If You Want To Learn Problem Solving, Learn From Designers

DESIGN creation of artifacts in societyEarlier in the week I was having a conversation with a friend who asked me about problem solving. He wanted to know my thoughts on  the best way to learn how to solve problems. My response: If you want to learn about problem solving, learn from designers.

Design for me isn’t about how pretty something looks, but how it works. I don’t write a lot about design in this blog but I do have a very deep respect and admiration for it. Before I decided to become an engineer, I wanted to be an architect.

One big influence in my life was my Grandfather, who was a multidisciplinarian: designer, maker and architect.

I got to interact with him when I was 5 – 7 years old, he let me play around with tools in his workshop and I would often be around while he was assembling the bags he designed for women.

For me, this was part of my education as I was exposed to building things with ones hands from a very young age. I got to see and experience the innovation process up close and personal: spotting opportunities, defining the problem, brainstorming, prototyping and testing.

My Grandfather followed this process to a T.

This is why I believe you should learn from designers if you want to learn problem solving. With that said, I’ve helped companies and people innovate effectively using the same process. But, concerned that I wasn’t using a wider lens and experimenting with other problem solving methods, in 2012 I was looking for a physical design course; so I looked for one in Coursera. While browsing their catalog I stumbled upon and signed up for “Design: Creation of artifacts in society” taught by Prof. Karl Ulrich of Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania at Coursera.

At the end I was very happy I did!

The course is very straight forward. It covers everyting from identification of needs, to problem definition, to idea generation, to prototyping from the perspective of designing physical objects. For example, throughout the course Mr. Ulrich demonstrated the techniques he is teaching through the design of an ice-cream scoop; as seen in the slides below:

Mr. Ulrich wrote a textbook to accompany the course, which you can find here. It’s a quick read and highly useful for anyone who wants to learn to design objects; and to problem solve.