Eric Gillett applies design principles to everyday problems



Chair of the BYU Department of Design Eric Gillett applies design principles to building a testimony. (Ryan Turner)

Chair of the BYU Department of Design Eric Gillett gave students specific steps to strengthen their testimonies and to solve problems in the Devotional on April 11.

Gillett recommended using design principles as a guide to solving problems, specifically “wicked” problems. Gillett said wicked problems are not evil, but tricky and complex.

“With wicked problems the situation is dynamic and often involves multiple variables,” Gillett said. “Both the exact nature of the problem and the solutions remain unknown when the project begins.”

Building a testimony is an example of one of these wicked problems, according to Gillett. He said with this and other problems, design thinking is a way to find a solution.

The first design principle Gillett gave to help BYU students solve problems, was to accept uncertainty in the beginning. He described this as “having faith in ambiguity.”

“First, since solutions to wicked problems cannot be reduced to a series of linear steps, the uncertainty found in the beginning is to be expected,” Gillett said.

He also said doubt is a necessary part to finding solutions to problems because it causes questioning and study.

“Rather than a sign of rebellion, I believe (doubt) to be an essential part of the testimony building process,” Gillett said.

Another principle he shared was the importance of having a prepared mind. This requires dedication and work instead of simply dabbling, according to Gillett.

“Chance dictates that if we choose to engage in the work of the church, rather than dabble in it, our minds will be prepared to recognize the Spirit’s confirmation,” Gillett said.

He said after implementing these two principles, one needs to understand that learning comes one step at a time — or line upon line.

“It often doesn’t matter what your first step is. The important thing is that you have taken one,” Gillett said. “Your confidence will increase and another step will then seem possible.”

The process of active experimentation is often referred to as “fake it until you make it,” and is instrumental in the design industry as well as testimony building, according to Gillett.

Gillett introduced the next principle as “divergent gospel thinking,” which includes curiosity and creativity. A common form of this divergent thinking is called bisociation.

“More commonly known as a mash-up, it forces together two unrelated domains in an effort to find an unexpected combination,” Gillett said. “The hope is that something innovative will result from this unique combination.”

An example of this concept is a BYU education, according to Gillett. BYU mixes the study of religion with the study of secular majors on campus.

The last design principle Gillett introduced in his speech relates to the prototype or testing phase of problem solving.

“By it’s very nature, a prototype signifies a work in progress and implies that we will fail,” Gillett said. “To the experienced design thinker, failure is only temporary; it is simply part of the process.”

Gillett said this last step of the problem solving process is where promised results come into play. He shared a scripture from the Book of Mormon to illustrate this point.

“And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet…and ye shall feast on this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst,” Gillett said, quoting Alma 32:42.

This method of design thinking is used to solve many problems in various industries throughout the world, according to Gillett.

He said design thinking can also be applied to the individual problems each person experiences in his or her life.

“I believe that by applying these principles to your own wicked problems, your chance of solving them may improve,” Gillett said.

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