Rethinking material…* Quotes from Tim Brown’s Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

Did you know that we’ve assembled a large database of Design Thinking resources, to which we add daily? We collect all things Design Thinking–from books, videos, interviews, articles to toolkits and graphics. We’ve also curated an extensive list of quotes from Tim Brown’s Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation that detail and communicate main ideas, terms, principles and assumptions of the design thinking discipline. To make this static list of quotes more interactive and user friendly, I have highlighted, in bold red letters, key concepts and terms so that you may easily browse through the list and zero in on the quotes of interest and relevance to you.

For those of you who have signed up for the Edutopia-IDEO-Riverdale Country School free virtual workshop Design Thinking for Educators our Design Thinking database gives you the chance to explore the topic more broadly and more in depth. And for those of you who want to learn more about Design Thinking before committing to a 5-week long virtual workshop, this is the place to get an overview of what DT is and what it can achieve. (Don’t wait too long to register, the workshop starts July 30th)


Here is a selection of some of our favorites quotes from Tim Brown’s Change By Design. Head over to the Design Thinking tab under Rethinked*Annex for the full list of quotes and other DT resources. Enjoy!

Source: Brown, Tim. Change by Design: How Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Business, 2009. Print.


“We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.” -Tim Brown


*…on design thinking…*


[…] design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking. 85

There are at least three significant areas where design thinking can promote what the Canadian designer Bruce Mau calls the “massive change” that is called for today. The first has to do with informing ourselves about what is at stake and making visible the true costs of the choices we make. The second involves a fundamental reassessment of the systems and processes we use to create new things. The third task to which design thinking must respond is to find ways to encourage individuals to move toward more sustainable behaviors. 194

Design thinking starts with divergence, the deliberate attempt to expand the range of options rather than narrow them. 229

The greatest design thinkers have always been drawn to the greatest challenges, whether delivering fresh water to Imperial Rome, vaulting the dome of the Florence Cathedral, running a rail line through the British Midlands, or designing the first laptop computer. They have searched out the problems that allowed them to work at the edge because this was where they were most likely to achieve something that has not been done before. For the last generation of designers, those problems were driven by new technologies. For the next generation, the most pressing—and the most exciting—challenges may lie in the highlands of southeast Asia, the malarial wetlands of East Africa, the favelas and rain forests of Brazil, and the melting glaciers of Greenland. 203

[…] design thinking extends the perimeter around a problem. 205

[…] design thinking needs to be turned toward the formulation of a new participatory social contract. It is no longer possible to think in adversarial terms of a “buyer’s market” or a “seller’s market.” Were all in this together. 178

Design is about delivering a satisfying experience. Design thinking is about creating a multipolar experience in which everyone has the opportunity to participate in the conversation. 192

The process of the design thinker, rather, looks like a rhythmic exchange between the divergent and convergent phases, with each subsequent iteration less broad and more detailed than the previous ones. In the divergent phase, new options emerge. In the convergent phase it is just the reverse: now it’s time to eliminate options and make choices. It can be painful to let a once-promising idea fall away, and this is where the diplomatic skills of project leaders are often tested. William Faulkner, when asked what he found to be the most difficult part of writing, answered, “Killing off your little darlings.” 68

David Kelley calls prototyping “thinking with your hands,” and he contrasts it with specification-led, planning-driven abstract thinking. Both have value and each has its place, but one is much more effective at creating new ideas and driving them forward. 89

[…] designers learn to draw so that they can express their ideas. Words and numbers are fine, but only drawing can simultaneously reveal both the functional characteristics of an idea and its emotional content. To draw an idea accurately, decisions have to be made that can be avoided by even the most precise language; aesthetic issues have to be addressed that cannot be resolved by most elegant mathematical calculation. Whether the task at hand is a hair dryer, a weekend retreat in the country, or an annual report, drawing forces decisions. 80

But the mark of a designer, as the legendary Charles Eames said often, is a willing embrace of constraints. 17

a well-constructed brief will allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and the capricious whims of fate, for that is the creative realm from which breakthrough ideas emerge. If you already know what you are after, there is usually not much point in looking. 23

To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power (or at least the power of their team) to create new ideas, that will serve unmet needs, and that will have a positive impact. 76

Although it might seem as though frittering away valuable time on sketches and models and simulations will slow work down, prototyping generates results faster. This seems counterintuitive: surely it takes longer to build an idea than to think one? Perhaps, but only for those gifted few who are able to think the right idea the first time. Most problems worth worrying about are complex, and a series of early experiments is often the best way to decide among competing directions. The faster we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and zero in on the best solution. 89

As the challenges of the industrial age spread to every field of human endeavor, a parade of bold innovators who would shape the world as they have shaped my own thinking would follow him [Isambard Kingdom Brunel]. We have met many of them along the “reader’s journey” that I have tried to construct: William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright, the American industrial designer Raymond Loewy, and the team of Ray and Charles Eames. What they all shared was optimism, openness to experimentation, a love of storytelling, a need to collaborate, and an instinct to think with their hands–to build, to prototype, and to communicate complex ideas with masterful simplicity. They did not just do design, they lived design. 242


*…on storytelling…*


Mostly we rely on stories to put our ideas into context and give them meaning. It should be no surprise, then, that the human capacity for storytelling plays an important role in the intrinsically human-centered approach to problem solving, design thinking. 132

We have already seen hints of storytelling at work: in ethnographic fieldwork; in the synthesis phase, in which we begin to make sense of large accumulations of data; and in the design of experiences. In each case, we are talking about adding not just a widget but a whole new dimension to the designer’s toolkit: the “fourth dimension,” designing with time. When we create multiple touch points along a customer journey, we are structuring a sequence of events that build upon one another, in sequential order, across time. Storyboards, improvisations, and scenarios are among the many narrative techniques that help us visualize an idea as it unfolds over time. 132

“We are designing verbs,” [Bill] Moggridge kept reminding us, “not nouns.” 134

To design an interaction is to allow a story to unfold over time. 134

The specific set of tools will vary according to the particular disease or treatment, but two underlying principles are the same: first, as with every other type of time-based design project, each patients’ journey through the process will be unique; second, it will be far more effective to engage individuals as active participants in their own stories. Designing with time means thinking of people as living, growing, thinking organisms who can help write their own stories. 136

From the perspective of the design thinker, a new idea will have to tell a meaningful story in a compelling way if it is to make itself hear. There is still a role for advertising, but less as a medium for blasting messages at people than as a way of helping turn its audience into storytellers themselves. Anyone who has a positive experience with an idea should be able to communicate its essential elements in a way that encourages other people to try it out for themselves. 142

[…] storytelling needs to be in the tool kit of the design thinker–in the sense not of a tidy beginning, middle and end but ongoing, open-ended narrative that engages people and encourages them to carry it forward and write their own conclusions. 148

Synthesis, the act of extracting meaningful patterns from masses of raw information, is a fundamentally creative act; the data are just that–data–and the facts never speak for themselves. Sometimes the data are highly technical–if the task is a sophisticated piece of medical equipment, for instance; in other cases they may be purely behavioral, for example, if the problem is to encourage people to switch to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. In every case we may think of the designer as a master storyteller whose skill is measured by his or her ability to craft a compelling, consistent, and believable narrative. 70


*…on education & learning…*


Our objective, when it comes to the application of design thinking in schools, must be to develop an educational experience that does not eradicate children’s natural inclination to experiment and create but rather encourages and amplifies it. As a society our future capacity for innovation depends on having more people literate in the holistic principles of design thinking, just as our technological prowess depends on having high levels of literacy in math and science. 223

Perhaps the most important opportunity for long-term impact is through education. Designers have learned some powerful methods for arriving at innovative solutions. How might we use those methods not just to educate the next generation of designers but to think about how education as such might be reinvented to unlock the vast reservoir of human creative potential? 222

“They liked the fish. Next time give them the net.” 171

Above all, think of life as a prototype. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, and change our perspectives. We can look for opportunities to turn processes into projects that have tangible outcomes. We can learn how to take joy in the things we create whether they take the form of a fleeting experience or an heirloom that will last for generations. We can learn that reward comes in creation and re-creation, no just in the consumption of the world around us. Active participation in the process of creation is our right and our privilege. We can learn to measure the success of our ideas not by our bank accounts by their impact on the world. 241

As soon as two or three children get together they start to role-play: they become doctors and nurses, pirates, aliens, or Disney characters. Without prompting, they begin to perform lengthy enactments full of complex plots and subplots. Research suggests that this form of play is not only fun but also helps establish internal scripts by which we navigate as adults. 96

All children draw. Somewhere in the course of becoming logical, verbally oriented adults, they unlearn this elemental skill. 80

Fail early to succeed sooner. 17

Like every other kid, I was thinking with my hands, using physical props as a springboard for my imagination. This shift from physical to abstract and back again is one of the most fundamental processes by which we explore the universe, unlock our imaginations, and open our minds to new possibilities. 87


*…on empathy…* 


It’s possible to spend days, weeks, or months conducting research of this sort, but at the end of it all we will have little more than stacks of field notes, videotapes, and photographs unless we can connect with the people we are observing at a fundamental level. We call this “empathy” and it is perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design thinking. We are not trying to generate new knowledge, test a theory, or validate a scientific hypothesis–that’s the work of our university colleagues and an indispensable part of our shared intellectual landscape. The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives. 49

The movement from insight to observation to empathy leads us, finally, to the most intriguing question of them all: if cultures are so diverse and if the twentieth-century image of “the unruly mob” has given way to the twenty-first century discovery of the “wisdom of crowds,” how can we tap that collective intelligence to unleash the full power of design thinking? The designer must not be imagined as an intrepid anthropologist, venturing into an alien culture to observe the natives with the utmost objectivity. Instead we need to invent a new and radical form of collaboration that blurs the boundaries between creators and consumers. It’s not about “us versus them” or even “us on behalf of them.” For the design thinker, it has to be “us with them.” 58

We build these bridges of insight through empathy, the effort to see the world through the eyes of others, understand the world through their experiences, and feel the world through their emotions. 50

Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations. If we are to “borrow” the lives of other people to inspire new ideas, we need to begin by recognizing that their seemingly inexplicable behaviors represent different strategies for coping with the confusing, complex, and contradictory world in which they live. 49


*…on innovation…*


Instead of an inflexible, hierarchical process that is designed once and executed many times, we must imagine how we might create highly flexible, constantly evolving systems in which each exchange between participants is an opportunity for empathy, insight, innovation, and implementationEvery interaction is a small opportunity to make that exchange more valuable to and meaningful for all participants. 187

If it is truly innovative, it challenges the status quo. 136

[…] invention is not the same as innovation. 164

Divergent thinking is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation. 68

A purely technocentric view of innovation is less sustainable now than ever, and a management philosophy based only on selecting from existing strategies is likely to be overwhelmed by new developments at home or abroad. What we need are new choices-new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that result in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them. 3

In contrast to the champions of scientific management at the beginning of the last century, design thinkers know that there is no “one best way” to move through the process. There are useful starting points and helpful landmarks along the way, but the continuum of innovation is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. We can think of them as inspiration, the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation, the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation, that path that leads from the project room to the market. Projects may loop back through these steps more than once as the team refines its ideas and explores new directions. 16

We see evidence of innovative strategies meant to enhance the collaboration between creators and consumers everywhere. In an initiative funded by the European Union to look at ways in which digital technology might strengthen the fabric of society, Tonny Dunne and Bill Gaver of the Royal College of Arts in London developed a set of “cultural probes“–journal exercises, inexpensive video cameras–that enabled elderly villagers to document the patterns of their everyday lives. In industries more geared to the youth culture–video games, sports apparel–it is now quite common for developers to work with tech-savvy youths at every stage of the development process from concept development to testing. Sweat Equity Enterprise in New York (the term refers to contributing time and effort to a project as opposed to “financial equity,” or money) works with companies as diverse as Nike, Nissan, and Radio Shack to codevelop new products with inner-city high school kids. The sponsoring companies capture cutting-edge insights “from the street” (a somewhat more reliable source of creativity than the executive suite) while at the same time making a lasting investment in education and opportunity for underserved urban youth. 60


*…on collaboration…* 


Social issues are, by definition, human-centered. The best of the world’s foundations, aid organizations, and NGOs know this, but many of them have lacked the tools to ground this commitment in ongoing, sustainable enterprises fueled not just by outside donations but by the energies and resources of the people they serve. 213

Ideas should not be favored based on who creates them. (Repeat aloud.) 74

There is a popular saying around IDEO that “all of us are smarter than any of us,” and this is the key to unlocking the creative power of any organization. We ask people not simply to offer expert advice on materials, behaviors, or software but to be active in each of the spaces of innovation: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Staffing a project with people from diverse backgrounds and a multiplicity of disciplines takes some patience, however. It requires us to identify individuals who are confident enough of their expertise that they are willing to go beyond it. 27

If we are to build on one another’s good ideas—one of the key tenets of design thinking—we will, at least for the time being, have to focus on a finite set of problems so that our successes can be cumulative over time and place. This begins with nurturing the natural creativity of all children and keeping it alive as they advance through the education system and into professional life. There is no better way to fill the pipeline with tomorrow’s design thinkers. 225

The Internet, in other words, characterized by dispersed, decentralized, mutually reinforcing networks, is not so much the means as the model of the new forms of organization taking shape. Because it is open-sourced and open-ended, it allows the energy of many small teams to be brought to bear on the same problem. 29

One of the techniques we have developed at IDEO to keep the consumer-designer involved in the creation, evaluation, and development of ideas is the “unfocus group,” where we bring an array of consumers and experts together in a workshop format to explore new concepts around a particular topic. Whereas traditional focus groups assemble a random group of “average” people who are observed, literally or figuratively, from behind a one-way mirror, the unfocus group identifies unique individuals and invites them to participate in an active, collaborative design exercise. 61

Brainstorming, ironically, is a structured way of breaking out of structure. It takes practice. 78


*…ode to the Post-It note…*


The Post-It note, in all its pastel glory, embodies the movement from the divergent phase that is the source of our inspiration to the convergent phase that is the road map to our solutions. 82

Add Your Comments

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <ol> <ul> <li> <strong>


%d bloggers like this: