During a keynote, architect and design methodologist Christopher Alexander explores the history and fascination that the world of software developed for A Pattern Language. In this lecture, he questions that history and wonders if this technical crowd has been able to use patterns to make an authentic and impactful theory of their own.

Over the course of three years in the mid-90s, John’s way of seeing made me rethink what I thought I knew about design. My language was based on modernistic standards of form and function. John challenged me to recast myself as a different type of design thinker and taught me a new grammar.

Thick description, or the sorting through of “webs of significance that man himself has spun”, is an ethnographic reporting technique defined by Clifford Geertz in his seminal book The Interpretation of Cultures. This form of reportage may be applied to many stages of design research and types of insight. 

Thoughts on design research during a transitional period when industry was opening up to the value of behaviorial insight. I propose four practical purposes and attempt to describe the method’s designerly tendencies. 

Design Research has become an integral part of frog’s DNA, from the way we implement Experience Strategy to our frog Impact work. Our design research methods constitute how we design now by enabling us to get closer to a problem, draw from human experience, work together to make our insights and ideas tangible, and create – iteratively and rapidly.

In a 1979 research project at the Royal College of Art, Professor Bruce Archer referred to design as the missing “third area” of education; the first two areas were considered the sciences and the humanities. Later, in a small book, Designerly Ways of Knowing, educator Nigel Cross made a formal case for the addition of design to our general education, namely the K-12 curriculum. 

During a visit to a legendary American design school 25 years ago, I popped in on architect Gunnar Birkerts whose keynote buildings bookended my days in Corning, NY. He was a gracious host — happy to share stories, models, and my first decent cup of coffee in an influential white mug.

The methods behind design thinking include a harrowing start. Following events of World War I and II, designer Otl Aicher committed to a socially and culturally-conscious philosophy of design and started the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Ulm School of Design).