Current Issue

Editorial Remarks: Designing Thinking

In May 2017, I was invited to attend a meeting in Hong Kong. The meeting was to discuss how to enhance design education for a vocational training institute. A Hong Kong professor was invited to present a paper to share his suggestions, one of which was to introduce the design thinking approach to the institute. Somehow, on one of his slides, “designing thinking” was shown. The chairperson then confirmed with the professor that the spelling was in error. The professor apologized for mis-typing. The mis-typing left a deep impression on me and lead me toward an insight about design thinking.

Following the professor, I was asked to provide my opinions. Apart from what I prepared for the meeting, I added a new insight. “Designing thinking”, I observed, is in fact a brilliant idea, for it creates a new space for various types of innovations. Design is often defined as a means for solving problems or creating things, such as artifacts, technologies, systems, strategies, theories, and concepts, to name a few, and ways of thinking can also be included. “Designing thinking” should thus be part of the function, or one of the functions, that can contribute to the design effort, and be its contribution as well.


How valuable is “designing thinking”? In essence, design thinking is a school of philosophy. Lao-tzu, a famous Chinese philosopher in the Spring and Autumn Period of ancient Chinese history, indicated in his renowned book “Tao De Ching” (道德經) that “the Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way” (道可道,非常道) and that “what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness” (有者以為利,無者以為用). Take a cup for instance. The cup itself is a profitable adaptation, yet the emptiness surrounded by the cup is for usefulness. As for how to make use of the emptiness, it is a design issue, triggered by design thinking, and the way(s) the cup’s users think, can be manipulated or designed. The cup can thus be applied to hold liquids as a container, or to hold soil as a mini-flowerpot, among others, with different value implications. 


Behavior is driven by mind. Following the above rationale, “designing thinking” is indeed more valuable than designing artifacts. “Designing thinking” is central to cultural and creative industries, for the sense of value is often perceived in accordance with the way(s) customers think, which can be seen as a result of manipulation by design. In short, value can be created or added via two fundamental approaches: technology (functions) and ideology (symbols),– both of which generate meaning for adopters (including customers and users) to perceive. Consider two artefacts, similar in functionality yet with a hundredfold difference in price, such as two bags, a regular and cheap bag and another with a famous brand or with meaningful patterns. What makes the huge gap in price? The answer would definitely not be technology.


Culture can be seen as the optimal design of ways of living, and the cultural and creative industries are industries that design thinking and create meanings. In light of the significance of “designing thinking”, in this special issue, a few interesting articles with such inclinations are selected for our readers. Please enjoy them and submit yours to share with others.



Ding-Bang LUH