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The leader of one of the most successful design companies, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, shares what he has learned about how to make "change by design." Tim draws from his years of experience to present the fundamental principles of the design process, from idea to realization. These principles apply not only to products, but to services, procedures, and virtually any other kind of problem.

Change By Design isn't a "how-to" book, but rather an introduction and explanation of the methods used successfully by design thinkers. These methods aren't just for creatives and designers. The principles here are practical ways of thinking for anyone who needs solutions for problems.


"Design thinking taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It is not only human-centered; it is deeply human in and of itself."

Design thinking

When most people think of "design," they think of creative types working feverishly in a studio working up sketches, drawings, and prototypes. These creatives seem to have some innate gift, or talent, for innovative ideas and for bringing those ideas to life. This book is designed to change that thinking by explaining how design is a process that applies to many areas in business and life. The design process is relevant to processes, social issues, and policy making, not just innovative products or services.

"Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as functionality, to express ourselves in media other than words or symbols."

By seeing design as the ability to understand the big picture, it takes some of the mystery out of the concept of design. This new understanding turns design thinking into a practical tool to help solve problems. Innovative design isn't reserved just for the most insightful and creative; it is a process that can be used by nearly anyone. From the mundane day-to-day issues that most people face in business to more complex issues, design thinking is a process that helps create effective solutions.

"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."

Innovation, whether it's used for solving global warming or finding a better distribution structure, can come from any environment. As long as people have the freedom to explore, experiment, and take risks, they can design effective solutions for nearly any problem. Through stories and examples, the book presents guidelines on how to create the right environment for design and innovation.

The story of Kristian Simsarian, IDEO designer, illustrates how design thinking works in real life. Simsarian was assigned the task of redesigning the hospital emergency room experience. His approach was to check in as a patient and videotape the experience. The results of his undercover operation provided insights from a unique, but practical, viewpoint. Simsarian recalls spending a lot of his time lying on his back on a gurney staring up at the ceiling. He describes the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that made him feel out of control and helpless.

"Whether we find ourselves in the role of customer or client, patient or passenger, we are no longer content to be passive consumers at the far end of the industrial economy."

The insights from this experiment started a series of discussions that led to efforts to improve the overall emergency room experience. The result was a plan to focus on treating patients less like commodities and more like human beings in a vulnerable position. This unique approach helped redefine the ER logistics, creating a less stressful environment for patients. By putting himself in the position to experience what a typical patient encounters, Simsarian was able to help design solutions that had a positive impact on the patient experience.

Putting people first

"The evolution of design to design thinking is the story of the evolution from the creation of products to the analysis of the relationship between people and products, and from there to the relationship between people and people."

In the end, innovation and design are more about people than they are about ideas or things. The concept of putting people first is that solutions to any problem need to be designed with a focus on the human element. It's tough to figure out exactly what people need because they adapt to their situations so readily, often without understanding what they actually need. This natural adaptability prevents people from realizing a problem exists because they simply adapt and move on.

The book presents three keys to understanding these unrealized needs by focusing on the human elements in designing solutions: insight, observation, and empathy.

1. Insight

Unique insights are discovered by learning from the real-life experiences of other people. When people just aren't able to realize their needs, watching their behaviors provides clues to what's really going on. While far from a scientific or data-based approach, "people watching" often reveals insights that aren't found with a typical analysis using hard data. Observing how people behave can be the best resource for truly understanding their problems.

"Good design thinkers observe. Great design thinkers observe the ordinary."

2. Observation

Keen observation requires more than just watching how people behave. Sometimes, the deepest insights come from what people don't do. Things left unsaid can be just as important as the things people say. By playing detective, an observer can find valuable information in day-to-day activities and situations. When the simple question "why" is asked over and over again, the often hidden insights come to light for a deeper understanding.

3. Empathy

Just like in the example of IDEO designer Kristian Simsarian, by experiencing firsthand what someone is feeling, a deeper understanding emerges. By empathizing with a customer or anyone else, the resulting solutions are shaped by the effects they have on people. When someone feels that a solution, product, or service was created with an obviously human element, the more likely they are to accept the idea.

"Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations."

Learning to think like a designer and how the human element plays such a large part in innovation are the foundation of designing change. The book goes into great detail on prototypes and other innovation elements to deepen the understanding. But it's the focus on how design thinking can actually make a difference not only in business but in people's lives that make these concepts so important. It's this underlying theme of creating a better future that is at the core of change by design.