8 Core Abilites

01. Navigate Ambiguity

This is the ability to recognize and persist in the discomfort of not knowing, and develop tactics to overcome ambiguity when needed.

Design is loaded with uncertainty. As a result, it involves being  present in the moment, re-framing problems, and finding patterns in information. Ambiguity can arise in many places – within a project, a process, or within oneself. It’s important to have the ability to be in ambiguous situations and emerge from them with new insights.

02. Learn from Others (People and Contexts)

This means empathizing  with and embracing diverse viewpoints , testing new ideas with others, and observing and learning from unfamiliar contexts.

Throughout a design project, it’s important to recognize and take the opportunity to learn from others–both end users and other stakeholders and team members. There is a sensitivity to others that develops with this ability.

03. Synthesize Information

This is the ability to make sense of information and find insight and opportunity within.

Data comes from multiple places and has many different forms, both qualitative and quantitative. This ability requires skills in developing frameworks, maps, and abductive thinking. Synthesis takes time and is interdependent with navigating ambiguity.

04. Experiment Rapidly

This ability is about being able to quickly generate ideas – whether written, drawn, or built.

In order to rapidly experiment, you must be able to relax your mind and reach a mode of acceptance. This will eliminate the natural tendency to block ideas that seem off or unfeasible. Then, let your doing lead your thinking – and lead with your hands. This ability pairs naturally with Learn From Others. In many instances, you are experimenting by both generating a flood of new concepts at low resolution (brainstorming) and testing some of those concepts with potential users.

05. Move Between Concrete and Abstract

This ability involves understanding stakeholders and purpose in order to define the product or service’s features.

Everything is connected. When students are building out a new concept –whether a product, service, or experience – they need to be able to nest the concept within the larger ecosystem that relates to it. We have Ray and Charles Eames to thank for helping us set the scene for this ability. It involves abstraction to define meaning, goals, and principles, as well as precision to define details and features.

06. Build and Craft Intentionally

This ability is about thoughtful construction: showing work at the most appropriate level of resolution for the audience and feedback desired.

There are many sub-disciplines of design, each with their own set of tools and techniques. This ability requires a sensitivity to the tools needed to create meaningful work in your domain. UX designers have a specific set of tools to create human-centered digital interfaces. Architects have an arsenal of particular techniques to bring new structures into the world. Every discipline – immunology, macroeconomics, K12 education, whatever it may be – has its own building methods, and in every case, the details matter.

07. Communicate Deliberately

This is the ability to form, capture, and relate stories, ideas, concepts, reflections, and learnings to the appropriate audiences.

Communication happens in a variety of contexts. It may include reflecting on your performance to a project team or crafting a video to show your product to a potential investor. As we practice experiential learning at the d.school, communication and storytelling are paramount.

08. Design your Design Work

This meta ability is about recognizing a project as a design problem and then deciding on the people, tools, techniques, and processes needed to tackle it.

This ability develops with practice. It requires using intuition, adapting old tools to new contexts, and developing original techniques to meet the challenge at hand.

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