situation normal

When something sad happens I am surprised that things just go on.

The reality TV show contestants carry on, the stream of chatter on the internet, the work that needs to be done, the people out there getting on with things.

It all just continues on. But for a little while, you are outside looking in.

Design thinking, design, Change by Design, other things

I finished Tim Brown’s Change by Design last night. I think I read it a little too late. If I’d read it several years ago I would have been inspired and excited. Because I read it last night, not two or three years ago, I felt a little more critical.

Thanks design-thinking, you helped me buy a house!

From what I understand Tim Brown, along with some other folk, characterised [Edit: Probably better to say popularised, rather than characterised] the term design-thinking, and it was design-thinking that resonated with the business-type folk as a way to tackle the need to innovate in order to stay profitable.

Thanks to Tim Brown, in part, design suddenly found itself enjoying a kind of halo, and designers were invited to the c-level table and it was all very good.

There are other dimensions to this, I know. Everything’s going digital, and design makes or breaks digital. The economy is shifting towards services, and away from products, and again design is a key aspect of success here.

But design-thinking, as an approach to innovation and problem-solving in the workplace, (I think) is one of the reasons why I’m seeing job ads on seek for UX designers and the salary is up around the $150,000 mark. (An aside, that ain’t going to last much longer. I’ll bet you $10. I’m good for it.)

The bits I noted from in Change by Design

Anyway, back to the book. Change by Design is, in part a set of stories about how IDEO tackled different challenges, and in part, a recounting of approaches and methods to take a design approach to a problem.

There are some nice insights in the book.

“For design thinkers, however, behaviours are never right or wrong, but they are always meaningful”.

A paragraph about “thoughtless acts”, as described by Jane Fulton Suri, psychologist and pioneer of human factors research. “Thoughtless acts” are the stuff we do everyday without thinking, like propping the door open with our shoe or sticky taping different power cords to the wall so they don’t get in our way.

I also liked the technique of sharing a meal with the people you are observing during the research phase. I can see how doing something like that would help build trust.

I also really liked this sentence about first time experiences in stressful situations, like first time in the emergency ward at hospital after an accident or the first time you check out an aged care facility for your elderly parents. “In these situations we look at everything with a much higher level of acuity because nothing is familiar and we have not fallen into the routines that make daily life manageable.”

I also liked the piece about convergent and divergent thinking. “Woven into the very fabric or culture is an emphasis on thinking based upon logic and deduction”. Psychologist Richard Nisbett coined the term “geography of thought”.

And the piece on the difference between analysis and synthesis. “Synthesis, the act of extracting meaninful patterns from masses of raw information, is a fundamentally creative act; the data are just that-data-and the facts never speak for themselves”.

Why I felt a bit critical of the whole thing

It was published in 2009, so reading it in 2014 may account for some of this. But the book is a very broad overview of what could be interpreted as a process. And I know of organisations where this has happened – treat design as a process with a bunch of stages and there you go. You’re innovating. It’s way too neat.

Here’s a bunch of diagrams on Google that map out exactly how you do design (or design-thinking). I dunno. I need to think about this some more, but I’m having contradictory thoughts about it all at the moment. It needed to be more specific. More case studies, more caution. Or it needed to go further with the abstraction. Hrm.

“You people have no process”

The other night at the Collective Impact talk I stood up and asked this question:

“How do you, as a business leader, sell design to your organisation? For example, if I go in and be humble and don’t have the answers and propose ideas that will fail, how do you, as a leader, convince others of design’s value?” 

There was general agreement that humility is a good thing to have when working with people.

So I rephrased the question. I’m pretty sure I heard someone behind me sigh.

Anyways, I think this is what I was trying to articulate (badly).

How do organisations deal with a bunch of designers coming in and working on big, hairy social problems (design = pretty thing/why exactly are the designers here, again? Must we humour them?) and then making what appears to be a bit of a mess with their prototypes and scenarios and what-have you. 

I think this article by Bruce Nussbaum gets to what I was trying to ask about.

Companies absorbed the process of Design Thinking all to well, turning it into a linear, gated, by-the-book methodology that delivered, at best, incremental change and innovation. Call it N+1 innovation.

CEOs in particular, took to the process side of Design Thinking, implementing it like Six Sigma and other efficiency-based processes.

Those quotes are from Bruce Nussbaum’s article – Design Thinking is a Failed Experiment

I do wonder if most organisations would really stand by and be ok with design thinking. Really. When timelines and budgets and pressure and there are the designers over there doing bodystorming and building cardboard prototypes and what-not. It does seem like a radical shift from the way things currently get done.