My doctoral research study investigated the connections between these three key shifts in the field of design, design thinking discourse, and the professional identity and practices of branding, graphic, service and digital designers. Are designers doing design thinking? Or is it something else entirely? And how can we learn to use the creative problem solving methods created by designers in the studio to face the wicked problems of our classrooms, our communities and our organizations? It sought to understand how professionals think in action – in the face of changes to the profession of design, what emerging forms of practice were coming to define the work of designers? Were designers aesthetic masters, or agents of change? Was their social role different than it used to be? If so, how were they adapting and adopting new practices in their work to continue to evolve alongside the changing social definition of designing?

The fieldwork phases of this study focused on the ways that designers learn to make creative decisions, and the relationship between changes in the design industry and the studio practice of design. As a designer and a communications researcher, I was especially interested in how designers thought about their professional role and their work differently in respect to concepts like “design thinking” and “creativity” and in the ways that practices of what we are calling “design thinking” are instantiated, developed, changed, and transferred outside of the design studio. Through participant observation in design studios, interviews with individual designers and survey responses, I attempted to find the connections between key shifts in the field of design, and the resulting changes to the professional identity of designers, the institutional logic of the design studio, and the social practices that make up designing.

This research was conducted in partial fulfillment of a doctoral degree for AnneMarie Dorland in the Department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. The University of Calgary Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board approved this research study. This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship Program under Grant 767-2014-1133.