Archive for the ‘Design Thinking’ Category

Cusp 2013 and the Design of Everything

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Patrick Lynch, City of Chicago Pipe Band and 2013 U.S. National Champion

Chicago is a design city. It is the cradle of mid-century modern architecture. It buzzes — constantly.

I attended the Cusp Conference there a week ago. It had everything from Constance Adams, NASA space architect; to a sword swallower; a Canadian researcher hoping to gaze at the actual edge of the universe from a balloon above the Antarctic this year; to Dave Carroll, the guy who produced the viral video United Breaks Guitars; and — oh, yeah — a bag piper and a teenage rock band. This melange was about the “design of everything”. For the attendees (I would estimate about 90% non-designers) it was an eye-opener to what is going on right now in design. The hackneyed term “Design Thinking” (with apologies to Bruce Nussbaum) has permeated the awareness of the business folks who are shaking things up. What we have called “thinking out of the box” is given a framework and process through design thinking (this time no caps, on purpose).

Maria Giudice of Google

Maria Giudice of Google

There is no magic bullet, no acronym-laced corporate efficiency model here. It’s about thinking outside of comfortable paradigms and just flippin’ doing things differently. And, as Maria Giudice from Google puts it, it’s just plain GSD (Getting Shit Done). Business models are changing. No longer are the good companies looking for cost-efficient ways to do the same thing more cheaply. The good ones are looking for ways to get new things done, to create something that helps their customers, helps the world and is valuable enough that people want to pay for it. It’s about adding real value, not taking away. As Marsha Sinetar says:

Do what you love and the money will follow.

And that doesn’t just apply to individuals. If you put heart into what you manufacture, into the services you provide, people feel it. You have a clear idea of who and what you are as a company. You know your story.

Story telling is what I am most interested in for my work. I love finding the stories that are sometimes buried deep inside companies and bringing them into the light. A good story attracts good employees, good customers, good suppliers — good stuff.  And a good story is the way for people to understand you and become followers, promoters of your company.

I’ll be at Cusp next year, looking into the future of business.

Design is a conversation about the future*

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Someone asked me what this was all about. How is design a conversation about the future?

Well, that depends on your understanding of design and on your understanding of conversation. Design inherently lives in the future. And if it’s not a singular expression of self, it is most certainly a conversation about that future. Let me explain. Design lives in the future because its entire raison d’être is to see the future: opportunities, challenges, possibility. The future as we all know is, by definition, unknown. Design lives here, thinking about what could be —something or some idea which does not currently exist. To the mainstream, that might mean a poster not yet realized, an advertisement which exists only in one person’s mind. To the design leader it might mean an entire business model that will turn every other business model on its head. It might mean a teaching method that reaches that other 80% of students not currently served by the narrow teaching methods of today.

Design is a conversation rather than a singular narrative. It is that because design does not exist without conversation — a hell of a lot of conversation. Real design can’t be realized without the clearest of definition. And clear definition cannot be had without triangulating in dozens of directions with every stakeholder, real or imagined, that the future design will affect. Triangulation is conversation; checking in; listening; hearing the echo.

Design is a conversation.

*cross-pollinated from my personal blog designisthefuture

Design Thinking Will Be at the Core of Innovation in the Not Too Distant Future

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

“Designers are the ones best situated to figure out how a kit of parts can become something more — they’re the ones who can figure out the human interface for a vast chain. If they do their job right, the result — a working ecosystem — is a far better platform for innovation than an isolated product.

This article in Fast Company, October 2012, Why Good Design Is Finally A Bottom Line Investment explains, with the broadest brushstrokes, how much Design and Design Thinking have changed in 40 years. When IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr. first said  in 1973 that “good design is good business”, he was still talking about skilled craft in aesthetics. He wasn’t wrong, but I think he would be gobsmacked by where design is now headed.

The innate ability that allows designers to “think outside the box” and to blend deductive and inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning (that intuitive leap of faith that designers can take), is the skill that allows design thinkers to help organizations innovate. And when I say innovate, I don’t mean tweaking the sweetener in a soda, I mean creating entirely new ideas; disruptive ideas — ideas that can, potentially, break down the wicked problems we struggle with today.

How can we turn the giant tide of consumerism around before we destroy the planet? How are we going to pay for the health care of an aging boomer bubble with a young workforce far smaller than that aging population? Or, one of my personal missions, how can we convince the BC forest industry that creating and owning businesses that use and refine the resources they harvest could actually give them far greater profit margins, create jobs and improve the lives of everyone in the province.

There will always be design, and my fondest hope is that it will only ever be great design. But I see the mental toolkit available to designers as being much more far-reaching than beautiful posters, logos and chairs. There will be a new subset in the profession that will not simply have access to the C-suite. It will drive the innovation of business. It will be a profession armed with post-graduate degrees in design as well as business administration. It will look beyond the reliable algorithms of business success to new and better ways for us to manage our planet and to live in it more happily. That’s where I want to be.

Turning things upside down

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.
Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.

I’ve had a few paradigm shifts happen of late. Clients have called me, just for my opinion. Not about design. About stuff — their businesses, their thinking, their strategy.

This is what I like about my profession and what I continue to beat the drum about regarding design. It’s a thinking profession, not an art profession. True, designers make beautiful things, but that’s largely the given part of it. Anyone with a lick of talent can make something pretty, but not everyone can make something meaningful. To make something meaningful, you have to know things about the thing you want to make meaningful. But most importantly, you need to know what is meaningful to the people you’re talking to.

That nexus of meaning is where design thinking lives. And again, it’s not about the “design” thinking you think it is. If you are 99% of the world, you think design thinking is about choosing a typeface, images, colour and/or making a sketch of a chair or an aerodynamic bicycle to make a cool looking thing, preferably as “of the moment” as possible. Wrong.

Design thinking is turning problems upside down. It’s about asking why, why and WHY. Design thinking is something anyone who cares to do it can use. Business, students, scientists, doctors, receptionists….You can make any wicked problem (yes, that is a link to the Harvard Business Review, because design thinking is a strategic business tool) more surmountable by challenging assumptions. As human beings, we’re comfortable with assumptions. They’re quick, supported by the vast majority and make us feel secure. But they’re generally a straight path to the banal and predictable, which means status quo. You stay stuck. You don’t grow. You don’t get any better than “okay”.

You don’t need to be a daredevil of a risk taker to do this. Back up, back WAY up. Look at the problem from far away. Take someone with you. What do they see? Take a picture. Make it black and white. Make it colour. Cut it into pieces and put it together another way. This is what I love to do. It’s what makes us a good consultancy. You can do it, too, but you need to start challenging yourself to turn things upside down.

Andrew Zuckerman’s Thoughts on the Creative Process

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Those of you who know me know that I’m fascinated by design process as it pertains to life in general. We all have profound skills to gain by understanding how designers go about their work.

I am a HUGE fan of photographer and film maker Andrew Zuckerman. I love his work. I am also captivated by the restrained design of David Meredith who uses Helvetica the way it was mean to be used. I was flipping around in my RSS feed today and stumbled on this great Zuckerman talk for 99%. Any of my students, clients or friends who want a bit of insight into how “stuff” gets done by designers might learn a lot here. Just like the 99% says, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Or to quote Chuck Close, “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work”. Our work might seem like sleight of hand or magic, but what it really is is blood, sweat and tears, often while others are working exceptionally hard to ruin the outcome.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Reflecting on this short article by Paddy Harrington of Bruce Mau Design about Ricky Gervais’ bold, in-your-face style at the Golden Globes, I am reminded of how important it is for designers to be brutally honest. Honesty from designers is largely not rewarded with any kind of love, because good designers ask tough questions. They often don’t like the way you phrase your problems. They rephrase them. And then might tell you that there are things you have to do that you didn’t think of. And often, for your own good (and your company’s) they say “no”. Ouch.

Suffice to say that not once in the previous paragraph did I mention typefaces, colours, logos or branding. Design is about getting to the seminal truth. And that truth will set you, your company, or your cause free.

The Fuzzy Front End of Design

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

What we do in design is predicated on defining and understanding the problem that is to be solved. A pioneer in extraordinary ways of looking at design problems is Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, who speaks here at the IIT Design Research Conference in Chicago in 2008.

Liz Sanders at IIT Design Research Conference 2008 from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

We shall step back into the shadows and don our cloaks…

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Design Currency: Icograda Design Week In Vancouver is wrapping up today. It has been a stimulating infusion of ideas about the currency of design with all that entails — its meaning, its value and its influence in the world today.

I just read the well-written summary of Design Week in Vancouver, by the ever articulate Isabelle Swiderski:

“…according to Collins, it may be time to embrace mystery once again and tap into the true creativity we possess and have been desperately trying to quell for fear of our disapproving business counterparts.”  Read more….

We subsequently had a discussion in the office this morning about the world of design and the world of business and the seeming antipathy between them. The two would seem to need each other, but business remains highly suspicious of design at worst, and patronizingly indulgent of it at best. The business world continues to speak the name of design pejoratively, seeing designers as the fixer-uppers that swing in after the heavy lifting has been done by the “business thinkers”. It was interesting to note that, Helen Walters’ (editor of innovation and design at Bloomberg/ BusinessWeek) keynote address surrounded this very issue:

I’ve seen firsthand as executives who should know better dismiss design as styling, or as an indulgence that’s somehow unrelated to the bottom line. And I’ve listened to designers who should know better bemoan the fact that another client hasn’t understood them or that once again their genius has been diluted or ignored. Read more

Many communication designers now have some 4-8 years (or more) of university training, often with complementary degrees in psychology, sociology, business and leadership, often far surpassing that of their clients. We have been taught to analyze problems, reframe them and solve them in ways that traditional business training has not been able to master. Hence the creation of places like at Stanford.  We have fought for many years for the coveted “seat at the table” in the corporate world, but for most it has been elusive.

Enter the idea that perhaps we were better off when we intimidated with our “artistic mystery” and could wave our arms in creative fits of pique and demand exorbitant amounts of money as compensation for having to deal with block-headed clients. We might have been considered flaky, but at least we were scary. Personally, I’ve never really been able to pull off that sort of theatre, but perhaps I can learn?

What do you think?

Using Design Thinking

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I’d like to share a link to a Ted Talk by Tim Brown of IDEO. It beautifully illustrates what design has grown up to be, or is starting to grow up to be. Design thinking is transferable to problem solving in every realm and, in fact, is a way to break down old paradigms and think far more creatively. Design thinking is special, and it’s this thinking, not any lovely artifact or output produced by it, that makes design one of the most important professions of our time. In Tim Brown’s examples, “big” problems of hunger, thirst and poverty are illustrated. But shortcomings in our western world can also be solved by design thinking. When we think outside of artifacts — products, books, posters — and think about culture and understanding, we solve meaningful problems, produce less junk and make people’s lives richer if not better.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.