Change by Design
Essay by Lisa te Velde
This is a book about Design Thinking. I am already familiar with the concept; design thinking is not a hard science and it takes a lot of practice to “master” this skill. One of the fundaments of Design Thinking is that there is no easy to follow “how to guide”. The process is intelligent, iterative and unpredictable. It’s not just designing a new product, it’s an overlap of different disciplines that tries to solve challenges with a holistic approach. It goes against the uniformity of every day products and services and aims to create things that are positively different and useful.
Where to begin with Design Thinking?
The book makes use of a couple of “laws”.
The three spaces of innovation
Without ignoring the other two, design thinking departs from “desirability”; meaning what do people really want and need.
The book is a bit vague about this, but the brief of a project should be a mix of freedom and constraint. A good brief doesn’t dictate every step of the way, but also doesn’t leave too much open for interpretation. At the beginning of a project you don’t know yet what you don’t know, so the parameters might have to be set in a later stage.
“All of us are smarter than any of us.”
In the beginning of a design thinking project, you should start off with a very small team (maximum of three/four people) and it’s not until implementation phase that the team can grow bigger. The more complex a challenge is, the harder it is to communicate within a large team.
An innovative culture is not brought along by separating departments from each other. Instead, people from different departments should be supported to collaborate, both in space and time. Many successful companies act upon this through serious play.
The simplistic nature of this process makes it easier to follow. Tim Brown stresses that this isn’t a chronological process per se, but more overlapping steps that can be revisited. The design thinking project itself is never simple. Interestingly, there are many variations on this process, usually surmounting these three steps. However, in my experience, this almost always leads to a discussion on how to approach each step. Maybe a more simple, less strict process helps to prevent those situations.
Putting people first
“Converting need into demand”
Design thinkers need to study people, their context and their behaviours. You can do this by observing people, investigating extreme users or by immersing yourself in the user’s situation. You can even collaborate with different kinds of users, put them together and let them design. However, rather than a scientist, you need to read between the lines, see what people don’t do or say. It’s about empathy.
The book here quotes Louis Pasteur: “Chance only favours the prepared mind”. Meaning; insight and inspiration strike when you’re mind has already bitten itself into the different topics that the challenge covers.
Design thinking mindset
Figure on the left illustrates what kind of moods a team can go through during a project, which is all too familiar. Figure on the right is about “divergent and convergent thinking”. To build upon the latter; we also need to keep in mind synthesis and analysis. Analysis is needed to understand the complexity of a problem, this is what most educations focus on. From all the data that you gather, synthesis is needed to put things together, recognise patterns and create whole ideas, and to decide what is important and what is not. This is a creative act, but often not something that is taught in school.
During a design thinking project it helps to have an overarching purpose to help steer the team.
Being cynical kills innovation. When ideas are put down before they have a chance to come alive there is no way innovation can flourish. Confidence and trust are needed to be optimistic, that’s why a 24 hour challenge AFTER a 360 evaluation works so well.
“Thinking with your hands”, “Fail early and fail often”.
Very similar to the logic behind MVPs, it’s about getting faster to realisation of ideas to quickly see how it could be improved. Quick and dirty. Next to that, when you see one idea come to live, it also sparks new and better ideas. But prototyping doesn’t always have to be about tangible products. Role play can come in very handy when it comes to acting out services or experiences.
This is at the heart of design thinking and should be leveraged on in communicating a conveying message to the consumer. The reasons behind the “coming to life” of a product through the eyes of the user resonates with potential consumers.
Stories need to be extremely compelling. It’s important to be aware of the fact that most consumers don’t want more choice. They get paralysed.
Tell the story from the beginning of the project as if telling the course of a real adventure, with all its ups and downs. Design teams are now involving writers from the beginning of the project instead of only at the ending to do exactly that.
Companies that want to innovate can make use of this matrix on the right to see what would be the best strategy to begin with. Do you adapt your existing offerings towards a new customer base? Or do you extend towards new offerings towards existing users? Or do you go all out on a new customer base with a new offering? The latter is more risky, but can also bear more fruit.
Design thinking for sustainability
When you solve one problem, you often create a new one. This couldn’t be more true in the world we live in today. Resources are becoming more and more scarce and the production, transport and disposal of our “solutions” is harming people and environment. Designers and organisations have a responsibility to take this on board. Next to that, they also need to come up with ways to inform consumers of the need for change. They need to think of ways to change consumer’s behaviour towards sustainable consumption.
I prefer this book to Creative Confidence (which is more for people that are completely new to Design Thinking). This book goes a bit deeper into the material. However, he did also quote Henry Ford about faster horses. Something that I’m growing a little bit tired of.
Tim Brown is the CEO of IDEO, a company I have admired for a couple of years now. So I’ve come across many of the methods and theories used in this book, but they were explained well and gave new examples. Humans need to learn new things in seven different ways, so hopefully I am one step closer to mastering design thinking.
I’ve learnt to see the design thinking process as less strict and more overlapping, more important is to recognise when an idea is convergent, or divergent, or when you’re analysing or synthesising.
Also, I would really like to learn more about prototyping.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in design thinking.