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Change by Design

How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

change by design



If you have anything to design, and I think you do, you’ll want this book. Tim Brown’s Change by Design is about the power of “Design Thinking.” That’s the methodology used many designers, including IDEO, one of the world’s best design firms. IDEO designed many things for Apple, including their first mouse. And they’ve designed hundreds of other things, from shopping carts to hospital wings.

Design thinking is about more than creating new products and processes, improving the way we do things. Brown, IDEO’s CEO  pulls back the curtains to explain why design thinking is needed and how it works. He lays out the techniques. The process combines our intuitive and analytical (we all have both) for a “third way.”

Human-Centered Design. For inspiration watch IDEO’s founder David Kelley interviewed by Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes. Kelley’s work evolved from design to design thinking. He set up the D School at Stanford that’s focused on human-centered design. Bonus: watch the behind-the-scenes video, too. The interview gives a sense of the history of the group, and looks at their prototyping space.

A couple of quotes from Change by Design. Design thinkers are also integrators, says Brown:

Integrative thinkers know how to widen the scope of issues salient to the problem. They resist the “either/or” in favor of “both/and” and see nonlinear and multidirectional relationships as a source of inspiration, not contradiction. The most successful leaders… “embrace the mess.”

Entire institutions have embraced design thinking. Here Brown describes the Mayo Clinic’s SPARC program:

The SPARC laboratory is a design studio embedded in a clinical hospital (the former urology department, to be precise) in which designers, business strategists, medical and health professionals, and patients work I close proximity to develop ideas for improving the patient-provider experience. It operates in part like an experimental clinic, in part like an independent design consultancy for other units in the hospital. Half a dozen projects are going on at SPARC at any given time—from rethinking the traditional examination room to prototyping the interface of an electronic check-in kiosk. The work of SPARC staff and affiliates seems destined to transform the patient experience throughout the institution.

Tips from Brown for the design-thinking organization:

  • Begin at the beginning. That means divergence: in the divergent stage a group want to create many choices and options. Brown quotes Linus Pauling: “To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas.” Sometimes our tendency is to limit the number of ideas on the front end to be more efficient, he says. But that’s short sighted.
  • Take a human-centered approach. Observe “how people behave, how the context of their experience affects their reaction to products and services. This “increases the likelihood of developing a breakthrough idea and finding a receptive market.”
  • Fail early, fail often. “Time to first prototype is a good measure of the vitality of an innovation culture…. A vibrant design-thinking culture will encourage prototyping—quick, cheap, and dirty.”
  • Get professional help. Most of us don’t change our oil or cut our own hair, says Brown. So, when you need them, hire “experts, who may be technology specialists, software geeks, design consultants or fourteen-year-old video gamers.”
  • Share the inspiration. “It may be time to think abut ho your knowledge networks support inspiration—not just streamlining the pregress of existing programs but stimulating the emergence of new ideas.” (See also Thunderhead Works: Share Ideas.)
  • Blend big and small projects. “The majority of your efforts will take place in the incremental zone, but without exploring more revolutionary ideas you risk being blindsided by unexpected competition.”
  • Budget to the pace of innovation. Because “design thinking is fast-paced, unruly and disruptive” avoid its slowdown by bureaucratic budgets and procedures. Find paths for “agile resource allocation.”
  • Find talent any way you can. Brown says every organization has design thinkers, you just have to find them and free them up. Also bring in folks from the outside.
  • Design for the cycle. Most projects take time, so be flexible with the team. Let them stick with it.

Design Thinking Exteranal Links

Ideo‘s website.

An interview with Tim Brown speaking on design thinking on WNYC radio here.

Tim Brown’s blog on Design Thinking

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