someone wanted to learn about iDesign, is the website the best place to learn about it?

Charles: Unfortunately, now it is. I have a bunch of papers that I have been putting on deal with different aspects on it that I’m trying to address in this book. There are papers on emotions, on philosophy, on things that have to be in any theory of Design Thinking and a short version of design theory itself, which was prepared after I went down to do a talk or to a workshop in Australia.

I think there are issues when you come to a conference on Design Thinking you think you understand Design Thinking, and your mind isn’t open to any kind of systematic approach to it. It’s more open to what you think about it.

It takes a bit of doing to get people to open their mind to the possibility that the little seven-part theory could help them get into the swing of things with Design Thinking.

Joe: I have to ask you one other question that came to my mind. I look at engineers, and I look at the other disciplines of what I would call design, and it seems that architecture always are the people that really dig into design and talk about Design Thinking. The others talk about engineering or the other kind of stricter disciplines. Why do you think that’s so? Why do you think architecture has always been out there with the Design Thinking concepts?

Charles: I think it’s because architects get the broadest education conceivable in any discipline because they tend to have to deal with all the problems in construction, and they have to deal with all the problems with landscaping. It’s a broader culture that they have to have. They have to understand art. It’s a broad discipline that touches a lot of the bases, one of the best educations in the world; I think.

I’m a former dean of the School of Architecture, so I hope you don’t mind if I say that.

Joe:  No, not at all. I also think that architecture has a tendency to be more of a people discipline versus engineering. Would you agree with that?

Charles: Yes, I really would. Engineering tends to have a mindset in the procedural thinking way of Design Thinking. In other words, they are interested in function, process, production, and things that are important. Don’t get me wrong.

Engineering design can be fabulous. They can come up with things as creatively as anyone else. I mean, just look at the Segway Scooter, for example. That’s almost a purely engineering achievement, and there are many others too like that. I think they can be as creative as they want to be from their disciplinary point of view.

I do agree with you that they tend to be more focused on the product and getting it out than on the people who use it, and that’s where architecture can’t be. I mean; they sometimes are. They sometimes get wrapped up in their own pursuit of style, and they really have to consider the occupancy of the building that they are so busy creating.

But as well as they should I think they consider it, but it’s one of so many things that they have to consider.

Joe: I enjoy you using the example; I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but using the Segway example because, from an engineering perspective, it was a marvel, from a design perspective it never addressed the uses of it well enough to be able to be a popular product. I’d say it could’ve used more of a design approach in it.

Charles:  Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to give it that bad of a rap because it was up against cultural obstacles. For example, where do you use a Segway? Is it on the street, a sidewalk, or both? If you were limited to that speed, 12 miles per hour or something like that. Isn’t that too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for the streets?

There were a lot of conflicts because there was no infrastructure to support the Segway. So when you get it doing things like police patrols or guided tours or scooting around a factory to find things then it’s in its element. I mean, again no it wasn’t an innovation where the infrastructure issues are well respected. It was an invention where you have to have a whole new infrastructure.

I think it was an engineering marvel, and Raymond Loewy had a saying that the “most advanced yet acceptable.” Well, yet the acceptable part wasn’t quite up.

Joe:  Well, I’d like to thank you very much Charles. I appreciate it. Again, the website on this is This podcast will be available on the Business 901 blog site and also the Business 901 iTunes store. Thanks again, Charles.

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