“I’ve spent years and years trying to articulate this stuff.”
I spoke the words out loud to no one as I finished the last line of Change By Design by Tim Brown and Barry Katz. My next thought as I dropped the book on the table was, “If I had read this book when I first heard about it in 2009, I would’ve saved myself a lot of time and energy”.
But hindsight is always 20/20. I’m working on not having to experience everything first hand in order to learn it. Life is more enjoyable when I can learn first from the successes and failures of others, and through experience as a final resort.
As a 29-year-old blockhead, I probably wouldn’t have grokked much. Three years of trial by fire later, I basically inhaled the book.
Here’s my “review”/”book interview”. Enjoy!
Enter Change by Design
The Book in 3 Sentences or Less
The skills, perspectives, and tools of a designer can be powerfully applied to solve complex social, business, environmental, and economic problems and design transformative new products, services, and experiences. This style of problem solving and innovation can be called “design thinking”. By nature, design thinking is participatory, interdisciplinary, hands-on, and spontaneous.
The Author Backstory
The book was written by Tim Brown with Barry Katz. Tim Brown is the co-founder of the design and innovation consulting firm IDEO. Barry Katz is Professor of Design at California College of the Arts and Consulting Professor in the Design Group, Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Stanford University. He is a fellow at IDEO.
The Number One Takeaway: Being A Designer vs. Thinking Like A Designer
There’s a difference between being a designer and thinking like a designer. Tim Brown writes about an early experience he had working as a design professional at an English machinery manufacturer. He had been hired to improve their professional woodworking machines. He writes:
I think I did a pretty good job … but you will no longer find the [business I designed for], which has long since gone out of business. As a designer I didn’t see that it was the future of the woodworking industry that was in question, not the design of its machines.
This is a key distinction, and the book is framed around this theme. Design thinking gives us a framework for creating sustainable change at all levels, everywhere. As design thinkers, our solutions come from a complete, multi-layered, and multidisciplinary understanding of the WHOLE context surrounding them. This is how you create sustainable and transformative change in an increasingly complex and interrelated world.
Top 3 Leadership Lessons
Design thinking is a “third way” for change management. It bridges the extremes of the “left brained” rational and analytical and the “right brained” empathetic, intuitive, and inspirational.
Design isn’t a spoke in the hub of innovation and problem solving. It is the hub.
Design thinking thrives in a culture that supports it. Once again, risk-taking needs to be rewarded. True innovation requires leaders, in particular, to establish a new relationship with failure. Most ideas will fail. That’s a part of – no, that is – the process.
Top 3 Brand and Marketing Lessons
All products are services. We can now assume that a product must be put in the context of a service provided. The experience that manufacturers and sellers are able to provide along with their product will have an increasing effect on marketing’s bottom line and a brand’s future sustainability.
There is a new social contract between customers and brands. This contract says that…
- Customers are active participants in the determining what their choices are
- Relationships continue beyond the point of sale. Businesses must design for this shifting landscape.
Storytelling – not marketing – drives engagement. A cohesive narrative gives every character represented a sense of purpose and involves everyone in determining the outcome. Good stories – good memes – can be designed for.
Top 3 Business Strategy Lessons
Aim to apply design thinking to all levels and all phases of development. Historically, designers are brought in to package ideas at the end of the ideation and development process. Design thinkers should be present at all stages, and should be represented at the all levels of the organization.
Fail early, fail often, fail inexpensively. Build prototypes, act services out to see problems, scrap as needed, and start over again.
Make design human-centered. Technological or business innovation is not an end in and of itself. In an age of abundance and cheap mass-produced goods, this type of innovation leads to the graveyard effect of rows and rows of gadgets in the bog box with no real value to anyone. Contrast the iPad, a very human-centered design.
Most Challenging and Disruptive Ideas
Innovate from the edges in. We can look at “extreme users” on the edges of our markets to become inspired and gain insights into the continued evolution of our products and services.
Market-driven design and innovation. The days of the lone designer, inventor, or entrepreneur innovating technical and business solutions in his or her garage or studio are over. The next paradigm is user-driven innovation, with a multidisciplinary design team as the bridge between the user and the offering.
Beyond being the “right thing to do”, social enterprise provides opportunities for businesses to change the game. Businesses should step down from the role of all-powerful benefactor or philanthropist and go to work with the world’s poorest citizens as partners in entrepreneurship. This is a way of learning not just from extreme users (as mentioned above), but from extreme cultures, environments, and economies. We embrace constraints that can often lead to massive breakthroughs for businesses, society, and the environment.
Unique and Helpful Tools and Tactics
Prototyping slows us down to speed us up. It seems counter-intuitive that building should be more efficient than thinking. However, the sooner (and cheaper) we make our idea tangible (through building a website, creating a physical prototype, or enacting an experience), the sooner we can evaluate it, refine it, and choose the best solution.
The Project Brief
The project brief in and of itself is an old tool of designers. Like the Creativity Challenge Brief, it gives a project focus and form. Worth mentioning here is the way Tim and Barry think about framing the questions that guide briefs. Good project briefs are guided by a question that is both open-ended enough to leave room for exploration and interpretation, and concrete enough to help a design team set realistic goals.
- Team members attach post it notes to favorite ideas (post research, brainstorming, and prototyping)
- Ideas that collect the most Post-Its should be listed
- Discuss. Aim for consensus on three or so top ideas.
Closing Thoughts and Next Steps
I’ll hand it to these guys. They’ve “been down that road before”.
Change By Design is the product of decades of “dirt time” with the likes of Proctor & Gamble, Apple, Marriott, the Transport Security Administration (TSA), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The list is really endless.
The book is not dense. It’s rich. Everyone who’s serious about business design, questioning the status quo, and/or changing the world should pick it up.
Change by Design. It’s like having your brain upgraded. Read it. Do it. Live it.
Have you read the book? What did you learn from it? Have you used some of these tools? Tell us more in the comments!