Does Design Scale?

From a LinkedIn discussion about Design Scale:

“At the DTUC 2011 event, the newly crowned Poet Laureate of Design Thinking (Sudhir Desai) provocatively suggested that “design thinking doesn’t scale”. This kind of thought is also prevalent in a TED talk by Geoffrey West ( on the scalability of cities (brought to our attention by Andrew Fung). Yet, others like Andrea Yip have proposed the idea of a universal language of design by using the analogy of the periodic table of design thinking ( So does design thinking scale? Or is it something that is universal and needs the right catalyst to move to the next level?”

Watch this video, dated 1977 and let me know your opinion about it.

Mine? I do perfectly agree with John Feland ”  Maybe it’s humans that don’t scale. You’ve seen the research that says functional groups shouldn’t be bigger than 200-300 people (Gladwell mentioned something about this in Tipping Point with WL Gore and associates as the prime example).Could you design thinking to boil the ocean? Yes, but not at once. It could be that the situations where DT doesn’t scale are the ones where we’ve zoomed out our “design-o-meter” to a level of abstract where the only visible progress made is in the abstract realm, not the tangible and we need several cycles of iteration to transition the abstract frameworks at the broad level to the tangible, digestible chunks of the lower levels. This harkens back to the Eames video, Powers of 10. Imagine trying to solve global warming at the scale of the universe. Think of it as trying to edit the drop shadow on a logo zoomed out to a kilometer. Every attempt at precise motion oversteps your intentions terrible. The reverse is also true, you can’t paint a house one paint dot at a time, well you could but it would be impractical. The issue with the inability to scale DT has more to do with being explicit about the level of abstract we are working at and what level of abstract the context demands. Most of the popular DT tools are focused on the tangible and need that abstract slice and guidance to be effective. Back to pushing pixels around with code… Design does not scale”


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