Two New Reads For Design Thinkers

I recently came across two worthwhile readings to share on the subject of design thinking.

The first is an interview with Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with one of the commentors who stated that the interview is “a great overview of design thinking”, I do believe that those exploring the field would gain something from Brown’s comments about design in general and design thinking specifically to help them shape their perspective on what design thinking is and how it could be of help to a librarian. Brown, as always, shares a few good insights on design thinking. I particularly like his perspective on design being about “big” ideas and the importance of totality:

When Brown talks about ‘big’, he isn’t talking about size, or scale, or depth. It’s the totality of experiences that he—and ‘design thinking’—refers to…it’s “much more complex thing than any single object”, Brown insists. It’s about solving the problem of distributing clean water in poor countries, coming up with more efficient ways to direct human traffic in buildings, realizing untapped channels of communication in trade. Design is huge.

That gives you a taste of what you’ll find in this interview – and it’s a fairly fast read as well. Take a look.

Then I came across this other interesting post titled “Learning How to Use Design Thinking.” It appeared at InnovationManagement, and reports on a workshop that took place in Sweden in which 70 attendees learned how to apply design thinking to specific problems. This is more of an overview, as Dan Buzzini, Design Director at IDEO, explains how design thinking is an innovation tool. Two things to look for in this summary of the workshop are the reflections of the workshop participants – interesting to read what they thought was the most valuable part of the learning experience – and the link to a good video that demonstrates how IDEO helped a bank improve a self-service experience. It’s definitely worth watching.

Finally, here’s a link to an article about the engineering firm Arup. Titled “Working on Tomorrow’s World” it describes how Arup tackles incredibly difficult challenges related to designing and building future cities and their related structures. It’s a good read about a firm that has developed a successful approach to innovation. What caught my attention was the part about “hybrid thinking”. It’s described as:

Quite often, problem-solving innovation is created by “happy” clashes between different disciplines. Arup is a firm of engineers, designers, accountants, architects, marketing professionals and graphic designers. Engineers tackle architectural problems, designers try to answer engineering questions and technologists join forces with mathematicians to enable new angles to be explored. It’s what’s known as hybrid thinking.

Is it the same as design thinking? Despite some similarities (e.g., bringing together teams of diverse individuals to “deep dive” problems) Arup sees it as being slightly different:

Young doesn’t like to call it design thinking, a label that, he says, is simply “a discussion of semantics, a bit of a distraction”, but it’s clear Arup is infected with a childlike questioning of the status quo. It’s what drives creativity right to the edges of the company.

Perhaps it is just a case of semantics. What’s important is that both approaches start with the essential step of asking the right questions:

Arup’s culture is about stepping back, he says, and asking, “Is that the right question?” It’s not a case of “What are we building?”, but “What are we building it for?” He adds: “Out of that tension something else often pops out that wasn’t considered.” Innovation starts with a question.

If you come across a good read on design thinking I hope you’ll share it with me, and I’ll share it with DBL readers.

Interactions Special Issue on Design Thinking

If you have yet to discover interactions magazine (yes – small “i”), then the current issue is must reading for you – and I think you’ll become a regular subscriber. Describing itself as a magazine about “experiences, people and technology”, interactions is good regular reading for anyone interested in learning more about the design professions. The current issue for March/April 2010 (v.17 n.) is a special issue that features several articles about design thinking.

In prefacing issue, co-editors Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko write:

Popular discussion of “design thinking” has reached a point of frenzy. Unfortunately, there is often little depth to the discussion, and for many, the topic remains elusive and vague. While each issue of interactions has included articles about or reflecting the application of design thinking, this issue addresses the topic a bit more directly.

The goal of the issue is to offer greater in depth discussion about design thinking to engage us in thinking about what it is and what it can offer.

Articles in this issue cover topics such as what it means to have design literacy, improving relationships between design teams and business teams, and several other articles focus on interaction design and design research. The issue features several well recognized thought leaders in design, such as Roger Martin and Don Norman. My favorite article is the issue is titled “Design Thinking in Stereo” and it does a compare and contrast number on the design thinking philosophies of Roger Martin and Tim Brown, using information found in the newest books authored by these two prominent design thinkers. I find the two discuss similar ideas using different approaches and examples. For example, Brown describes design thinking as the three “I’s”, Ideate, Inspire and Implement. Martin uses his “knowledge funnel” (mystery, heuristic, algorithm) to explain the business cycle and how it can lead to exploitation and failure, and how design thinkers can better achieve an “explore and exploit” cycle. Since I enjoy reading the works of both, this was a worthwhile article.

I think you’ll find the articles about design and design thinking to be worth your time. If an inspiration hits you while reading any of the articles, please share it here.