Initial Thoughts on Change by Design


Change by Design: How design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown with Barry Katz

Perhaps the first thing I want to do during the Design Thinking (DT) cycle is research opposing views or perspectives that put DT into a larger context of tools and principles for practicing and nurturing a deeply human, embodied and innovative way of thinking. I loved everything about Change by Design–from Brown’s prose and voice to the tools, methodology and worldview he described. I really buy into design thinking as a set of principles for rethinking how we design products, services, environments and experiences. I attended the Design Thinking For Educators Workshop this past June at the Riverdale Country School and saw, first hand, what an exciting, refreshing and deeply human process it is. Because I am obsessed with design thinking as a solution to many of the pressing problems we face in the twenty-first century, I think it is important that I gain some perspective on the discipline by seeing how it fits in with other, similar and opposing, views and methodologies.

Tim Brown is deeply aware of the costs and consequences of our current consumption culture. He highlights the fact that we, collective we–as citizens and consumers, are no longer content to be treated as passive consumers of products and services; we want to participate. Perhaps it is  a result of how much we have come to invest emotionally in goods, products, brands and services over the past few centuries that we now expect them to provide us with deep, meaningful and participatory experiences. (Check out this very current article on Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff Anymore via Fast Co. for more on the experience economy.)  Whether this is the cause or not for this new expectation on the part of consumers, the fact remains that organizations, teams and individuals now need a set of principles to redesign how they think and approach problems, experiences, and interactions. The principles and tools of the design thinker, Brown suggests, offers just such a methodology.

For most of the DT cycle of rethinked*annex, I want to do as many quick challenges one after the other as I can; prototyping the design thinking process itself. One of the essential elements of the design thinking process is an integrative team of passionate and open people. This is not to say that design thinking cannot be practiced at the level of the individual, it is a method of thinking after all, but I think it will require some adjustment learning to do solo “design challenges”.

I also want to do the design challenges to practice some important elements of design thinking, such as the brief, brainstorming, visual thinking, prototyping from the beginning, etc., which I plan on using when designing the other cycles of rethinked*annex. The reason for using various element of the design thinking process to design and implement the other cycles is that the design paradigm, from which a design thinker approaches new problems, always operates within known constraints (the brief) and is grounded in reality by tangible deadlines. Given that rethinked*annex is based, to a large extent, on experimenting with ways to live out precepts from a few core books in my daily individual life, DT provides a great way to keep the goals and strategies tangible and grounds this intellectual exercise in praxis and reality.

Many of the principles of design thinking are, to be honest, foreign to my own way of thinking. I am one of those great anxious of the white page. I obsess over ideas—shape, define, tear them down and start all over again–but always in my head. It takes me ages to get ideas out of my head and onto paper or other forms of tangible representation. Quick, cheap and dirty prototyping has been mostly inexistent in my own approach to problems and situations in need of better resolutions. This has been an issue for me, mainly in academia but it does reflect a tendency to not act on ideas that occurs in my daily life and which bothers me. I hope that by practicing, and hopefully, over time, mastering, the various element of design thinking–such as prototyping all along the way of a project, defining a grounded and fruitful brief, learning to express my ideas visually and building upon the ideas of other–I might overcome my avoidance of execution.

I plan on doing repeated solo design challenges, starting with very small concrete things that I identify as not working optimally, such as, for example, “how might I rethink how I organize my clothes?” This “how might I” question, the expression of the design paradigm, is what will lead to the brief–the set of grounded constraints which are actually springboards of possibility for the project. Each stage requires discernment and decision-making, and this, as Brown repeatedly reminds us, takes practice. If the constraints are too strict, the possibilities of true innovation become stifled, but if they are too broad, the rethinkers will be unable to find an optimal focus through which to approach the challenge. Tim Brown does a great job of explaining what a well designed brief should encompass and gives plenty of examples of how other people and organizations have mastered the art of the brief and other elements of the design thinking process. But as he notes, nothing beats doing it repeatedly yourself to really understand what the various elements of design thinking are really about. I hope that as I learn to work through the various elements of DT in small, tangible contexts, I will gain the skills and confidence necessary to progressively move on to more abstract and complex design challenges, based on, for example, behaviors and routine dynamics.

I cannot recommend the book enough. Skip to the last chapter for a very concise summary of all the main ideas and concepts that Brown describes throughout the book, or read it all the way through for detailed case studies and descriptions of successful implementations of the tools and methods of design thinking and the assumptions and worldview behind them.

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