Watch Tim Brown’s “Innovation Through Design Thinking” talk at MIT Sloan School of Management
Not so long ago, Tim Brown recounts, designers belonged to a “priesthood.” Given an assignment, a designer would disappear into a back room, “bring the result out under a black sheet and present it to the client.” Brown and his colleagues at IDEO, the company that brought us the first Apple Macintosh mouse, couldn’t have traveled farther from this notion.
At IDEO, a “design thinker” must not only be intensely collaborative, but “empathic, as well as have a craft to making things real in the world.” Since design flavors virtually all of our experiences, from products to services to spaces, a design thinker must explore a “landscape of innovation” that has to do with people, their needs, technology and business. Brown dips into three central “buckets” in the process of creating a new design: inspiration, ideation and implementation.
Design thinkers must set out like anthropologists or psychologists, investigating how people experience the world emotionally and cognitively. While designing a new hospital, IDEO staff stretched out on a gurney to see what the emergency room experience felt like. “You see 20 minutes of ceiling tiles,” says Brown, and realize the “most important thing is telling people what’s going on.” In a completely different venue, IDEO visited a NASCAR pit crew to come up with a more effective design for operating theaters.
After inspiration comes “building to think:” often a hundred prototypes created quickly, both to test the design and to create stakeholders in the process. Says Brown, “So many good ideas fail to make it out to market because they couldn’t navigate through the system.” IDEO counts on storytelling to develop and express its ideas, and to buy key players into the concept. Finally, IDEO relies on constantly refreshing its sources of inspiration by bringing in bold thinkers to campus, and increasingly, focusing on socially oriented design problems.