Image Design Eraser

We can look at design entrepreneurship through a variety of lenses, including history, mindsets, perception, problems, cognition/reasoning, and tools and practices.

Designerly ways of knowing

The roots of design thinking theory go back to two streams of literature: the design literature, dating back to the 1960s; and management theory literature, starting around the turn of the millennium.[1] Most people date the origin of design thinking to Herbert Simon’s 1969 book Sciences of the Artificial. Simon wrote that ‘everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones’.[2]

Yet Simon’s notion was largely limited to architecture, engineering, and urban planning; the field had to wait until the 1980s, when Cross made the mental leap to ‘designerly ways of knowing’, to bridge the gap between architecture and social sciences. Cross’ conceptual breakthrough was to see design as one of three ‘cultures’ of knowing, alongside science (as in physics or chemistry but also the social sciences) and the humanities (as in arts and history). There are things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them that are specific to each discipline.

Designerly Ways of Knowing
Aldakhil, Bedour, “Designerly Ways of Knowing.” Designerly Ways of Knowing (blog), April 1, 2014.
  • What do we study: In science we study the natural world; in humanities the human experience. But in design we study the artificial world that is all around us.
  • How do we study each culture? In the sciences we use experimentation, analysis and classification; in the humanities analogy, metaphor, criticism and evaluation. However, in design we study pattern formation, synthesis and modelling.
  • What are the supreme values of each culture? In the sciences we value above all else objectivity, rationality, neutrality and truth; in the humanities subjectivity, imagination, commitment and justice. What makes design different is that here we value most highly practicality, ingenuity, empathy and appropriateness. [3]

Science, humanism, and design united through wicked problems

Despite this breakthrough, scientists, humanists and designers continued down their separate paths. Lawson lamented the situation that ‘the psychologists and sociologists have gone on researching and the designers designing, and they are yet to re-educate each other into more genuinely collaborative roles … the creators and users of environments often remain uncomfortably remote’.[4]

Wicked Problem
A wicked problem is challenging or impossible to solve.

The connections really came together in the 1990s when Rittel and Webber argued that design and planning should focus on wicked problems[5] and Buchanan noted that design thinking could address intractable human concerns.[6] A wicked problem is a problem, usually social or cultural, that is challenging or impossible to solve because not enough is understood about either the problem, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of varying opinions, the economic burden, or the impact of these problems on other problems.

Design Thinking and the New Liberal Arts

Cross originally argued that design should be considered part of general education because, quite like science and the humanities, design develops unique innate abilities in solving real-world, ill-defined problems and sustains unique forms of cognitive development. This has now become a creed: ‘Design Thinking is the new Liberal Arts.Design thinking helps overcome the false dichotomy between the humanities and science because it prepares students for the active creation of the new realities that science and the humanities have imagined as possible.[7]

WSJ Headline
Wladawsky-Berger, Irving. “Is Design Thinking the New Liberal Arts?” WSJ (blog), November 4, 2016.

Design Thinking adapted to entrepreneurship

Finally, in the early 1990s, design thinking began to be adapted for business purposes by brothers Tom and David Kelley, who as practitioners took these lessons and founded the global design and innovation consultancy IDEO, and who produced significant works themselves that observed the connection between design, management, and entrepreneurship. The Kelleys’ most enduring contributions are to human-centred design methodology, design thinking, and unlocking the capacity of ‘confidence’.[8]Even so, it took yet another decade for serious literature on the design-focused workplace to appear.[9] Since about 2000, serious works have poured forth a theory and practice of design thinking in the business realm that entrepreneurs cannot ignore.[10] In 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation asked IDEO to codify the process of human-centred design, which resulted in the Human-Centered Design Toolkit.[11]

The process of design entrepreneurship

The teaching approach of design thinking as we know it today goes back to Hasso Plattner’s and IDEO’s influence on Stanford’s and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School, among others, who collectively over some three years outlined the design thinking process model (see below).[12] These works are now best represented in the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design and the Designing for Growth Field Book.[13]

Design thinking Process Model
EtappeTM Design Thinking Process Model from Howard Frederick et al., Entrepreneurship Theory Process Practice (Melbourne: Cengage Learning, 2019), p. 198.

Design entrepreneurship is now conceived as a method that allows non-designers, including business and social entrepreneurs, to innovate proactively. The use of design thinking in entrepreneurship is seen in Roger Martin’s article ‘Design and business: Why can’t we be friends?[14]  Tim Brown, former CEO of IDEO, described the sea change in business logic:

Most of us are trained in what I would call analytical thinking. Analytical thinking is … good for analysis and cutting things apart and slicing and dicing the world. It’s also good for extrapolation or prediction from the past into the future. What analytical thinking isn’t very good for is trying to envision a new future and figure out how to change it. … In design thinking, … you’re trying to create a future.[15]


There are different ways of acquiring knowledge today. Science uses experimentation to analyse the natural world. Humanities use metaphor and criticism to describe the human experience. Design, however, uses pattern formation, synthesis and modelling to study the artificial world all around us. Design can address intractable human concerns, also known as wicked problems. These problems are difficult to solve because we do not know enough and the stakeholders involved are too numerous and their opinions too divergent. We see that design thinking is used by non-designers such as entrepreneurs to innovate proactively and create a future. The technique has been used in many interesting areas, such as product development, architectural space, curriculum, and even personal problems. Design reduces pain. Design satisfies need. Design creates value. History shows that designers have applied the human-centric creative process to build meaningful and effective solutions that meet the needs of humanity.

Design thinking theory goes back to design literature and management theory. Only in the 1980s did designers and social scientists make the mental leap to ‘designerly ways of knowing’ to solve the world’s wicked problems. The connection between design, management, and entrepreneurship occurred relatively late, but now many have realised what a powerful methodology it is in many realms, from new product and service design to personal growth.

Cover of Frederick, O'Connor, Kuratko (2019), Entrepreneurship Theory Process Practice (Melbourne: Cengage) Source: Excerpted from Frederick, H. H., A. O’Connor, and D. F. Kuratko. Entrepreneurship Theory Process Practice. 5th Asia-Pacific edition. Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia, 2019.


[1] Hassi, L., & Laakso, M. (2011). Making sense of design thinking. In T.-M. Karalainen, M. Koria, & M. Salimäki (Eds.), IDBM papers (Vol. 1, pp. 51–62). Helsinki: IDBM Program, Aalto University. Retrieved from

[2] Simon (1969). The sciences of the artificial, 111. Retrieved from Simon did have one predecessor, L. Bruce Archer, who argued that design was ‘not merely a craft-based skill but should be considered a knowledge-based discipline in its own right’: Archer, L. B. (1979). Design as a discipline. Design Studies, 1(1), 17–20.

[3] Cross, N. (1982). Designerly ways of knowing. Design Studies, 3, 221–7. See also Cross, N. (2006). Designerly ways of knowing. Springer. Retrieved from; Cross, N. (2001). Designerly ways of knowing: Design discipline versus design science. Design Issues, 17(3), 49–55; Cross, N. (2007). From a design science to a design discipline: Understanding designerly ways of knowing and thinking. Design Research Now, 41–54.

[4] Lawson, B. (1980, 2006). How designers think: The design process demystified. Routledge, 86–7. Retrieved from

[5] Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–69.

[6] Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8, 5–21. Retrieved from

[7] Burnette, C. (2016). Bridging design and business thinking. In S. Junginger & J. Faust (Eds.),Designing Business and Management, 95–104. Bloomsbury Publishing; Szasz, O. (2016). Design thinking as an indication of a paradigm shift. In S. Junginger & J. Faust (Eds.), Designing Business and Management, 105–16. Bloomsbury Publishing; Cross, A. (1980). Design and general education. Design Studies, 1(4), 202–6; Schrand, T. (2016). Design thinking as a strategy for consensus in general education reform. Peer Review, 18(3), 17–20.; Marber, P., & Araya, D. (2017). The evolution of liberal arts in the global age. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from ; Miller, P. N. (2015, March 26). Is ‘design thinking’ the new liberal arts? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from ; Miller, P. N. (2017). Is ‘design thinking’ the new liberal arts? In P. Marber & D. Araya (Eds.), The evolution of liberal arts in the global age, 167. Routledge; Smith College, Maestria Virtual (n.d.). Design thinking and the liberal arts: A framework for re-imagining a liberal arts education. Retrieved from ; Wladawsky-Berger, I. (2016). Is design thinking the ‘new liberal arts’? Retrieved from

[8] Kelley, T. (2001). The art of innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading design firm (Vol. 10). Broadway Business; Kelley, D., & Kelley, T. (2013). Creative confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all. Crown Business; Kelley, T. (2005). The ten faces of innovation: IDEO’s strategies for beating the devil’s advocate & driving creativity throughout your organization. Broadway Business; Kelley, T., & Kelley, D. (2012). Reclaim your creative confidence. Harvard Business Review, 90, 115–8

[9] Bolland, R. J., & Collopy, F. (2004). Managing as designing. Stanford University Press; Dunne, D., & Martin, R. (2006). Design thinking and how it will change management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 5, 512–23; Florida, R. L. (2004). The rise of the creative class: And how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books. Gullberg, G., Landström, A., Widmark, E., & Nyström, M. (2005). Design thinking in business innovation. REMOTEL. Retrieved from; Heskett, J. (2005). Design: A very short introduction (Vol. 136). Oxford University Press; Kelley (2005). The ten faces of innovation; Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age (1st edn). New York: Riverhead Books.

[10] Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, June. Retrieved from ; Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: HarperBusiness; Lockwood, T. (2009). Transition: How to become a more design-minded organization. Design Management Review, 20, 28–37; Martin, R. (2009). What is design thinking anyway? Retrieved from ; Martin (2009). The design of business.

[11] Acumen + HCD (2009). The human-centered design toolkit. Retrieved from .

[12] Acumen + HCD (2009). The human-centered design toolkit; IDEO. (2009). Design kit: The human-centered design toolkit. Retrieved from; Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stranford (2010). An introduction to design thinking process guide. The Institute of Design at Stanford: Stanford. Retrieved from ; IDEO LLC & Riverdale Country School (2012). Design thinking for educators toolkit (2nd edn). Retrieved from; Liedtka, J., & Ogilvie, T. (2014). Designing for growth : A design thinking tool kit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from .

[13] IDEO LLC (2015). The field guide to human-centered design. Retrieved from; Liedtka, J., Ogilvie, T., & Brozenske, R. (2014). The designing for growth field book: A step-by-step project guide. Columbia University Press. Retrieved from .

[14] Martin, R. (2007). Design and business: Why can’t we be friends? Journal of Business Strategy, 28, 6–12.

[15] JR (2007, 24 September). Managing innovation. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from .

("Wicked Problems" by LoraCBR is licensed under CC BY 2.0 )

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One thought on “Design entrepreneurship combines science, culture, and values”

  1. Outstanding continued explorations.

    I am particularly intrigued by the crossroads of design & science. In my youth, my first impulses and compulsions all revolved around physics. As I castabout with with Einstein and Newton I became enamoured.

    My path was circuitous and tended towards distraction, I found science, art and design equally compelling. For me it was all exciting.

    Eventually and years later I discovered Feynman and it all coalesced.

    Conga drums and science?

    To me it made perfect sense.

    Likewise, for me there is no difference or disparity between the scientific method and human centered design/design thinking. Both are simply identical lenses towards a process of discovery.

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