Tim Brown has had an amazing career working at the premier design firm in the country, IDEO. This book in part recounts stories of various clients they have worked for, and in part lays out a vision for how design can be more human centric. He discusses using these approaches for everything ranging from industrial design to social engineering.
Although the stories about the various clients are interesting, I found the book to be so high level that it was hard to take away practical steps. I would have found the book more valuable if instead of keeping the discussion at the very highest level (brainstorming is good, need to control the chaos, design goes through phases, etc) it would take some of the principles discussed and look at specifics -- here is a specific client interaction where we did x, y, z. Here is why we did it. Here is what happened. Here is a specific failure case. Here is what we learned.
Without it, although the book covers a lot of interesting case studies, it doesn't do so in a way in which I felt that I have knowledge of things to do differently in my day to day creative activities within my company, or ways in which I could interact with clients better.
on February 1, 2010
The problem with good design is that as a finished product, it tends to efface the process that led to it. Master painters and sculptors often made dozens of studies before creating the celebrated works we see in museums --- and we need to follow a similar process before we can expect to produce anything good or beautiful.
I dislike this book. The title promises so much, and then the author tries to stuff in as many vignettes as possible, giving short shrift to each, as well as to the overall message. Since every story employing [the author's firm] IDEO or a "design team" was a smashing success, the argument goes, the author's processes must be the right way to stimulate design thinking. What about the flip side of the story? Why isn't there an analysis of design failures?
Fortunately, the author summarizes the main process points in the final 15 pages of the book in CEO-talk: "begin at the beginning", "take a human-centered approach", "fail early, fail often", "get professional help", "share the inspiration", "blend big and small projects", "budget to the pace of innovation", "find talent any way you can", "design for the cycle", "don't ask what? ask why?", "open your eyes", "make it visual", "build on the ideas of others", "demand options", "balance your portfolio", "design a life".
While reading this book, I found that "design team" could often be replaced by "consultant". The author does not describe what separates mediocre design from great design; nor how to identify a good design team.
The author describes his "butterfly test", where people vote for ideas by affixing post-it notes next to items posted on the wall. This is essentially a public ballot --- a cute idea, which will only work in organizations where people won't be swayed by how others have voted; otherwise, wisdom-of-crowds benefits won't accrue.
Several books and many articles have been written about the business practices and design accomplishments of the iconic Industrial Design firm IDEO. But, this most recent text instructs and invites the reader to participate in Design Thinking and Problem Solving. Beginning with a mind map to supplement the table of contents Tim Brown escorts the reader in a multi-threaded adventure in the sometimes systematic, sometimes serendipitous world of design based problem solving; including methods for brainstorming, visualization and prototyping in a variety of environments. He demonstrates and invites the reader to share the methods of thinking and acting which have resulted in true innovation not only in product form and function, but in new experiences in hospitals, amusement parks and in life-saving design and engineering efforts for the Third World. Other books illustrate the design process and share the beautiful results achieved by Product Design and Development professionals, but aside from this book and Henry Dreyfuss' "Designing for People" which is so influential it was reprinted after half a century no other text shows the reader how to think and act as designer; a skill so necessary in solving the complex problems of modern life.
I highly recommend this short text, not only to the artist, or engineer but to all concerned citizens who hope to make a contribution in solving the problems of their own life and those of a global society.
Information Technology and HCI Consultant
I recently read two books (this one written with Barry Katz and Roger Martin's The Design of Business) and am reading a third (Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War) in which major organizational transformations are accomplished by those who understand the power of design thinking, help their colleagues to do so, and then together, take an approach, Tim Brown suggests, "that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and that therefore have high impact. Design thinking, the subject of this book, offers just such an approach." He goes on to acknowledge, "I was trained as an industrial designer, but it took me a long time to realize the difference between [begin italics] being [end italics] and [begin italics] thinking like [end italics] a designer. That strikes me as a critically important distinction. Brown views the power of design "not as a link in a chain but as the hub of a wheel"...not as a stage in a process but as a center of gravity, as a gravitational/centrifugal force, with involvement at all levels and in all areas of operation. "Design is now too important to be left to designers."
Brown carefully organizes his material with two Parts. First, he introduces a set of principles for design thinking that be applied by almost anyone in any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. He involves his reader in a journey through the important stages of thinking. He provides a framework that he hopes will help the reader identify the principles and practices that make for great design thinking. He focuses on design thinking as applied to business and examines a number of the most innovative companies in the world, such as his own firm, IDEO, as well as Bank of America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google, Intel, Kaiser Permanente, Mattel, Mayo Clinic, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, and Shimano. Each of these companies has established a culture within which there is a constant generation of ideas. After rigorous evaluation according to criteria that are most appropriate for the given context, and frame-of-reference, the focus of most promising ideas shifts from problem to project. This requires articulation of a clear goal at the outset. Design thinking "creates natural deadlines that impose discipline and [provide] an opportunity to review progress, make midcourse corrections, and redirect future activity. The clarity, direction, and limits of a well-defined project are vital to sustaining a high level of creative energy."
Where to begin a project? Brown recommends first formulating the brief that can allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and "the capricious whims of fate," then assembling the project team, selecting those who have multidisciplinary capabilities, are not risk averse, are what Roger Martin characterizes as "integrative thinkers," welcome collaboration, and thrive on challenges. The importance of design thinking to this process cannot be exaggerated. It starts with divergence, expanding the range of options rather than limit them; it balances the perspectives of users and is what I could call "beneficiary-centric"; helps to accelerate time to first prototype (a subject to which Brown devotes a great deal of attention, notably on Pages 87-108); "shares the inspiration" within internal knowledge networks; accommodates the reality that there are no silver bullets for innovation, only "silver buckshot"; allocate resources to accommodate fast-paced, unruly, and disruptive innovation initiatives; and enables creative innovators "to bridge the chasm between thinking and doing because they [are] passionately committed to the [common] goal of a better life and a better world around them."
Here in Dallas, we have a Farmer's Market near the downtown area at which several vendors offer slices of fresh fruit so that people can sample for taste. In that spirit, here are two brief excerpts from Brown's lively and eloquent narrative:
On an approach to innovation that consists of a "judicious blend" of bottom-up experimentation and guidance from above: "The rules for this approach are as simple to state as they are challenging to apply:
1. The best ideas emerge when the whole organizational ecosystem - not just its designers and engineers and certainly not just management has room to experiment.
[Note: In 1924, William L. McKnight, then CEO of 3M observed, "If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need." That is especially true of those who participate in brainstorming sessions. ]
2. Those most exposed to changing externalities (new technology, shifting customer base, strategic threats or opportunities) are the ones best placed to respond and most motivated to do so.
3. Ideas should not be favored based on who creates them. (Repeat aloud.)
4. Ideas that create a buzz should be favored. Indeed, ideas should gain a vocal following, however small, before being given organizational support.
5. The `gardening' skills of senior leadership should be used to tend, prune, and harvest ideas. MBAs call this `risk tolerance.' I call it the top-down bit.
6. An overarching purpose should be articulated so that the organization has a sense of direction and innovators don't feel the need for constant supervision."
On brainstorming: "Brainstorming, ironically, is a structured way of breaking out of structure. It takes practice...[All organizations have their own rules] that lay out the playing field within which a team of players can perform at high levels...At IDEO we have dedicated rooms for our brainstorming sessions and the rules are literally written on the walls: Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. The most important of them, I would argue, is `Build on the ideas of others.' It's right up there with `Thou shalt not kill' and `Honor thy father and thy mother,' as it ensures that every participant is invested in the last idea put forward and has the chance to move it along."
Recall a previous reference to the "journey" on which Brown invites his reader to embark. "There are useful starting points and helpful landmarks along the way, but the continuum of innovation is best thought of as a system, of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps." As Brown makes crystal clear, the reason for the iterative, non-linear nature of the journey "is not that design thinkers are disorganized or undisciplined but that design thinking is fundamentally an exploratory process; it will invariably make unexpected discoveries along the way, and it would be foolish not to find out where they lead."
on December 14, 2010
A book by the CEO of IDEO about design thinking comes with high expectations. Unfortunately, this book falls seriously short mostly because it blatantly promotes his company instead of discussing real problems, stories and solutions. All roads lead to IDEO. Done. But, is business innovation really so simple?
Tim Brown is not alone. Many CEO's write books to overtly promote their works, clients, and methodologies. I'd imagine that is why Peter Drucker, the management guru from Harvard University, gave a funny answer to a question asked by a journalist at FORTUNE Magaine - "What business books do you read?" Drucker - "I don't read business books. I read Shakespeare."
If you want to read an excellent book about innovation, I found "The Victorian Internet," well-written and researched. It discusses the advent of the telegraph and how its leaders came up with solutions to the myriad problems from the new technology. It provides a surprising parallel to the dot com boom of 1998-2001. By analyzing history, we are better equipped to look around corners and prepare for the future.
on December 5, 2010
I read this book as part of our User Experience Book Club, and to sum it up in advance, I was quite disappointed. I thought a person like Tim Brown who led a design company of the caliber of IDEO would be able to share some real gems of wisdom with his readers. However, I distinctly felt that Tim didn't know how to do this. Instead, he created lots of different headlines that always made a promise but then didn't deliver. His biggest mistake is that he seems to believe that a long list of case studies with hardly any detail would teach readers how to tackle big design challenges. Unfortunately that is not the case - after reading the book, I knew just as much about how I could change the design culture within my company as before.
If this book was titled "All the cool stuff IDEO has done over the past 30 years", I would tend to give it 3 stars - I would still think that it's just a never-ending list of involvements, none of them explained in any depth that might prove to be helpful for readers.
In the last third of the book, before he wraps up, Tim then starts to go on for quite a few pages about how designers will be able to save the world, and how pretty much every successful businessman in the developing world who has an altruistic mind-set is in fact a designer who just proves his hypothesis. I find this quite a weak argument, and it gets worse the more Tim celebrates his own profession.
The only saving grace of this book is the very last chapter where he quickly wraps up what a company should do to ramp up its design efforts. Had he used THAT chapter and elaborated it in book form, I would have given him 4 stars and not just 2.
on March 15, 2010
I'm not a good writer, so I'll keep this review informal.
I enjoyed reading this book, but maybe because I'm a business literature junkie.
Tim Brown, a self-admitted man of pictures, obviously has problems with words, and he didn't get any good help from the "editors". Brown should read his own advice about telling better stories and getting people excited about your idea.
As he talks about using creative problem-solving skills to make better mops and to improve the airline checkpoint experience and to make kids brush their teeth more often, you gain a new appreciation for creative, open minded thinking, but you have no idea where to go from here.
He does encourage companies to hire creative and out-of-the-box people and to give designers some space and some time (Think of IBM's skunk works and Google 20%-free-time rule) but the he only practical application for individuals is to "notice the ordinary, and to think why manholes are round..." Come on.
The book is certainly not boring. It was interesting to read, but it's like an average movie where you hope for that great catharsis which never comes...
To give credit where credit is due, he did give vivid examples in the cases of the Indian Aravind eye hospital and the cheap, disposable, irrigation systems they're using in developing countries. (Anyone could've come up with the Oral-B toothbrush idea. Sorry) but very little, if any, meaningful practical suggestions.
This book brings too few specifics, too few examples, considering that non of us ever built a prototype. I want to know, for example, of what idea IDEO helped the TSA develop to increase understanding between their agents and the passengers, etc, etc, etc, etc,
[To compare this book with another thinking-man's business book, Good to Great by Jim Collins doesn't have many stated practical suggestions, but he does provide you with an abundance of live, simple examples, which lets you expand on your own.
I repeat, as an avid reader of business news and books, I understood most of what was not adequately explained, but this book clearly needs a rewrite - and I will buy the next version.
I was lucky enough to get a pre-release copy of this book...and I'm glad I did.
Don't be taken in by some of the other reviews. There are others that are bashing the book because it doesn't tell the reader much 'how to implement' Design Thinking and spends much of its time promoting IDEO.
I disagree wholeheartedly with those comments. While this book does promote IDEO's rich history and successes, the book does a great deal to introduce the concept of Design Thinking to the reader. If you're a long-time practitioner of design thinking, this book may not be for you...if you aren't, this book is perfect.
According to this book, Design Thinking is the interplay of people and product/process. When you use a design thinking approach you take the entire environment into consideration when designing a process or product. Rather than take a look at a few possibilities for a design of a bike (in the case of the Shimano bike story in the book) and build a bike, the design thinker looks at the broader picture and environment to few new choices and possibilities.
If you have an interest in Design Thinking or just want to know more about the topic, get this book now. If you're an academic who wants to see case studies of design thinking in action that show success and failure, perhaps this isn't the book for you.
on September 7, 2009
Did I learn anything from this book? Was this book well written? Was there great content included? Was the main theme a worthy topic? Was the book fun to read? The answer to all these questions for me is a resounding "No!" I feel as though I have wasted my time reading this book (and it was kind of painful, too), thus the 1-star rating.
The book is split into two parts and ten chapters as follows:
I. What is Design Thinking? [1-6]
II. Where do we go from here? [7-10]
0. The power of Design Thinking
1. How Design Thinking is about more than style
2. Converting need into demand
3. A mental matrix
4. The power of prototyping
5. The design of experiencing
6. The importance of storytelling
7. Design Thinking meets the corporation
8. The new social contract
9. Inspiring solutions with global potential
10. Designing tomorrow
This book is all about "Design Thinking" (DT), something the author and his company IDEO-dot-com do for a living. Innovation and design firms can be conventional and think in the box, or they can be unconventional and truly creative by thinking outside the box. The ones that are truly creative employ DT says the author, and thus they can be innovative. But this book is not a How-To about DT. It's more a book about how much better the world is with DT design firms rather than simple conventional nuts-and-bolts design firms. Funny, this book came across as a marketing tool for the author's design firm (IDEO). The name of the company was certainly cited enough (too much).
So what is the design process? It starts with identifying a pressing issue (a problem to solve). Second, one must explore a variety of solutions. And third, the best solution is chosen and a solid working prototype must be created. Voila! There you have it. The difference between lazy design firms and DT design firms is in Step II - the exploration of solution options. Does one just figure out a solution to solve the problem, or does one get really creative and solve the problem super well? If the former, then the firm is not a DT, and if the latter then it is.
At one point in the book the author makes a distinction between mapping or multi-level thinking and linear thinking. I wish the author could do both. He's probably pretty good at the former, but he needs to be good at the latter in order to write a good book. 1 star!
PS. I do not give out 1-star ratings easily. I really have to hate a book to give them. Most books I'm not crazy about get a 3-star. A book that is likeable gets a 4-star. And a real gem of a book gets a 5-star from me.
I really wanted to like this book but, frankly, it was so difficult to follow and build any enthusiasm for the ideas in it, that I found myself wading through it. Some things were so obvious - Build a Buzz (do CEOs actually set out to create boring products?). I kept wondering when the great insights would appear. Wouldn't you think a design guy could write a more inspiring book? And, just a personal pet peeve, where's the index?