On June 4th, I got a call from HR telling me I was one of 33 people in our building whose position had been eliminated.
Almost 6 months later, I haven't found a new job yet (yikes!), but what I did find is something that might be even more valuable.
I found out what I want to be when I grow up.
For those who know me professionally, you know this is a really big deal. It's actually what I've been circling around for about 20 years, but I didn't know it was a real thing or what it was called until a few weeks ago. #truestory
The field is “Design Thinking”. The typical job title is “Design Strategist”.
I’ve tried on a lot of hats. Graphic designer, writer, teacher, trainer, coach, brainstorm facilitator, product designer, communication consultant, print production manager, instructional designer, wayfinding designer, visual thinker, clarity specialist. Each felt like part of a giant puzzle, but with no picture on the cover of the box of what it was supposed to look like when it was done. It was incredibly frustrating to me and the caring people around me who saw my potential and wanted to help but didn't know how (and I couldn't tell them).
Through a perfect storm of no job, a call out of the blue from someone who's kept my name in a file for 15 years, a great new friend I met at a really bad presentation, a career counselor, key observations from two respected former co-workers, a design strategist job posting I stumbled on (with its accompanying role description), some intense (and borderline obsessive) research and reflection, and long conversations with my incredibly patient and insightful wife, I received the precious gift of clarity. My misfit pieces finally knew where and how they fit into the world.
So, what is Design Thinking, and what does a Design Strategist do? It’s a fairly new field. Most of the search results are actually attempts to explain what it is. Here's the best descriptions I’ve found.
“‘Design Thinking’ denotes the problem-solving approach which equips design and non-design students and professionals with ‘a methodology for producing reliably innovative results in any field’ (Miller, 2015). Designers’ skills and ways of thinking and reasoning have been enlarged and adapted for solving problems beyond design, and are now applied to address complex social, economic, health-related, and political problems.”
“Design Thinking helps us in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, questioning the assumptions, and questioning the implications. Design Thinking is extremely useful in tackling problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.”
“The Design Strategist is most active in the ‘fuzzy front-end’ of innovation projects. When things aren’t quite clear and people aren’t sure which way to head. They navigate these uncharted waters where no one really knows yet what the real problems and the right questions are.”
“A design strategist is most of all a translator. Design strategists can translate from business to design, and from design to business. In order to do that, they need diverse backgrounds, as they need to understand different perspectives and mindsets. They facilitate a guided transition from the problem space to the solution space by gathering and developing insights and converting them into useful requirements for development into innovative human-centered products, services, and business models.”
There are now degree programs at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and ID (Chicago). Companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, IBM, GE, and P&G have successfully adopted it.
I'm now seeking opportunities at companies like those, Lego, and 3M, as well as consulting firms and corporate innovation groups with unusual names like New Futures Lab. I will go wherever the next opportunity leads.
I've been building potential energy around this for 20 years. Someone who is looking for a Design Strategist will see my diverse background, my passion and continuous self-directed learning around this work, and know what it means. They will take a leap of faith, hire me, and that potential energy will be released on their wicked problems.
I'm a Creative Generalist | Clarity Specialist | Design Strategist. I help people reframe, visualize, and think through tricky problems to uncover overlooked options, and then help them prototype testable solutions they can develop and bring to the world to make life better.
This is my path forward. I might never have been forced to do the hard work to figure this out if I hadn’t lost my job. It's now a VERY exciting time for me. If you have any suggestions that could get my name in front of someone who needs my skills, I'd be truly grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!