Strategic Doing as a Design Discipline

More than any other scholar, Donald Schon’s work guided the development of Strategic Doing. Let’s dive in and explore why.

Donald Schon’s view of design as a discipline of reflective practice has profoundly impacted various fields, including the development of Strategic Doing. Schön’s concept of the reflective practitioner underscores the importance of continuous learning and adaptation in complex and uncertain environments (Szabla et al., 2017). Schön argues that traditional approaches to design, which rely on technical rationality and pre-determined solutions, are insufficient in dealing with the challenges of today’s complex world.

For Schon, design is different. It is a loosely structured process for probing the future. Schön’s view of design as a discipline of reflective practice emphasizes the importance of learning from experience and continuously reflecting on one’s actions and decisions in the design process (Tan et al., 2023). Schön argues that design is not simply a matter of following established procedures or applying technical knowledge, but rather it requires continuous reflection, adaptation, and exploration.

This approach to design is based on the idea that designers must actively engage with the problems they are trying to solve and learn from their experiences to improve their understanding and generate practical solutions (Visser, 2010). According to Schön, design thinking involves framing problems and selecting specific deployable frames. This process involves reflecting-in-action, which is the ability to think and make decisions in the moment while actively engaging with the problem. We embrace this idea with the framing question in Strategic Doing. A framing question sets us off into an inquiry into an uncertain future. It allows us to explore multiple possibilities and iterate on our strategies as we gather more information and insights (Morrison, 2020).

Design and Reflective Practice

Reflective practice is stepping back and critically examining one’s actions, thoughts, and assumptions. Through reflective practice, designers engage in a continuous cycle of observing, reflecting, and adjusting their work. By framing problems and actively selecting specific frames to engage, design thinkers can generate and assess multiple possibilities for solutions.

To Schön, design thinking is not a linear process but rather an iterative one that involves both reflecting-in-action and reflecting-on-action. Reflecting in action takes place while the designer actively engages in the design process, making decisions and adjustments. Reflecting on action happens later, after the design process has concluded, allowing designers to critically evaluate their work and identify areas for improvement (Visser, 2010).

Double Loop Learning as One Part of the Design Process

Schön’s view of design as a discipline of reflective practice emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and learning from one’s experiences to improve the design process and outcomes. Coming up with better solutions involves a continuous process of inquiry.

Designers are encouraged to question their assumptions and challenge the status quo continuously. This process of reflection allows designers to gain deeper insights, uncover new perspectives, and generate innovative solutions. Argyris and Schon called this process “double loop” learning.

In the context of design, double-loop learning means not only reflecting on the effectiveness of a particular solution but also questioning the underlying assumptions and frameworks that inform the design process itself. This kind of critical reflection helps designers to identify and challenge their own biases, assumptions, and preconceived ideas, leading to more creative and effective solutions.

Schön’s concept of reflective practice also highlights the importance of collaboration and learning from others. Designers are encouraged to seek feedback, engage in dialogue, and collaborate with others to gain different perspectives and expand their understanding.

Through this process of reflection and collaboration, designers can refine their designs, identify areas for improvement, and develop a deeper understanding of the challenges they face. By embracing reflective practice, designers can continuously refine their skills and approaches, leading to more effective and innovative design solutions.


One way of thinking about Strategic Doing is that it is a process-oriented approach to design thinking that emphasizes reflection and continuous learning (Helyer, 2015). Schön’s concept of reflective practice aligns closely with the principles of Strategic Doing, which emphasizes the importance of ongoing learning and adaptation in complex and uncertain environments (Szabla et al., 2017). 

The design process is not seen as a linear path with a fixed endpoint but rather as an ongoing cycle of reflection and iteration. Strategic Doing enables us to do this design process collectively. By embracing reflective practice and incorporating double-loop learning, participants following the simple (but not easy) rules of Strategic Doing can enhance their problem-solving abilities, challenge assumptions, and generate innovative solutions to “we don’t know how” challenges.




Helyer, R. (2015). Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL). Journal of Work-Applied Management, 7(1), 15-27.

Morrison, E. (2021). Strategic Doing: A Strategy Model for Open Networks_(Doctoral dissertation, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland).


Szabla, D B., Pasmore, W A., Barnes, M., & Gipson, A N. (2017). The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change Thinkers.

Tan, L., Kocsis, A., & Burry, J. (2023). Advancing Donald Schön’s Reflective Practitioner: Where to Next?. Design Issues, 39(3), 3-18., W. (2010). Schön: Design as a reflective practice. Collection, (2), 21-25.