Change by Design

Tim_Brown_book_thumbTim Brown is famous in the world of design, as the head of one of the most interesting design organisations – IDEO. You will often find them referenced in articles across the design spectrum, from UX (User-led design) to standard architecture.

In this book, Brown wants us to talk about design thinking – the processes and problem solving that lead to good design. And he illustrates his point with countless examples of design from IDEO and design thinking where we find it in everyday life.

Brown’s big contention is that the world could be a better place if we employed design thinking for tackling our problems. The more complex, the more likely that a standard process will fall short. And he warns us that design thinking does not provide for a neat linear process – in fact sometimes it may not look like a process at all.

I read this book because I have been hearing about design thinking ever since the Integrated Design Commission came to town. I love the promise that an investment in design can lead to such good outcomes, you can save in numerous ways when you come to implement – more than enough to justify the investment in good design. But design remains fairly intangible to me. I know from an energy use perspective that services are often an afterthought on a building and the value of good design is highlighted when a pumping load can be slashed by 90% with good design. I know from working in state government that we often don’t create enough time or empowerment for teams to arrive at beautiful solutions.

I was intrigued by Brown’s description of the teams for the job. A small core team to nail down the brief – getting to the real problem to be solved, identifying the real constraints that will provide the necessary stimulus for innovation. Then many more small teams to develop and problem solve – never in isolation, but avoiding group think.

As with other descriptions of design, the idea of looping and iterating, through the phases of inspiration, ideation and implementation. His other trio is striking the perfect balance of desirability, viability and feasibility for a product or solution, because these outcomes form natural constraints on each other. And, as many designers advocate these days, putting people back at the centre of design requires insight, observation and empathy.

Prototyping and storytelling are given extensive treatment. The innovative culture that allows challenges, doesn’t listen to authority over insight etc is also emphasised. And then Brown lays out his vision for design thinking as the source of innovation in every company – and on to design thinking as the effective way to start grappling with the more complex global problems we face.

The book ends with design thinking and you – and to remind myself as much as anyone, I’ll repeat the suggestions here:

  • don’t ask what, ask why? (improves your chances of spending time on the right problems)
  • open your eyes (what people do and don’t do, requires keen observation to see things we often take for granted)
  • make it visual (create a visual or describe a visual, worth a thousand words)
  • build on the ideas of others (all of us are smarter than any of us)
  • demand options (but know when to stop diverging and start converging – deadlines can be a useful creative constraint)
  • balance your portfolio (record your process, keep artifacts of the process)
  • design a life, after all life should be a prototype..

And to end on a quote about Brown’s source of inspiration for design:

“the great thinkers… were creative innovators who could bridge the chasm between thinking and doing because they were passionately committed to the goal of a better life and a better world around them”

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About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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One Response to Change by Design

  1. Pingback: Shaping the Path | changing weather by Heather Smith

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