Tim Brown: Innovation Through Design Thinking

by Luke Wroblewski January 19, 2007

I recently caught a talk by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, about the role of design in corporate innovation. Here’s what I heard:

  • Design in everywhere these days especially on the minds of many CEOs many of whom don’t know how to make use of it.
  • Designers have a unique process for solving problems that Tim refers to as design thinking. When most people think about design they tend to focus on the deliverables –the end results. Companies that view design as JUST making things pretty or are missing the point.
  • Design thinking can be used to tackle a wide range of creative & business issues including developing strategies that help determine where a company can go in the future.
Design Thinking can be used to:
  • Drive strategy
    • Designers can visualize the future, they can show what it can look like.
    • No one knows how to act on strategy from Powerpoint or Excel, etc.
    • Example: HBO used design to envision the future of media distribution
  • Create new markets
    • Design can help create new value.
    • Example: Shimano used design to create a new form of biking, bikes, and messaging
  • Create new offerings
    • Example: Microjet (sub million dollar jet) is more safe and reliable than propeller planes and relies on a simplified pilot and maintenance experience to work
  • Create new business models
    • Design has a large impact on the shift from products to services
    • Build relationships with people vs. selling them products
    • This shifts cost models, revenue models, etc.
  • New application for technology
  • New ways of connecting to customers
  • Develop new partner relationships
    • Example: Kraft’s redesign of their supplier partner process created and additional 50 million dollar difference with one supplier alone
So what is Design Thinking?
  • It’s a human-centered approach to innovation.
  • Being human-centered is unique to design, Designers think about people first, then the business second. The opposite is true for most companies.
  • In the traditional Venn diagram of People (desirable), Business (viable) & Technical (feasible), design thinking solves the problem from the People perspective
  • Design thinking is supported by a rich set of tools, processes, roles, and environments. Designers work like craftsmen. They know when to use the right tool at the right time.
  • There are 3 important phases for design thinking: Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation
Inspiration
  • Everything hinges on inspiration. We need new insights to drive innovation.
  • The right way to get inspired is to get out into the real world: use the world as a source of inspiration not just validation.
  • Great designers are great observers of life. They get out there to look, listen, and try.
  • What’s the difference between design research and market research? Predictive market research is used by marketing to gauge the size of an opportunity. It is primarily a validation tool. Design research is an inspiration tool.
  • Designers gain empathy by looking at the world through other people's eyes in order to understand things at social, cultural, cognitive, emotional, and physical levels.
  • Designers often look at analogous situations for inspiration. For example, when doing research for surgery procedures an IDEO spent a day with a Nascar pit crew.
  • Insights come from extreme users and not from center of the bell curve. There’s little inspiration in average usage.
  • Kids are extreme users. They magnify issues that we have as adults.
Ideation
  • Building to think is essence of the prototyping process.
  • Prototypes can be very rough but they should always enable engagement & discussion. Prototypes don't have to be physical but do need to be tangible.
  • Designers might go though hundreds of iterations of prototypes so they need to be quick and easy to build.
  • McDonald's prototypes service models and scenarios in a giant reconfigurable lab in Chicago.
  • Prototyping makes a difference. Mcdonald’s saw kiosk usage rise from 7% to 90% after IDEO ideation process.
Implementation
  • Most things fail to get out because they can't make it through the organization.
  • Storytelling helps develop & express ideas to get them through organizations.
  • Stores can connect multiple stakeholders.
  • Stories can be films, presentations, physical experiences, or more.
  • IDEO often takes over a floor of a building and turns it into the strategy.
  • Sometimes, the story can be end the result: it creates new knowledge.
  • If designers tell story the right way, they can have enormous influence through design.
Managing Innovation
  • Most management teams are focused on growing a business.
  • As a result, designers need to know how to create growth from design thinking: extend, mange, create, adapt.
  • For new offerings & new users: create new markets, disrupt markets
  • For new offerings & existing users: extend brands, share of wallet, leverage users
  • Revolutionary, Evolutionary, and Incremental should be managed as a portfolio.
  • Revolutionary can make its way into Incremental & Evolutionary innovation
  • Valuable metrics: time to first prototype; portfolio outcomes; net promoter (effectiveness of how it impacts brand)

Design thinking is a human centered approach to problem solving. Its a process built from People (inspiration gained by looking & listening to them), Prototyping (ideating quickly to make things real), and Stories (getting things implemented by selling compelling narratives not "concepts").