What is design thinking, and where is it going? This webinar explores definitions, design thinking and its malcontents, and what's next.
What is design thinking, and where is it going? Many people claim to be experts, but not everyone agrees on what design thinking is. For some, it's a panacea. Others wish it would go away!
In this webinar, we explore:
- What is design thinking? Some definitions.
- Is it over? Design thinking and its malcontents.
- What's next.
Hello everyone. Welcome to our webinar on design thinking. My name is Kevin Budelmann. I'm president of a design strategy firm called Peopledesign in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm so glad to see so many people interested in this topic of design thinking. It's something that has been a big part of our service offering for a number of years and certainly a topic of discussion among a lot of business thinkers, design thinkers, people who are working on innovation. What I've done today is put together some materials which are reflective of our point of view on the subject. I hope you will find is useful. My presentation will last maybe 30 or 40 minutes and I'm hopeful that there are some good questions. We'll have another 15 or 20 minutes at the end to run up until 02:00 Eastern and I will try to answer as many questions as I can.
"Design Thinking and Its Malcontents" is actually what I titled this presentation. It's one of these things where I think that design thinking is a term that's been kicked around long enough that it already has some naysayers and I have some opinions about why that might be and what might happen next with this emerging field. First of all, it's worth noting that I think for many people design thinking has turned into post-it parties. Many of you may have been invited to post-it parties. Post-it parties are those meetings where there is desire to sit in a room and generate a lot of ideas. The idea of brainstorming has certainly been around for 50 0r 60 years and it taken on new life with the advent of post-its and the idea of generating a lot of ideas. Being a little facetious, of course, because I think that while using post-its is a very useful way to work through idea generation, just sitting down in a group and writing a lot of ideas down doesn't always result in the kind of innovation that sometimes people are seeking when they are working in the design innovation space.
I think there are other things you can do and I'll get into that in a moment. One of the things I'll note here is that because some people have had that experience with post-it parties or other kinds of ideas or tired of hearing about the idea of design thinking, there's already a bit of a backlash or there has been a backlash. Bruce Nussbaum who is a famous author who writes a lot about business and design innovation notably have been writing for a few years and then early in 2011 called it a failed experiment with a fairly public article that talked about how, if it was a big idea, it's perhaps already failed and going away.
Now, this trend line which is really just Google trends suggest otherwise. It's been a couple of years since then and its even projection going forward, there continues to be an interest in the topic. Now, what does it really mean? Do we have a common agreement as to what design thinking is about? I'm not so sure. I have an opinion about these things but I think at the very least, if it's a failed experiment, there seems to be a lot of interest in trying to sort out what it actually might be.
One of the reasons, I believe, that design thinking is a topic of exploration for many is the increasing rate of change that we all are experiencing. This is a graphic I found from a blog online, but you could find any references to the accelerated rate of change. If you consider Moore's law and all of the things we are experiencing in our lives, this chart is perhaps has a little bit of hyperbole but it is interesting if you believe any part of it about will computing power surpass the brain power of a mouse in 2015, surpass human brain power in 2023, and lead toward singularity. I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly true that we are all as a culture, as a society experiencing rapid change in terms of what computing power can achieve. It started to change the landscape in increasingly dramatic ways.
Not the least of which is the supercomputer that is in your pocket or pocketbook. Even if you don't have an iPhone, certainly the revolution that is the smartphone is quite remarkable and it's one of the things that we all are increasingly taking for granted. The fact that this device has more computing power than craze supercomputers did in the 1970s that filled whole rooms, or for that matter has more computing power than was on the Apollo missions that went to the moon. It's significant to think about what is actually going on there.
Of course, there's a lot of experimentation as to what this device really can do through applications, and maybe even more so how the technology in general is starting to change the landscape, whether it's how we think about heating our home or what Amazon is playing around with drones or wearables or even think about the advent of Google Maps which is this remarkable technology that we all suddenly take for granted, that we're walking around with a GPS essentially in our pockets, not to mention more cars is going with [test live 00:06:08] or just even Netflix in terms of how it's starting to change the landscape of movies and television and entertainment.
Clearly, in a different landscape, now all these are high tech touchstones but it's one of these things where these are leading indicators, I believe of future changes and increasingly divergent marketplaces. I think a lot of organizations are wrestling with how to take the next step. What does this actually mean? Whether it's Khan Academy in education or Netflix in entertainment, there are organizations that are starting to change the game on everyone else and we all need to start thinking about what is the resulting landscape, how might we adjust to this changing landscape.
As far as the definition goes, here is, as Stephen Colbert would call it the Wiki truth, this is a definition from Wikipedia of design thinking which really isn't bad from my standpoint. So combining empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in generating insights and solutions, rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context. Tim Brown from IDEO, the consulting firm, has gained a lot of acclaim and reputation for exploring the area of design thinking and talks about the balance between technology user needs and business strategy.
I think those are good definitions of the goal, but I don't know if it addresses as much the nature of what design thinking perhaps is or why it even came to be. That's what I start to explore next. I think it starts with some kind of a breakdown of how we think about constructing something new whether it's a product or service or some kind of an event. They're best laid plans. They're, on the left, you have the perfect plan in your mind or on paper and somewhere today and at some point in the future, you have a perfect product. This is the way we create things. We think about them and then we make them.
Certainly, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so we are told in Mathematics, Geometry, but we certainly imagine how this is supposed to work and we develop instructions or specifications or roadmaps, a Gantt chart as is shown on this page that helps to articulate the different sometimes concurrent paths of work. It tries to suggest the dependencies moving from this plan, this perfect plan toward a perfect product. I think all of these things, the Gantt chart in particular is a huge advancement in thinking about how to move certain kinds of projects forward.
I think there's a question though as we think about the iPhone and I don't want to make this all about the iPhone, but I think it's a good example of a lot of things. It really begs the question whether or not an iPhone was created in this way. Was there a perfect plan for the iPhone or some of these more innovative products that are happening and how did it result in whatever we conceive a perfect product to be. Was that, in fact, a straight line and was there a Gantt chart which is to say did someone write down at the beginning of the project what the solution was going to be in great detail and just map it out, it move through from point A to point B.
I think not, I think not. I think that we've all, if you re iPhone users or users of other products that innovate at a fairly rapid pace whether it's Gmail or other kinds of technology, these things change rapidly. In fact, there are generations of these products and even though a particular launch, I'm sure, has some form of a launch plan, it's also clear that new things don't necessarily get achieved in straight line. The question is what does the process actually look like moving from a plan to a product, to a finished product? I think it's worth recognizing that what happens on the left, the thinking part, so to speak, is abstract. It's something that's imagined.
Imagine you construct something in your mind and then you start to develop plans and roadmaps to try to achieve the products on the right which is more real. It's more concrete. I think the challenge is when you move into areas that are new, new landscapes, sometimes organizations or leaders adapt the idea that "I'll know it when I see it," and that becomes the Litmus test for which path to pursue. I think those are powerful but dangerous words honestly. I think it's one of these things where it's based on some level of intuition and sometimes your intuition is correct but it's also worth recognizing that how do you know you'll know it when you see it?
There are many examples of new innovations that were roundly rejected until they were wholly adapted by the market at large. New things are sometimes very foreign and people like to rely on existing patterns and sometimes you don't know it until you see it, or certainly an individual doesn't necessarily know it when they see it. There may be is some other process that we might need to consider.
As an aside, or taking a different path, it's worth noting that this broad change, the evolution on technology that has led to the current era that we are in, this knowledge era is something that is part of a much broader scheme. Certainly if we think back to the craft era prior to the industrial evolution where scarcity was really the main concern, craftspeople, access to basic resources and products and services where the biggest issue. As we move out of that era into the industrial era, it certainly became all about scale, factories and optimization. Really the industrial era is many of the ways in which we think about our organizations today and the way we … What we have been able to achieve as a society is due to the success of the industrial era.
It's also true that we are arguably in the process of moving out of the industrial era into another era, a knowledge era that has more to do with choice and networks and connections, and that the shift moves from the idea of optimization to connection. In the craft era, it's worth noting that the distance between the plan and the product was quite small, quite short. In fact, it could very well be that you are making something for yourself.
You might be making something for your family or you might be, if you are a let's say a blacksmith or something, you might be making something for a small village but you probably knew the people you are working for, so sort of those short path. There weren't a lot of people involved. The maker was also the person imagining what they might make and they might also be a user and that it was … Craft was an easier way to think about it because they could craft that very device, product, service for that particular use. They could tailor it for that use. It's more of a one-to-one kind of relationship.
Into the industrial era, there are a lot more people involved. The distance was a little farther or even a lot farther and as we started to build organizations and companies, institutions built for scale, they're more like factories. It becomes more about optimization and this is true for certainly factories but also service organizations. It's true for education. A lot of the way we think about the world is a product of the industrial era. These technologies that we've adapted, things like the Gantt chart, even an MBA program, or even product design, the idea of product design, as we sort of thinking about design thinking in our list of products, all of these things are ideas that have their origins in their current state anyway of about a hundreds years ago.
If we think about the idea of creating a Gantt chart, the fella who developed that, Mr. Gantt, had a lot to do with building large infrastructure projects, highway systems and bridges and things of a much larger scale that became very, very useful and even the idea of getting masters in business administration, the idea that you're looking at a business in a more abstract way, and thinking about problems in a more holistic way, and then thinking about product design, the idea of thinking about human factors and the idea of what might a product look like before you start producing hundreds or thousands or millions of them. The distance was farther. New tools needed to be developed, new technologies as a way to better communicate and be with industrial planning.
I believe we're moving into an era where that distance is even farther. The distance between the planners and the makers has become quite far and so much so that in some ways perhaps a problem and there are some of the new techniques that are emerging have a lot to do with trying to overcome that distance, ways of dealing with the fact that there's such a distance between the planners and the makers that there are some risks which I'll get into in a moment.
Some of the things that are emerging are the idea of innovation as a discipline. Certainly, part of that has to do with the fact that these changing conditions, new technologies have led organizations to recognize that they need to innovate more frequently than once in a blue moon. They need to do it regularly. They need to innovate as a core competency and continue to adapt as quickly or even more quickly than the changing environment around them. Also, I think the ideas around what's happening in software development, so if you follow software development and the idea of waterfall software development which is another way to describe a Gantt chart in a sense where this simple dependencies that build over time versus the idea of Agile software development.
Agile software development is the idea of working much more iteratively, much more collaboratively and in some ways trying to connect the dots between the planning and the making. I think design thinking fits in the same category where there is this idea of trying to connect these things in new ways. This is really just a way to deal with this emerging set of new criteria, a new level of choice, networks, connections, even faster connections than were previously anticipated. If we think about what that means, there's a whole system of people that is behind all of these things. All of these people, there's a whole strata of people and whole disciplines and educational curricula and ways of thinking about the world and whole job descriptions that are based on people who are employed to set the strategy and other people who are employed to implement the strategy or programs and people who are trying to produce artifacts.
All of these people are … These three layers or sometimes many more between the planners and the user way on the other end. There are executives and managers and let's say designers or engineers manufacturing that lead to the actual end customer. The system of people is something that needs to be considered seriously and we need to try to think about how to bridge the potential gaps. There are risks with systems of people, not the least of which is communication. If you think about just the simple game of telling a secret, getting a group of kids together in a circle and having to tell a secret and whisper a secret around in a circle, the common understanding is how much information lost just among us, a group of let's say five or six people.
We multiply that by hundreds and it's not as if we're playing the game secret but it is true that communication and actual true collaboration is quite difficult in making sure that there is not too much information lost between the original idea and the actual artifact or the actual product. It's really a challenge for a lot of organizations. This is something that needs to be overcome if we wanted to make sure that the intentions of the plan are actually executed on the ground.
There are risks in this distance. The risks of trying to overcome the communication and human challenges of just working in this way, but also it's the question of in this era of faster connections, how do we make new things, making the new, and making it fast? There's a question of how do we move from plan to product in a way that has the fidelity to these ideas? One hopes, at their best, the people on the planning side, they have the vision, they have the knowledge and the experience to achieve the goals that they are setting out. On the right, one hopes that the people who are involved in the product know about the user, they know about the medium, they know about the constraints of what they're trying to achieve.
In the gap, there are these risks. The risks on the planning side are falling into the trap of having too much on an industry precedent or even the idea of best practices which can be a rut that are hard to get out of. It may not provide as clear a view of the actual end user all the way on the right. There can be a propensity to seek quick answers instead of good questions. Faster isn't always better, but there are certainly a lot of emphasis for speed in terms of planning and going to market, in part, because it takes so long to move from the left to the right.
There's also risks of how we define problems, how narrowly we define the problems versus more holistic solutions. Quick wins versus a long-term vision. I would say in general the risk of devaluing human factors, meaning, if you're pretty distant, if you're pretty far away from the actual user of the end product, the customer, it's easy to devalue what they care. You start thinking more about yourself or the industry and you forget about the user. That's a risk. All those things are risk.
Whereas on the right, if you're somewhere closer to creating the product but you have less of a line of sight to the plan, you may forget the business, you may forget the user, you may overly fixate on the form over the function, or even just following the market, following competitors. You may value process for executing rather than results. That, sometimes in general, you're suffering from poor information or just a lack of autonomy. These things are really … It's not to point fingers at anyone in particular, it's more just to say that this is the nature of increasingly complex and larger organization at a larger scale.
This is exacerbated by the impact of hierarchy. The other thing that's worth noting, of course, is that usually there are the people who are charged with the planning, the executives who set strategy, and then there are other people that are charged with designing and engineering and manufacturing to produce artifacts that is thinking to making. Process runs down hill. The problems on the left, in some ways, outweigh the problems on the right and the business impact are things like an inefficient process because the thinkers so to speak don't know as much about making deadline and budgets get blown. Sometimes you get market misses in terms of it's harder to know what you're trying to achieve because you're pretty distant from it, a poor customer experience, or other kind of missed opportunities in terms of what's happening in the marketplace.
However, there is a maker revolution going on, partly, again, fueled by technology. If you're familiar with this book, Chris Anderson's "Makers" book, it goes into the advent of where 3D printing and other things are going to potentially go in the future. At the very least, it's very clear that the cost of production for many kinds of things, many kinds of making is going way down. It's a lower cost, it's more democratized. It's even, I believe, getting into increasingly new kinds of skill sets.
I have a colleague who believes that the next generation of workers will be able to make and edit movies as fluidly as previous generation worked on let's say Word documents or PowerPoint. I mean there's a different kind of communication that comes in part because the tools have gotten so much better. Computers, you can make a movie on your phone, and so why wouldn't we start to do things that have a greater sense of impact potentially than other ways, other modes of communication. As the making becomes more democratized, it starts to increase certainly its visibility and its potential. I think that there can be the tension between these different groups, results in a little bit of a football game here, a little bit of a power play between, let's say, designers and I called MBA movers, designer doubters and MBA movers.
First, I will just start with designer doubters. It's an interesting thing because I think that there's increased cross-pollination between the planning activities and the product activities and it's worth noting that there's a lot people in the design crowd who feel, and quite correctly, that creativity can't be bottled. They're concerned in a send of territory and what that might mean. In some respects, there is a sense that this is potentially just today's trend and they almost wish it might go away. There's a risk of, the extent of which, their making becomes more democratized and it becomes more available to more people, it makes what they do less precious. It's a little bit threatening.
On the left, MBA movers, so to speak, I think that the topic of design thinking has become more and more popular. There is a desire to pursue it. There is an incorporation of some of these ideas into business programs, MBA programs, and in some respects, they are looking to coapt some of these ideas. It's important to think about, there are also sometimes the ones who are promoting the post-it parties, so to speak, but there are also a sense of, "Okay, this is today's tool but what's next?" I think that both extremes are a little bit of an oversimplification of what it should be and we should consider what we're really talking about.
A way to think about this is how big is our canvas. If on the left we have this idea of planning and on the right we have this idea of product and the idea of thinking and making, how expansively are we thinking about this field of work and what can we do? Can you hold just for a second, please? I want to make sure people can hear. Okay. Sorry about that.
How big is our canvas? If we think about on the planning side, there are some new kinds of principles that I might suggest that we can incorporate into this. The way I would consider this is thinking that enables, thinking differently about planning. First of all, what we encourage our clients to do is to get more real. First of all, getting outside of your own bubble, seeking new reference points. Very often organizations are thinking about their immediate competitors but I think the question is should we be worried about our competitors or should we be worried about Google?
That is to be paranoid but it's just that there are organizations like Google that are increasingly, even if they're not directly competitive with an organization, they are certainly starting to screw around the edges. I think as the landscapes starts to change, some organizations that may have not been traditional competitors start to really shape the way your potential customer think about what you do and it's something to be serious about. I think you have to step outside of your own marketing yourself to start looking it that way.
I also think that there's a level of getting more abstract in the problem solving. Just as I mentioned, I think the evolution of MBA, the idea of MBA thinking was in some ways trying to look at a business in an abstract way. I think in the same way, business leaders today need to think more holistically than they have in the past. Seeing the larger problem and then how it connects to the smaller ones. It's not unlike traditional MBA practice, but I think it's starting to look even larger about even not just how to work, operate within a category or an industry but how that category industry itself is changing.
Also finding good problems which is to say problem framing. There is a real art in problem framing and trying to think about which problem are we actually trying o solve. It's become very easy to, when we're following industry trends and industry precedents to spend a lot of time chasing our tails and it's important to start thinking more holistically than in systems and also having some patience to go slower or to go fast.
Then finally, seeing people. People at the end of the day are who we are all trying to serve one way or another, and it's easy to forget that in a large complex system experience if you're way up the line or far away from your end customer. At the end of the day, an organization is mostly serving people even if it's just playing some role in a broader value chain. That people are not so easy to understand. What people do is different than what they say they'll do. There's a lot of questions about how people make choices, the paradox of choice, how they think about memory, what people remember, what they perceive, and the role of logic, which is to say the non-trivial and difficult question of how your customers make decisions. Better understanding where they are coming from will help you make better plans.
On the other side, what is making real progress look like? Again, I believe it has to do with people and understanding their context and behaviors, their goals, needs versus wants, what's usable, what's desirable, but also the idea of making quickly so you can fail fast. Starting early and plan to iterate. Manage things like the resolution of a prototype which I'll get into in a moment, the pace of those iterations and the scale of those iterations. Collaborating, working across disciplines is critical which I'll illustrate here in a moment as well. Seeking diverse options as well is a way to increase the amount of input that you get early and often through the process of creating products.
Then just demanding craft. I think one of the things as the distance between the planning and the product has gotten greater is the risk of losing the sense of craft. It's one of the things certainly that iPhone has achieved is that there is a sense of craftsmanship even though there are hundreds of thousands of them produced everyday. Seeking experts, domain expertise, valuing things like quality and beauty and celebrate the constraints of whatever particular medium or domain you're working in is inherent in people who are on the making side. It begs the question in my mind, is there a new model? Is there a different model? A way to think about planning and product that, on one hand, has a knowledge of the business, the market, the opportunity and the economics that drive these things versus knowledge of the user in the context of use and medium, cost constraints. How do we deal with this and is there a way to move through processes that are more productive and less rigid than ones that were designed in an industrial era?
Our approach looks like this. We increasingly start to think about projects as this two-faceted or two-track process. On one hand, we are thinking in order to make things. On the other hand, we are making in order to think. As you move from the left to the right, the idea is not that you're thinking any less necessarily but you're leading by thinking in order to make some things but then you start making in order to think more. It's really, the volume of these two interlocking triangles, really just has to do with the volume of activity.
Starting on the left, make to think. I think a key principle here, as I mentioned earlier, has to do with finding new information. We believe wholeheartedly in the idea of garbage in, garbage out which is to say seeking new information is critical. This is part of the reason why, as I mentioned, post-it parties are a bit of a risk because too often, we're not bringing any new information into the discussion. In fact, Mark Hurst who's another author who writes about some of these things, has a company called Creative Good, that he wrote an article recently about the lack of user information and design thinking and that's the missing component from his standpoint. To me, that's inherent in the process. To me, part of it is actively seeking new information.
If we're just putting everything we know on post-its and rehashing it, we're not necessarily making progress. It may help us move toward consensus but it's not necessarily helping us move forward. I think seeking a deeper understanding of the user needs, user goals, understand more precisely the idea about what's happening in the market, market dynamics, what kind of blurring is there between categories, we arrive at these things by doing a lot of user research, market research.
These images are just from projects that we worked on where through observation, through interview, through generative exercises with users, better understanding how customers think about the decisions they make as they pertain to a particular market and using all of these input to being deliberate about developing a more clear strategic focus for an organization. A new focus perhaps that is reflective of the current state of the market trends and technology. It's also about aligning resources, trying to align your internal staff, your media, your tools, whatever resources you have to start better reflecting that strategic focus, and in general, looking for patterns and different kinds of metrics for executing on those programs.
Right off the bat, also start making immediately. I believe quite firmly that making things actually shapes your thinking. This is why I believe there are so many more whiteboards in corporate environments and entire education environments and classrooms and all over the world, in part, because it's a tool that helps to facilitate very quick making, likewise post-its. This is why post-its become quite useful. The challenge is that words can be rather abstract. They seem very precise but you can write a very long report and still not have a good sense for what the actual artifact might be until you start making it. Making something starts to force decision making, but it doesn't need to be a high resolution prototype, a high resolution thing.
All of these little sketches and doodles and post-its are things that can be produced quickly. They are low resolution models, two by two's, bell curves, all of the usual stuff of MBA programs. In that regard, they could as prototypes. They're making something. They also encourage collaboration, the idea of once you put something down in paper or make a model of any sort, it becomes something that can be used as a discussion platform.
I think I love to include that little inspiration diagram because that was something I found at a client's location once whereas it's just like a classic kind of that little doodle that a non-artist created, generated more discussion and more compelling ideas about what they are trying to achieve than how much longer a report might have. Then it flaps back to thinking again. You can't just make in an unthinking way. It's different modes and try to enhance your understanding. If you make something then you put it out there and you can use it as a way to consider how other people think and collaborate with others who are not like you.
The way you prototype might be different than someone else, your skill set might be different. You might be more of a writer; someone else might be more of a model maker, someone else might be a designer or an engineer, but use those models or sketches to socialize the learning. What do you know that's new? How do you understand it? Discuss it with people, collaborate, and that the goal, at a stage like this, is more about progress than perfection. I think too often sometimes we're at this stage of the process and people tend to want to reach a conclusion right at the end of the meeting. "Okay, we need a direction. Let's go." I think that's sometimes wrong. You need to figure out how to throttle and better understand what's the pace of the work as a way to get to something that is more reflective of the ultimate goal.
Prototyping solutions, the idea of continuing to make again, make things that are more real. You can still keep it rough but you start to leverage technology and tools that they say that they're more possible than ever. Generating a lot of options, starting to test those options functionally from a user standpoint, but to fail fast, make it more real more quickly so that you can understand better how to make it better.
Then there's always a gut check. Does it solve the problem? What new questions does it raise? How can it be better? Try to understand what are the patterns and standards that might emerge out of these things. It's also a matter of versioning. As you start nearing the end of a process, you start better understanding how might it be different, what's achievable on this timeline, what can we achieve next time? I think that's a very healthy conversation to have. This kind of process, almost by definition, tends to raise a lot of new thoughts that are divergent and could be possibilities for new projects and new products in the future.
Finally, build and launch, and I think the idea of craftsmanship, just like in an earlier era about the craft era. There's a lot to be said about relying on experts who know about media and materials and production and the idea of refinement. These people who know media, they know their domain, know about the tradeoffs and constraints and this is how really high quality products are produced. Where there's a high sense of quality assurance and knowing that someone who really knows their medium can really thrive, but it's only after a broader process that they are allowed to do that in a way that doesn't feel superseded by other kinds of framing errors that happen early in the process.
"Does this work?" and "What's next?" is good questions. I believe, in trying to answer the first question, does it work, I might ask or I might just refer to the Picasso, Pablo Picasso quote of good artists copy and great artists steal, which even certainly Steve Jobs and the iPhone on the left is quite famous for having, let's say, borrowed a lot of ideas but really building on them. Certainly Pablo Picasso is famous for doing the same. I think their question is in terms of if we're truly emerging into a different kind of an era, as any would believe we are, I certainly do, I think you start to try to reverse engineer what's working and that's why iPhone becomes a useful touchstone, but it's not just the phone.
Which smartphone do you use and why do you use it? Or for that matter, which email client do you use and why? Which car do you drive and why? I think that as we think about the era of choice that we are all finding ourselves in as consumers, that same logic starts to apply across many, many parts of our lives and that we are … The advent of the internet and different kinds of business models are starting to change what's possible and we have to think about what we offer differently.
I'm a big believer in just, in some respect, doing the work, which is to say working through a process like I just described. I think the process yields results. A lot of what is inherent in the idea of design thinking is the trying to dispel the myth of the lone genius, if you're familiar with that idea. These either describe really creative solutions as I just did in some ways to Steve Jobs or Pablo Picasso, but both of these guys built on many, many other geniuses and were able to synthesize in ways and became good at PR in many respects and produce great products, if you will, or pieces of art, but they didn't do it alone. It's a lot about collaboration and diversity of ideas that led to that stellar result.
Another part to consider is how talent matters. I love the quote I heard from a professor of mine once about availability isn't a job description or another one from some colleagues in a design organization that I used to belong to that basically talks about how you can't, and this is a common complaint among the design set about design thinking, the idea that anybody can play, of course, is very egalitarian and democratizing in terms of a process. On the other end, it isn't to say that talent doesn't matter. I mean, if you can't have team members who, as a colleague of mine once put it, who can't design their way out of a paper bag. Talent matters. Process matters, but so does talent. You can't say, "We can have a lot of essentially untalented people go through a very wonderful process and yield the same results." I think we all know this to be true but it's worth pointing out.
The other part I would mention here is that I think it becomes very important today, especially in an era of choice, to develop and have a point of view. A lot of organizations suffer from essentially not having a point of view. They just fall lockstep with the rest of the industry and don't have anything that is let's say different or better. If you're from the marketing world, which in some ways I am, being different or better is critical.
I believe that developing a point of view or going through a process like this is a way to create that point of view truthfully and it's a vision that is not just on paper, and especially if you start making things, they start to see just what it might be. It's supported by evidence if you've done the research. I think by going through the work and actually developing that, going through the process, you increase the courage of your convictions. You become a little bit more confident in the conclusions that you reach.
Finally, I think this is all about an evolution. Again, if you believe, as I do, that this is a new era that requires new systems, I guess the question is what's the alternative. I don't think we can operate as business as usual and I think design thinking is one of the way in which organizations are starting to think through alternate ways of actually getting the job done more effectively.
What's next? Well, if you believe, as I do, that a process like this or similar to it would be useful, I think what's happening, and certainly what we're thinking about in terms of our organization, is how different kinds of skill sets plug in to a process like this differently. In some respects, it's not unlike an earlier era. It's just that I think that it helps me, at least, think through what that might mean for skill sets for people who are on the left or in the middle or on the right. I think that certain individuals have a certain propensity to do one sort of thing or another, depending on what their skill set is, and do they sort of cognitively think through a problem first in order to make something or do they make something in order to think through something cognitively.
Those are only two dimensions but just one way to think about how people problem solve and I think that the combination of the two is quite powerful. Recognizing that different people may have a different propensity to land in different places and maybe their skills can be augmented or thinking about how they might grow. Also, I think, there's an inherent aspect of collaboration here and what collaboration perhaps starts to look like when you note that there's nobody on this chart who doesn't have at least one foot in the other camp. I think that's critical in terms of being able to work effectively in a changing and new landscape.
With that, I will pause here and just reiterate the idea of thinking to make and making to think and take a few of your questions.
There's a question here. I wanted to hear a bit more about what we mean by celebrating constraints. Celebrating constraints is an idea that definitely has its roots in people who come from a making background, meaning engineers, designers, people who know about the constraints of a material or the nature of a medium that they are working in. I believe, start to learn how not to just avoid what not to do, but more so actually start to better understand the nature of what you do and actually use it as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
The idea is … So if you think about Charles Eames and molded plywood, there's a good example of exploration of a medium where he started to think about the material and started to imagine new ways of using that material to create different kinds of products or furniture originally coming from a leg splint and evolved into a very famous lounge chair. Or similarly if you think about printing, if you understand how ink goes on paper if you're a print designer, which there are a fewer of these days, but the idea of how ink lays over form on a piece of paper, you can start to use that as a design element. You don't think about, in some respects, it's a limitation of the production process, but it's also an opportunity.
Certainly, I can think of a more contemporary example now, you think about responsive design for mobile applications, websites, things that you use on a smartphone, the way in which responsive design is evolving to respond to help, what happens why you scroll those kinds of things. On one hand, you look at a small interface as being a problem but other see it as an opportunity. All of those things, when you turn those constraints into opportunities, are about celebrating constraints.
Okay, here's a question about how do you manage client expectations and the thinking phase when output might not be as easily communicated. It's a tricky one. I think that we spend a lot of our time with these for our group working on deliverables that have a visual component. We try to use real assets. I think people are increasingly interested in certainly audio-visual. Everybody likes to watch movies and things, so when we do user research and things that can be augmented by emotional things like that, that certainly helps.
We also are prolific diagram creators and ways of trying to illustrate sometimes complex ideas in simple forms. It's another way of making, if you think about it, but rather than having it in a long white paper that people have a hard time reading, trying to turn it into some kind of a communication tool that can be socialized and better understood or remembered is a critical part of our first part of our process.
Let's see. How do you help your clients identify the right people from their organization to contribute to new innovation if, say, they don't have an innovation group? Another good question. I think that there's almost never the wrong people. That's the first thing. I think there can be a risk of having too many people. Almost anybody can contribute to the process like this, talent notwithstanding, as I mentioned. I think that it may have more to do with who has a propensity to think in this way, who has access to the right information that can actually influence the organization in positive ways, having a group of people that can collaborate that is diverse and then not have too many of them.
I think that can be some of the recipe for who ought to collaborate on this kind of front. I think you can do it without an innovation group. I think innovation groups are a fairly recent phenomenon where organizations have started to develop these departments. It's very interesting because many of them, of course, can be quite effective, but it's also true that … I remember being at an innovation conference once and I'm talking over lunch with some of the people, various ones, and people from FedEx and McDonald's and large organizations with internal innovation groups. They're all secretly saying over lunch like, "We don't know what we're supposed to be doing." I mean, they're smart people, right, but I think part of the challenge here is there's not a consensus of thought always about how to proceed with these things, which is why I shared this today and trying to think about how we think about it.
Another question, it seems like in some ways there is an opportunity to create more intimacy with the client and with the consumer. Do I agree? I do, I do very much. I think it's an interesting challenge where the … I think we're in a mode where one of the many things that has been systematized and industrialized is the purchasing process. The purchasing process and the crown jewel of that is the RFP process. In many ways it's designed to, at least, in the initial parts of a project, separate the supplier from the client.
Of course, as a consultant, we'd like to have a much closer relationship. Certainly one of the ways you can earn that trust that was getting a close relationship with the consumer, as you mentioned in the question. The more we can be an advocate for their customer, the more useful in some ways we are for them. I think that they tend to recognize that, which draws us also closer to the client. We are advocating for them, for their customers, and so that becomes increasingly useful.
Question: What do you think the best way to educate for this kind of process would be? That is a good question. I think that they are doing the work. Going through actual processes like this is probably the best way. In some respects, you might use this thinking to make and making to think paradigm. You could use that as an architecture for learning, I would say, as well, which is to say on one hand there is, as with most classes, there is a a sense of trying to communicate a broad theme and abstract idea, cultural context, historical context, scientific context, and then somewhere at the end, you're expected to produce a project or a final paper or a dissertation.
In some respects, it's similar, right, and I think so trying by doing. I mean, there's no better experience if you've never done any user research than just getting out there and doing it. It's challenging but trying and just having that experience changes your outlook as to what it means to do user-centered design. Similarly, getting … While that's true for business people or for designers, getting business folks to move outside of their comfort zone and start making something changes their perspective as to what it means to make something. Getting designers, engineers to start thinking strategically, getting them out of their comfort zone, is very, very useful. I think meeting students in the same way and trying to push them to expand their repertoire can be very, very useful.
Let's see. What are the most critical skills and more technical team members such as engineers and product designers will need in this future design environment? I don't think they're really any different than the skills that I'm mentioning here, so my background is in more design, but I work with engineers all the time. I develop, I also work in my company. In a broad sense, we all see ourselves as designers, if you think about it in this macro way. I think that people with a more specifically deep technical understanding engineers are going to be farther on the right almost by definition.
I mean, they are people who make things, software, hardware, product design, engineering, material science, those kinds of things, where what they know quite well is the limitations, constraints, and opportunities of their medium, but they must also very much be able to work with others and have a context for doing so. I think they should be involved early in the process, they should think about making things early, not just wait until the very end when they're handed a set of instructions.
Question here about any quick project successes you can share. That's a tricky one because I don't know how much I can talk about client things, but certainly, all of our projects involved some level of research upfront, some a little bit, some quite a lot. It all has to do with trying to get business people and technical people and creative people to work collaboratively from the beginning, have a general sense of forward motion. Those pictures that I shared through the deck are all just from my company and those are my folks working on real projects. That's how we do it.
I think the team finds it very rewarding to work in this manner and I think the results are way better. I mean I'm convinced after working this way for several years that, I mean, there's no way any one of us could have achieved some of the results that we've gotten for our clients. I mean, the solutions are smarter, they're justifiable on a business front, they work functionally, they are creatively inspiring, they even have a lot more, they're more of a whole solution, and clients appreciate that.
Questions about training and learning human-centered design. Would you recommend the Stanford D-School Virtual Course, the Acumen IDEO online course or other for lay people who are learning principles and methods to join in this process? I'm not sure I have a good, a deep, deep understanding of all of those curricula to be able to evaluate one over the other. I myself spent time at ID, the Institute of Design Chicago, so I'm pretty heavily influenced by that, but I certainly read a lot of other things and, of course, practice all the time. I think that there are … Not everyone is completely on the same page, which is probably why I decided to host this webinar.
I think that there are sometimes diversion thoughts about these things about what is the center of gravity for design thinking. For me, it's this balance between thinking to make and making to think. Not everyone would necessarily agree. Some people would think that it has a much more user-research focus; others would say it has a much more business focus. I guess I would say it depends on where you're coming from and what you might have a propensity to learn more about. I think those different schools, Rotman versus the D-School versus the ID, they all have slightly different takes on these things, but I think this is also the ground continues to move. There is a new landscape. There are lots of resources online, but I would encourage you to keep trying and doing and digging into it. Reach out to me individually if you like and we can talk more about it.
How is design thinking held accountable to its promise of innovation? Oh, tough question. Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, innovation is one of these things where I think that it's funny because innovation has become a very popular word in the business press, but it isn't as if Henry Ford was an innovative a hundred years ago. I think innovation is just, the way I look at it, is the idea and the reason why innovation has become a department within organizations and the topic of conversation is because I think the number of times that organizations used to have to innovate was far less frequent.
My experience with a lot of my clients, especially dating back to 10 or 20 years ago, is they would often say an organization might have been built on two or three key big ideas, big products, big clients that changes the way, shaped who they became. They are often things … Something happened, they might, if you've ever talked to somebody who helped a leader and an organization, they'll say something like, "Well, of course in 1972 we did this and then there was a big thing that happened in 1985 and then we were trying to do something in 2001."
I think the idea is that there is so much more happening that the pace of change has increased to such a degree that mostly we need more deliberate thinking about trying to offer alternate ways of going to market, thinking about our product or service, positioning it, merchandising it, and this kind of thinking just adds to the potential scenarios, possible new scenarios. I think in the past people might wait around for the smart guy to come up with a good idea and there's always one or two of them in the back, almost the lone genius approach. Whereas, I guess, to me, how is it held accountable to its promise of innovation, I think the question would be how successfully can it generate viable, possible new directions for the business. Not all of them will work almost by definition, but I think that if more viable options are presented and can open new business opportunities for our company, then that's some level of success.
Oh, thank you. A couple of thank you's. Thank you all very much. Question about I'm going to share the presentation. I'm going to post this video, so I will share it that way. I think I'm probably running out of time. Still a lot of people left but let's see if there are any more questions. Mostly thank you's at this point. I think with that, we're beyond the top of the hour here.
Again, thank you all very much for your participation and listening in. I, as I mentioned, will be posting this webinar or a recording of it, I should say, on our website within a week or so, so you can look forward to an email from me with the link once I get around to doing that. Again, I appreciate your feedback and if you have any other thoughts or input, as you might be able to tell, this is a topic I have a lot of interest in, and I would love to hear from you one way or the other. Thanks a lot and have a great holiday.