Change By Design–How to put design thinking to work

Design is too powerful to be used by designers alone. This is the essential idea behind the theory of design thinking–applying the principles and techniques of design to help organizations innovate, solve problems, and create positive change.

Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, should know. His new book, Change By Design, is about how Design Thinking works, and how design consultancy IDEO has put design thinking to work in organizations around the world. The book provides a useful, comprehensive overview on the power and value of design thinking.

Design thinking was a concept first introduced to me by then Red Hat VP David Burney. Burney led a movement at Red Hat to introduce the philosophy and methodology of design thinking to the company worldwide. Through his vision, it wasn’t long before design thinking sessions were held across departments and across functions, and at every level in the organization.

So in many ways, the book Change By Design felt like a wonderful review. It didn’t necessarily break a lot of new ground–but then again, I don’t need convincing that design thinking is the one of the most powerful tools organizations have to innovate. For those looking to introduce design thinking into their organizations, the book is a great place to start.

What is design thinking?

I might summarize design thinking like this: When you take advantage of the skills designers use to create artifacts–and apply them toward designing processes, infrastructure, organizations.

It’s using those same tools and processes that designers use: defining a problem, brainstorming, observation, empathy, insight, prototyping–and using them to create a human-centered approach to drive innovation. As Brown says:

“Design has the power to enrich our lives by engaging our emotions through image, form, texture, color, sound, and smell. The intrinsically human nature of design thinking points to the next step: we can use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation.”

One of the most empowering aspects of design thinking is that anyone can take advantage of it. Design is simply too powerful, and too much fun, to be left to designers alone. As Burney was so well known for saying, “Everyone is a designer.” Or as Marty Neumier wrote, “A designer is anyone who tries to change an existing situation to an improved one.”

Design thinking heightens awareness and the power of observation. It puts people at the center of the process. It’s deeply collaborative. It creates a positive climate for ideas and for the people who share them. It allows ideas to survive on their own merit.

This is why I’ve always felt design thinking has so many parallels to the open source development model. And why I think design thinking is particularly well suited to Red Hat. Red Hat develops its technology by working in communities of customers, contributors, and partners through the open source development model And applying the open source way beyond the development model: You bring many people together from broad perspectives in an open environment. You collaborate. You prototype. The best ideas win.

This model of collaborating in communities and designing with customers will continue to become more relevant, and more valuable, as the tools to create become more widely available. When everyone has the design tools to create logos or websites or software, collaborative skills become more critical–and more valuable. This new environment will demand the ability to lead communities through a creative process, to encourage collaboration and bring out the best ideas, to help them establish the criteria to determine which solutions are most effective.

It’s no coincidence that one of my favorite examples of this process working successfully is the redesign of the Fedora logo, which was led by Matthew Muñoz, now a partner with David Burney at their firm, New Kind. Muñoz worked within the Fedora community to gather ideas and develop a process to design a logo that reflected their best ideas and what they wanted their new logo to represent. As Brown writes: “Design is about delivering a satisfying experience. Design Thinking is about creating a multipolar experience in which everyone has the opportunity to participate in the conversation.”

The next great design thinking book will pick up where Brown’s book left off: Just how to bring together those conversations, build and work in communities, and inspire a democratization of innovation. I believe we can look to open source to show the way here.

What’s clear is that successful companies of the future will be those that design with, not just for their customers. I believe design thinking–and open source–will play a central role.


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