I am very eager to share* a MSc thesis I had the honour to advice, done by colleagues at MSLS integrating Strategic Sustainable Development (SSD) and Design Thinking (DT). It tackles a relevant issue design for sustainability still suffers; to integrate sustainability strategically in design projects.
To start with, I found it very elegant the approach they chosen to do such integration, embracing the DT process, which none of them had experience beforehand, by rigorously analysing it with a sustainability lens to find out its strengths and build upon them.
They found out that to effectively use DT to truly foster a sustainable society, every design problem must be framed in the context of sustainability as a common ground for participants in the design process. Creating a common ground, besides being effective for every group process, it is brilliant as reframes sustainability as the shared knowledge that bounds participants together.
Another important element is to make sustainability tangible. This is mainly accomplished by bringing in early stages real cases and examples. More intangible concepts, as systems thinking or ‘seeing the big picture’ are as well recurrent elements present in early stages and throughout the process.
One example of the aforementioned appreciative enquiry towards DT is with use of Visions. As for designers, visions (early rough solutions) are the way to understand and solve design (wicked) problems. So what they proposed is to frame such visions with ‘care instructions’, a digested version of The Sustainability Principles of The Natural Step.
Finally, they spotted it on again by not letting the sustainability mindset die along the process, making sure it is brought up again in several different forms in each step.
* This is a gentle copy from the authors. It will available in few weeks in bth.se/msls