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Design Thinking Needs a Broader Perspective

A design-focused study of mode choice doesn’t consider the many ways people interact with and travel through urban environments.
May 15, 2019, 5am PDT | Camille Fink
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Artem Zarutskiy

Joe Cortright considers the approaches of design thinking in understanding how cities work. Several years ago, Ford commissioned the design firm IDEO to look at the urban travel experience and how it could be improved in the future.

"IDEO conceptualized the design task by sending groups of its employees to a restaurant a few miles away via different transportation modes, so they could assess the challenges each faces: the subway (too smelly), Divvy bikeshare (too dirty), and Uber (too expensive)," writes Cortright.

But he argues that IDEO was not asking the right questions by focusing solely on transportation. IDEO’s own offices are in a dense neighborhood in Chicago with many food options within walking distance — versus a restaurant several miles away — and the choice to locate there demonstrates how cities can be better designed to meet the needs of the people living and working in them.

"The real failure in design thinking here is IDEO viewing this task as primarily choosing between different transportation modes. Of course, they are free to frame this question however they—and their paying client—would like. But from a broader policy perspective—and from the perspective of citizens and consumers, we’d all be a lot better off if we’d make the design conversation about how we arrange our cities," says Cortright.

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Published on Monday, May 6, 2019 in City Observatory
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