Design Thinking

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Change by Design, the long-awaited book by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, has just been published. And it’s getting a lot of press: it was excerpted in Business Week’s October 5, 2009 issue, and was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal on October 9, 2009 (“The shape of things to come”).

The book’s genesis dates back to a legendary article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Design Thinking.” It’s IDEO’s approach to innovation–to focus on “new ways of communicating and collaborating.” Designers have always done these things, using a toolkit that includes user observation, brainstorming, prototyping, storytelling, and scenario building. As Brown writes,

“Design” is no longer a discrete stylistic gesture thrown at a project just before it is handed off to marketing. The new approach taking shape in companies and organizations around the world moves design backward to the earliest stages of a product’s conception and forward to the last stages of its implementation–and beyond.

Something interesting happened a few years ago, when IDEO was asked to redesign the patient health care experience at Kaiser Permanente hospitals. IDEO had previously focused on product design, but was now being asked to apply its innovation methodology to a service organization. The result is now legendary (a famous business case has been written about the project) and the result is that “innovation and design thinking [have been introduced] across the Kaiser system.”

Yes, the iPhone looks beautiful and works well, and that’s the result of design thinking. But we’re not just talking about making cool things; we’re talking about changing the way we experience the world. As Brown writes, “In the process [designers] are helping to make our societies healthier, our businesses more profitable, and our own lives richer and more meaningful.”

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