Change by Design key takeaways

In his first book, Tim Brown (former CEO at IDEO), a design and consulting firm, reflects on how well-executed design brings a positive impact at every level of business.

From the beginning of the book, he establishes the idea that Design thinking includes skills designers have been using over decades in their search to fulfill human needs with technical and financial constraints of business. By integrating these three spheres, designers have been able to create the amazing products we enjoy today.

Design thinking advocates the idea of “failing early to succeed sooner”, showing the importance of validating assumptions that are sometimes taken for granted. This avoids what has been seen a lot of times: teams facing the sad reality that a project is going no way to succeed. Usually, this happens after months, or even years, of hard effort, resulting not only in a terrible loss of money, but also in a team’s morale undermined.

This set of methods also prove the importance of prototyping and testing since day one, making corrections and setting new expectations along the way. Nimble teams react quickly and discard bad ideas faster.

According to Brown, the first step of the design process usually tries to frame the constraints and assess them in order to define a common criteria for successful ideas. This framework is based on three important elements.

  • Feasibility: establishes what is possible doable within the foreseeable future. One of the main purposes of early prototypes is to understand whether an idea has functional value.
  • Viability: the potential to become a sustainable business model.
  • Desirability: the quality of a product of being desirable. This is what separates market leaders from the pack.

The power of empathy and emotions

Empathy represents the effort to see the world through the eyes of others. Embracing empathy in the ideation process can build bridges to understand the world from a different perspective, bringing valuable insights that connect experiences with emotions.

Tim Brown mentions the popular Nintendo Wii as a good example when a product disrupts the market, leveraging the power of emotions and empathy. But the list continues with Hollywood movies, video games, and gourmet restaurants.

The Walt Disney Company is described as one the clearest examples of an experience business. This means that its value is built upon good emotions and positive feelings. Other examples of experience business are movies, video games and gourmet restaurants.

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon puts the experience at the center of the business.

Experience businesses bring design to the table, aiming to enrich users lives by leveraging emotions through all of our senses: image, form, texture, color, sound and smell. Empathy and understanding of people are the key for design thinking. Human-centered experiences create different opportunities for active engagement and participation.

The marriage between design and technology can also help big companies be more efficient like never before. A clear example of this is Wal-Mart, that leverages a customized set of computer networks to manage a gigantic group of suppliers to look for the lowest possible prices.

Tracing the path to innovation

One of the kickoff questions at every brainstorm session at IDEO is How Might We? Starting from the overly general instead of the too specific.

Tim Brown brings the case of a person who wants to take a flight at the airpot: how might we improve the airport-security experience? Using a user-centric approach, if a passenger understand what is the purpose of being asked of them and why, they will be more likely to be tolerant to certain procedures that would otherwise seem arbitrary and intimidating.

Good design is about connecting the dots to deliver a pleasant experience. Design thinking is when everyone has the opportunity to participate in the conversation making the best out of it.

The tools of a great design thinker are the prototypes built to learn without making solid assumptions beforehand. Being inspired by people, creating user stories, looking for synergy from other disciplines are some of the ways of deepening the knowledge and making a substantial impact. Expanding the range of options rather than narrowing them.

Observing the ordinary is one the main traits of great design thinkers. Making it a rule is a good way to build muscle and, therefore, better products.

Further reading

  • Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design. HarperBusiness.
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