“Design Thinking”: Defending Silicon Valley at the Apex of Global Labor Hierarchies

Lilly Irani


This paper examines the emergence of “design thinking” as a form of technical expertise. It demonstrates that “design thinking” articulates a racialized understanding of labor, judgment, and the subject and attempts to maintain whiteness at the apex of global hierarchies of labor.

“Design thinking” is a form of expertise that poses design not as form giving, but as a form of empathic reason by which executives can plan products, services, and accumulation. Silicon Valley, business schools, and reformers promote it as a form of caring technical expertise by which some guide futures for others. The paper will examine the history of the concept of “design thinking” – a category forged by Silicon Valley designers in the face of mounting competitive pressures on design professions in the United States in the mid-2000s. By drawing on artifacts, documents, public debates about the design profession from this period, I will demonstrate how champions of “design thinking” responded to expanded availability of design labor globally by figuring Asians and machines as the creative subject's Other.


design, expertise, labor, globalization, race

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.28968/cftt.v4i1.243

DOI (PDF): https://doi.org/10.28968/cftt.v4i1.243.g322

DOI (HTML): https://doi.org/10.28968/cftt.v4i1.243.g323


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Copyright (c) 2018 Lilly Irani


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