Design Thinking is a Privileged Way of Thinking

One of our partners in Madagascar holding a pamphlet for the workshop

In March of this year, a small studio decided to donate one branding project each year to a deserving nonprofit. The first beneficiary we selected was Cause to Connect, a nonprofit that has brought internet to remote villages in Madagascar. During our research, we interviewed one of the community leaders and he began to share how his life has been dramatically impacted by gaining access to the internet. Initially, this was a typical stakeholder interview for a branding project, however, this conversation would be the first in a chain of events that landed me in Madagascar seven months later to launch our first Identity Architecture workshop.

One of our partners in Madagascar holding a pamphlet for the workshop

Last month, twenty Malagasy community leaders participated in a four-hour workshop designed to help them understand the concept of design thinking and branding. With the support of the U.S. Department of State through the Reciprocal Exchange Component of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, I received a grant to deliver this workshop in one of the most exotic places in the world. This became possible when Manoa Rakotoarison, founder of Civilian Madagasikara, the Malagasy community leader I was interviewing asked me if I would be willing to come to Madagascar to teach branding. As I spoke more with him, I realized that his people had little, if any, access to design thinking education which is the foundation of any creative service. This was when it became clear to me that design thinking is a privileged way of thinking.

As a black male, raised in America, I don't often speak to my privilege. However, it took traveling to the other side of the world to help me realize the extent design thinking has transformed my life for the better. I first learned about design thinking as a freshman in college during architecture studio. Like many people, I went to college to learn something, but instead, I was given an experience that taught me how to think. IDEO captures the concept of design thinking in one sentence:

One of our partners in Madagascar holding a pamphlet for the workshop

I define design thinking as a method to solve problems intuitively. This creative method is typically learned in higher education and more commonly today through entrepreneurial experiences. Problem solving is a way of life for entrepreneurs as they are constantly in the act of building from an idea. Those of us that have been mentored by anyone with these experiences, are better equipped to solve problems. I discovered that I am privileged and am more likely to overcome adversity simply because I learned a method to solve problems.

After realizing this, I was no longer satisfied with a small studio’s service offerings. Like most agencies, we catered our services to companies who have the means to afford them. After two years and over 40 clients, our team transformed the frameworks used to support our clients into educational workshops that empower individuals through design thinking. My trip to Madagascar was the perfect condition for a small studio to launch our first public workshop, marking the beginning of our educational programming. We believe that design agencies have operated as walled gardens of creativity for too long. Unfortunately, the industry caters to the elite few while the majority lack the fundamental tools that will equip them to solve some of the world's most critical problems.

Between just twenty Malagasy community leaders who participated in the workshop, issues surrounding deforestation, poverty, sustainable agriculture, health and wellness, and civic engagement were being addressed. They came to the workshop anticipating a business lesson but what they left with was a better understanding of a method that will continue supporting their mission for the rest of their lives. To our delight, some participants took their team through the same workshop as soon as the next day!

Most importantly, the workshop helped the participants understand their identity. I define identity as the unique composition of identifiers that reveal to others who a person truly is. At a small studio, we believe everything starts with identity because it is the essence of how we work with others. I ask my clients all the time, if we don’t know your identity, how could we possibly design something that you would love? Through my work as an Identity Architect, I’ve proven that helping people understand their identity inspires creativity, drives passion, and provides clarity in decision making. When you know your identity you also know what problem you were uniquely created to solve in the world. This creates an intentional business and life.

Design thinking is a privileged way of thinking and just like other privileges, we must find a way to make it accessible to everyone. If everyone in the world were equipped with methods to solve the problems that are most important to them, I truly believe our world would begin to look very different. Combined with identity, design thinking is a powerful tool that we can use to fulfill our purpose in life. Just like discovering your identity, once design thinking is learned, it can never be taken from you.

If you would like to learn more about this programing or would like to host an identity architecture workshop in your community, contact me. You can also stay up to date with our thoughts on our journal.