What is the “third culture” in design?

Joyce XR
3 min readMay 25, 2021


In schools, we’re learning science and humanities, which are two important subjects in education. Usually, science refers to the facts we observed in the natural world we discovered, mostly can be represented by scientists with numbers and data; on the other hand, humanities refer to the civilization development and complexities of human experiences we interpreted.[1] Overall, science is a starting point of civilization and the origin of creative paths to development. What comes after, referring as humanities, is an interpretation of the culture it springs from.

But what if an object not only creates harmony but is conceived and developed through a dialogue between two fundamentally different ideologies, such as two different cultures? Will they have any connections? In schools, professors will come up with artificial problems to guide students to think. But in real life, the problems won’t come to us nicely and prepared, they must be discovered.[2] In the design world, however, more like an integration of logical thinking and experience thinking. It interplays between technologies and humans to ensure the products we designed can fulfill the needs and bring convenience to people’s life.

As I started learning UX design, “design thinking” is an essential and innovative mindset all professionals can’t emphasize enough in the process of design. It’s a problem-solving approach throughout the end-to-end production, aiming to focus on user-centered needs based on research and data analytics. In 2015, Irwin came up with a diagram demonstrate the relations among science, humanities, and design. There are three features we need to take into consideration in good design: feasibility (“Is it possible?”), viability (“should we do this?”), and desirability (“Will they want this?”).[3]

As a further matter, designers need to understand that the process of design is non-linear, often needs to be tested and improved back and forth. Below are the main steps of design thinking,

  • Empathies — understand your users’ desires and needs.
  • Define — by observing users’ behavior to collect data, analyzing the problem, define the insights of the product.
  • Ideate — by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions.
  • Prototype — to start creating solutions with logical and smooth flow diagrams.
  • Test — testing your prototypes from start and receiving feedback to make improvements.

Design thinking requires designers to have empathy mindsets, collaborative teamwork, and conducive environments. The designers’ work processes can help us systematically apply human-centered techniques or approaches to solve problems more creatively and innovatively.


[1] Nigel Cross, Designerly ways of knowing, 1982, Design Studies vol 3 no 4 PP. 221–227.

[2] Don Norman, The design of everyday things, 2013, Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Book Group.

[3] Terry Irwin, Design as a third culture, 2015, Based upon the Helsinki Design Lab.