Dancing with Ambiguity: design thinking in theory and practice

 Larry Leifer    leiferat signcdr.stanford.edu
Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University
Director, Stanford Center for Design Research
Director, Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Program at Stanford

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 9, 2010
, 12:50pm, Gates B01

Over the past thirty years, a powerful methodology for innovation has emerged. It integrates human, business and technical factors in problem forming, solving and design: "Design-Thinking." This human-centric methodology integrates expertise from design, social sciences, business and engineering. It is best implemented by high performance project teams applying diverse points-of-view simultaneously. It creates a vibrant interaction environment that promotes iterative learning cycles driven by rapid conceptual prototyping. The methodology has proven successful in the creation of innovative products, systems, and services.

Design-thinking works. Industry is subscribing to boot camps and executive education workshops. Teams of industry, government and education experts are tackling complex problems and finding powerful solutions. The time is right to apply rigorous academic research to understand how, when and why design thinking works and fails. It is time to create next generation design thinking behaviors and supporting tools.

Through courting ambiguity, we can let invention happen even if we cannot make it happen. We can nurture a corpus of behaviors that increase the probability of finding a path to innovation in the face of uncertainty. Emphasis is placed on the questions we ask versus the decisions made. A suite of application examples and research finding will be used to illustrate the concepts in principal and in action.


Larry Leifer is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering Design and founding Director of the Center for Design Research (CDR) at Stanford University. A member of the faculty since 1976, he teaches the industry sponsored master's course ME310, "Global Project-Based Engineering Design, Innovation, and Development;" a thesis seminar, "Design Theory and Methodology Forum;" and a freshman seminar "Designing the Human Experience." Research themes include: 1) creating collaborative engineering design environments for distributed product innovation teams; 2) instrumentation of that environment for design knowledge capture, indexing, reuse, and performance assessment; and 3), design-for-sustainable-wellbeing. His top development priority in the moment is the Hasso Plattner Design-Thinking-Research Program and associated "Electronic Colloquium on Design Thinking Research," a peer commentary journal.

The talks are open to the public. They are in the Gates Building, Room B01 in the basement. The nearest public parking is in the structure at Campus Drive and Roth Way.

View this talk on line at CS547 on Stanford OnLine.

Titles and abstracts for previous years are available by year and by speaker.