Rajesh C
Rajesh C
Feb 6, 2016 · 36 min read
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Who is a Design Thinker?

Someone who has a talent for balancing technical, commercial, and human considerations? Someone who does not subscribe to commoditisation?

What is Design Thinking?

An approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and therefore have an impact. Design Thinking, the subject of this book, offers such an approach.

By integrating what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable, designers have been able to create the products we enjoy today. Design thinking takes the next step, which is to put these tools into the hands of people who may have never thought of themselves as designers and apply them to a vastly greater range of problems.

Design thinking taps into the capacities we all have but that are overlooked by conventional problem-solving practices. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognise patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as functionality, to express ourselves in media other than words or symbols.

Difference between being a designer and thinking like a designer?

Design is no longer a link in a chain but a hub of the wheel.

Design has become too important to be left to designers.

Behind the soaring rhetoric of “genius” and “visionary”, Steve Jobs, Akio Morita, .., all showed a basic commitment to the principles of design thinking. All of them have a human-centred rather than technology-centred world view.

If you are managing a hotel, design thinking can help you to rethink the very nature of hospitality. If you are working with a philanthropic agency, design thinking can help you grasp the needs of the people you are trying to serve. If you are a VC, design thinking can help you peer into the future.

Restructuring a health care foundation? Helping a century old manufacturing firm better understand it’s clients? Alternative learning environments for an elite university? Have more impact on the world with design thinking.

Design is no longer limited to the introduction of new physical products but includes new sorts of processes, services, interactions, entertainment forms, and ways of communicating and collaborating.

Principles and Practices that make for great Design Thinking?

Read Part 1 of the book.

Linear Thinking vs Design Thinking?

Linear Thinking is about sequences. Like the Table of Contents.

Author also supplies a Mind Map as alternative to a typical Table of Contents of a book (connections).

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There is no one best way to move through the design thinking process. 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

Implementation — The path that leads from the project room to the market

Projects may loop back through these spaces more than once as the team refines and explores new directions.

Design thinking is fundamentally an exploratory process. A more iterative, non-linear approach. Done right, it will inevitably make unexpected discoveries. Some discoveries may even motivate the team to rediscover some of its most basic assumptions. Or discover a potentially more profitable market opening up.

Will design thinking extend the time it takes to take an idea to market? To the contrary. A nimble team of design thinkers will have been prototyping from day one and self-correcting along the way. Fail early to succeed sooner.

In any case, predictability leads to boredom and boredom leads to loss of talented people. It also leads to results that rivals find easy to copy.


Without constraints, design cannot happen. The willingness and even enthusiastically accepting constraints is the foundation of design thinking.

The first stage of design process is often about discovering which constraints are important and establishing a framework for evaluating them. Constraints can best be visualised in terms of three overlapping criteria for successful ideas.

Feasibility — what is functionally possible within the foreseeable future

Viability — what is likely to become part of a sustainable business model

Desirability — what makes sense to people and for people

A competent designer will resolve each of these three constraints, but a design thinker will bring them into a harmonious balance. The pursuit of peaceful coexistence does not imply that all constraints are created equal; a given project may be driven disproportionately by budget, technology, or a volatile mix of human factors. Different types of organisations may push one or another to the fore. Nor is it a simple linear process. Design teams will cycle back through all three considerations throughout the life of a project, but the emphasis on fundamental human needs — as distinct from fleeting or artificially manipulated desires — is what drives design thinking to depart from the status quo.

An approach commonly taken by Engineering driven companies is looking for a technological break-through. In this scenario teams of researchers will discover a new way of doing something and only afterward will they think about how the technology might fit into a existing business system and create value. Such reliance on technology is hugely risky. By focusing their attention on near-term viability, they may be trading innovation for increment.

An organisation driven by its estimation of basic human needs and desires may be dreaming up alluring but essentially meaningless products destined for the local landfill.


That design thinking is expressed within the context of a project forces us to articulate a clear goal at the outset. It creates natural deadlines that impose discipline and give us an opportunity to review progress, make midcourse corrections, and redirect future activity. The clarity, direction, and limits of a well-defined project are vital to sustaining a high level of creative energy.


The classic starting point of any project is the brief. Almost like a scientific hypothesis, the brief is a set of mental constraints that gives the project team a framework from which to begin, benchmarks in which they can measure progress, and a set of objectives to be realised: price point, available technology, market segment, and so on.

Just as a hypothesis is not the same as an algorithm, the project brief is not a set of instructions or an attempt to answer a question before it has been posed. Rather, a well-constructed brief will allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and the capricious whims of fate, for that is the creative realm from which break-through ideas emerge. If you already know what you are after, there is usually not much point in looking.

A brief gone wrong? Just look at the products arrayed in shelfs in electronic stores. Designers just end up giving shells to components supplied by other companies. Gratuitous efforts at styling and assertive graphics and packaging may catch our eye but do little to enhance the experience of ownership and use.

A design brief that is too abstract risks leaving the project team wandering about in a fog. One that starts from too narrow a set of constraints, however, almost guarantees that the outcome will be incremental and, most likely, mediocre.

The art of the brief can raise the bar and set great organisations apart from moderately successful ones. Do not make the brief too concrete, but help the team establish a realistic set of goals. Without making it too broad, give space to the team to interpret the concept for themselves, to explore and to discover.

As the project progresses and new insights accumulated, it is advisable to adjust the initial plan by introducing additional constraints: a revised price point, a restriction. Such midcourse adjustments are common and are a natural feature of a process that is healthy, flexible and dynamic.

Simultaneously, these continual refinements of the initial plan help guide the project team toward the right balance of feasibility, viability, and desirability.

The message here is that design thinking needs to be practiced on both sides of the table: by the design team, obviously, but by the client as well. The difference between a design brief with just the right level of constraint and one that is overly vague or overly restrictive can be the difference between a team on fire with breakthrough ideas and one that delivers a tired reworking of existing ones.


The next ingredient is clearly the project team.

It is common now to see designers working with psychologists and ethnographers, engineers and scientists, marketing and business experts, writers and filmmakers.

We ask people 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.

To operate within an interdisciplinary environment, an individual needs to have strengths in two dimensions — the “T-shaped” person. On the vertical axis, every member of the team needs to possess a depth of skill that allows him or her to make tangible contributions to the outcome. This competence — is difficult to acquire but easy to spot. It may be necessary to literally sift through thousands of resumes to find those unique individuals, but it is worth the effort.

Design thinkers, by contrast, cross the “T.” They may be architects who have studied psychology, artists with MBAs, or engineers with marketing experience. A creative organisation is constantly on the lookout for people with the capacity and — just as important — the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. In the end, this ability is what distinguishes the merely multidisciplinary team from a truly interdisciplinary one. In a multidisciplinary team each individual becomes an advocate for his or her own technical speciality and the project becomes a protracted negotiation among them, likely resulting in a grey compromise. In an interdisciplinary team, there is collective ownership of ideas and everybody takes responsibility for them.


Design thinking is the opposite of group thinking, but paradoxically, it takes place in groups. The usual effect of “groupthink” is to suppress people’s creativity. Design thinking, by contrast, seeks to liberate it. When a team of talented, optimistic, and collaborative design thinkers come together, a chemical change occurs that can lead to unpredictable actions and reactions. One way to achieve this is to do away with one large team in favour of many small ones.

Inspiration phase requires a small, focused group whose job is to establish the overall framework. Implementation phase may have larger teams.Only later do the “armies” arrive.

The promise of electronic collaboration should not be to create dispersed but even-bigger teams; this tendency merely compounds the political and bureaucratic problems we are trying to solve. Rather, our goal should be to create interdependent networks of small teams.

What about remote collaboration? The internet helps move information around but has done little to bring people together. Creative teams need to be able to share their thoughts not only verbally but visually and physically as well. I am not at my best writing memos. Instead, put me in a room where somebody is sketching on a whiteboard, a couple of others are writing post-its or sticking Polaroid photos on the wall, and somebody is sitting on the floor putting together a quick prototype. I haven’t yet heard of a remote collaboration tool that can substitute for the give-and-take of sharing ideas in real-time.

The emergence of social networking sites has shown that people are driven to connect, share and “publish,” even if there is no immediate reward to be gained. No economic model could have predicted the success of Facebook. Always-on video links (worm holes), instant messaging, blogs and wikis — all allow teams to publish and share insights and ideas in new ways. Anyone who is serious about design thinking across an organisation will encourage them.


To be creative, a place does not have to be crazy, kooky, and located in Northern California. What is a prerequisite is an environment — social but also spatial — in which people know they can experiment, take risks, and explore the full range of their faculties. The physical and psychological spaces of an organisation work in tandem to define the effectiveness of the people within it.

A culture that believes that is is better to ask forgiveness afterward rather than permission before, that rewards people for success but gives them permission to fail, has removed one of the main obstacles to the formation of new ideas.

The concept of “serious play” has a long, rich history within American social science. Mattel organises a 12-week camp in which participants from across the organisation were invited to relocate to an alternative space with the objective of creating new and out-of-the-box product ideas. The first two weeks of the session were spent in a “creativity boot camp.” There they hear a spectrum of experts about everything from child development to group psychology and were exposed to a range of new skills including improvised acting, brainstorming, and prototyping. After the remaining 10 weeks, they are ready to pitch their ideas to management. Many went back to their respective departments determined to use the practices and ideas they had learned. They found, however, that the culture of efficiency to which they returned invariably made that difficult. More than a few became frustrated. Some ultimately left the company.

There must also be a plan for reentry into the organisation.


Design thinking is embodied thinking — embodied in teams and projects, to be sure, but embodied in the physical spaces of innovation as well. In a culture of meetings and milestones, it can be difficult to support the exploratory and iterative processes that are at the heart of the creative process. Happily, there are tangible things we can do to ensure that facilities do what they are supposed to do: facilitate!

We allocate special “project rooms” that are reserved to a team for the duration of its work. The project spaces are large enough that the accumulated research materials, photos, storyboards, concepts, and prototypes can be out and available all of the time. The simultaneous visibility of these project materials helps us identify patterns and encourages creative synthesis to occur much more readily than when these resources are hidden away in file folders, notebooks, or PowerPoint decks. A well-curated project space, augmented by a Project Web Site or Wiki to help keep team members in touch when they are out in the field, can significantly improve the productivity of a team by supporting better collaboration among its members and better communication with outside partners and clients.

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The job of the designer is “converting need to demand.”

If it is that simple, why are there not as many success stories like the iPod? The answer is that we need to return human beings to the centre of the story. We need to learn to put people first.

The basic problem is that people are so ingenious at adapting to inconvenient situations that they are often not even aware that they are doing so. This is why traditional techniques such as focus groups and surveys, which in most cases simply ask people what they want, rarely yield important insights.

Our real goal, then, is helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have, and this is the challenge of design thinkers.

In this chapter, I would like to focus on three mutually reinforcing elements of any successful design program: insight, observation, and empathy.

INSIGHT: Learning from the lives of others

A good starting point is to go out into the world and observe the actual experience of your users. Look at the myriad “thoughtless acts” people perform throughout the day. Their actual behaviours can provide us with invaluable clues about their range of unmet needs. Hiring expert consultants or asking “statistically average” people to respond to a survey or fill out a questionnaire will not help.

The evolution from 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. And the easiest thing about the search for insight — in contrast to the search for hard data - is that it’s everywhere and it’s free.


We watch what people do (and do not do) and listen to what they say (and do not say). This takes some practice.

Observations rely on quality, not quantity. The decisions one makes can dramatically affect the results one gets.

Today, some of the most imaginative research in the behavioural sciences is being sponsored by companies that take design thinking seriously.


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, video tapes, 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 — 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.

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 recognising that their seemingly inexplicable behaviours represent different strategies for coping with the confusing, complex, and contradictory world in which they live.

We build the 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.

Case Study:
Emergency checkin — Trying to understand a patient journey first hand

Two competing narratives. The hospital saw the “patient journey” in terms of insurance verification, medical prioritisation, and bed allocation. The patient experienced it as a stressful situation made worse. The insight: Hospital needed to balance its legitimate concerns with medical and administrative tasks with an empathic concern for the human side of the equation. We may infer that the emergency room facilities — not unreasonably, perhaps — are designed around the requirements of the professional staff rather than the comforts of the patient. Insights lead to new insights as seemingly physical details accumulate.

A second layer of understanding is less physical than cognitive. How does the patient make sense out of the situation? How do new arrivals navigate the physical and social space? What are they likely to find confusing? These questions are essential to identifying what we call latent needs, needs that may be acute but that people may not be able to articulate.

A third layer — beyond the functional and the cognitive — comes into play when we begin working with ideas that matter to people at an emotional level. Emotional understanding becomes essential here. What do the people in your target population feel? What touches them? What motivates them? Political parties and ad agencies have been exploiting people’s emotional vulnerabilities for ages, but “emotional understanding” can help companies tun their customers not into adversaries but into advocates.


If we were interested only in understanding the individual consumer as a psychological nomad, we could probably stop here; we have learned to observe him in his natural habitat and gain insights from his behaviours; we have learned that we must empathise, not simply scrutinise with the cold detachment of statisticians. But even empathy for the individual is not sufficient.

“Markets” are not aggregate of many individuals. Whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

With the growth of Internet, it has become clear that we must extend our understanding to the social interactions of people within groups and to the interactions among groups themselves. Designers require an understanding of the dynamic interactions within and between larger groups. What are people trying to achieve as individuals? What group effects, such as “smart mobs” or “virtual economies,” are taking shape? It is hard to imagine creating anything today without trying to gain an understanding of group effects. Even a chair.


The greatest opportunity lies in the middle space between the 20th century idea that companies created new products and customers passively consumed them (often exploiting fears and vanity) and the futuristic vision in which consumers will design everything they need for themselves. What lies in the middle is an enhanced level of collaboration between creators and consumers, a blurring of the boundaries at the level of both companies and individuals. Individuals, rather than allowing themselves to be stereotypes as “consumers,” “customers,” or “users,” can now think of themselves as active participants in the process of creation; organisations, by the same token, must become more comfortable with the erosion of the boundary between the proprietary and the public, between themselves and the people whose happiness, comfort, and welfare allow them to succeed.

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.”


One of the techniques 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.Traditional focus groups assemble a random group of “average” people. Ex: For a new concept for women’s shoes — invite a color consultant, a spiritual guide who led barefoot initiates across hot coals, a young mother who was curiously passionate about her thigh-high leather boots, a female limo driver. Needless to say, this group proved to be extremely articulate about the emotional connections among shoes, feet, and the human condition.


Chance only favours the prepared mind. Techniques of observation, principles of empathy, and efforts to move beyond the individual — can all be thought of as ways of preparing the mind of the design thinker to find insight: from the seemingly commonplace as well as the bizarre, from the rituals of every day life and from the average to the extreme. That insight cannot be codified, quantified, or even defined — makes it the most difficult but also the most exciting part of the design process. There is no algorithm that can tell us where it will come from and when it will hit.

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These people have no process!

One way to help design thinking diffuse throughout an organisation is for designers to make their clients part of the experience. We do this because we find that we invariably get much better results when the client is on board and actively participating. But be forewarned: it can be messy! We overheard one client make a frantic call back to her office, “These people have no process!” A few weeks later, she had become a convert, promoting design thinking within her own company — an organisation renowned for its structure, discipline and process.

What’s the best way to orient first-time visitors to this new and unfamiliar terrain? Some navigational landmarks, if not a road map?

In Chapter 1, I introduced the idea that a design team should expect to move through three overlapping spaces over the course of a project: an inspiration space, in which insights are gathered from every possible source; an ideation space, in which those insights are translated into ideas; and an implementation space, in which the best ideas are developed into a concrete, fully conceived plan of action. Again, these are overlapping spaces rather than sequential stages of a lockstep methodology. Insights rarely arrive on schedule, and opportunities must be seized at whatever inconvenient time they present themselves.

When a fresh team ventures out into the field to collect information, it is full of optimism. The process of synthesis — the ordering of data and the search for patterns can be frustrating. But then things begin to pick up. The process peaks when the team begins to produce prototypes. Even if they don’t look so good, don’t work properly, or have too many features or too few, they are visible, tangible signs of progress. Eventually, once the right idea has been agreed upon, the project team settles down to a state of pragmatic optimism punctuated by moments of extreme panic. The scary bits never completely go away, but the experienced design thinker knows what to expect and is not undone by the occasional emotional slump. Design thinking is rarely a graceful leap from height to height; it tests our emotional constitution and challenges our collaborative skills, but it can reward perseverance with spectacular results.


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Convergent thinking is a practical way of deciding among existing alternatives. What convergent thinking is not so good at, however, is probing the future and creating new possibilities.

If the convergent phase of problem solving is what drives us toward solutions, the objective of divergent thinking is to multiply options to create choices. To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas!

The point is not that we must all become right brain artists practicing divergent thinking and hoping for the best; there is a good reason why design education draws in equal measure upon art and engineering. 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 one. In the divergent phase, new options emerge. In the convergent phase, it is just the reverse: now its time to eliminate options and make choices. It can be painful to let a once promising idea fall away, and this is where diplomatic skills of project leaders are often tested.


Fact collecting and data gathering lead to an accumulation of information that can be staggering. But then what? At some point the team must settle down and in an intense period of synthesis — over hours, weeks or more — begin to organise, interpret, and weave these many strands of data into a coherent story.

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.

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. It’s no accident that writers and journalists now often work alongside mechanical engineers and cultural anthropologists in design teams.

These are the seeds of design thinking — a continuous movement between convergent and divergent processes, on the one hand, and between the analytical and synthetic, on the other.

But that is by no means the end of the story. Attention must be shifted upward, from teams and individuals to companies. We might think of this as moving from the organisation of design to the design of organisations.


A creative team must be given the time, the space, and the budget to make mistakes. They are open to new possibilities, alert to new directions, and always willing to propose new solutions. A tolerance for risk taking has as much to do with the culture of an organisation as with its business strategy.

To view failed experiments as “wasteful,” “inefficient,” or “redundant” may be a symptom of a culture focused on efficiency over innovation and a company at risk of collapsing into a downward spiral of incrementalism.

What is however called for is a judicious blend of bottom-up experimentation and guidance from above.

The rules of this approach are as simple to state as they are challenging to apply:

  1. The best ideas emerge when the whole organisational ecosystem — not just its designers and engineers and certainly not just management — has room to experiment.
  2. Those most exposed to changing externalities (new technology, shifting consumer base, strategic threats or opportunities) are the ones best placed to respond and most motivated to do so.
  3. Ideas should not be favoured based on who creates them.
  4. Ideas that create a buzz should be favoured. Indeed, ideas should gain a vocal following, however small, before being given organisational support.
  5. The “gardening” skills of senior leadership should be used to tend, prune, and harvest ideas. MBAs call this “risk tolerance.” I call it the top-down bit.
  6. An overarching purpose should be articulated so that the organisation has a sense of direction and innovators don’t feel the need for constant supervision.

Suggestion boxes at best tend to yield small and incremental ideas. What is needed is a serious commitment in the form of a project sustained by appropriate resources and driven by definable goals.


The obvious counterpart to an attitude of experimentation is a climate of optimism. Up-and-coming leaders, for example, steer clear of projects with uncertain outcomes out of fear that participation might damage their chances for advancement. Project teams are nervous, suspicious, and prone to second-guessing what management “really” wants. Leadership may also find that no one is willing to step forward without permission — which usually means defeat before the start.

Without optimism — the unshakable belief that things could be better than they are — the will to experiment will be continuously frustrated until it withers.

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

Optimism requires confidence, and confidence is built on trust. And trust, as we know, flows in both directions.

To find out whether a company is optimistic, experimental, and attuned to risk, people should simply use their senses: look for a colourful landscape of messy disorder rather than a suburban grid of tidy beige cubicles. Listen for bursts of raucous laughter rather than a constant drone of subdued conversation. In general, try to be alert to the nodes where it all comes together, because that is where new ideas originate. I love to slip downstairs and observe members of a team at work building prototypes out of Legos or enacting an improvisational skit to explore a new service interaction. Above all, I love to be allowed to sit in on a brainstorm.


There are rules for brainstorming.

  1. Defer judgement
  2. Encourage wild ideas
  3. Stay focused on the topic

And build on the ideas of others! In an experiment with 8 to 10 year old kids. When boys and girls were split up into 2 groups, the girls group came up wit more than 200 ideas whereas boys barely managed fifty. Boys, at this age, find it more difficult to focus and to listen — attributes essential to genuine collaboration. The girls were just the opposite. The boys, so eager to get their own ideas out there, were barely conscious of the ideas coming from their fellow brainstormers; the girls, without prompting, conducted a spirited but nonetheless serial conversation in which each idea related to the one that came next. They were sparking off one another and getting better ideas as a result.

Brainstorming is not necessarily the ultimate technique for idea generation, and it cannot be built into the structure of ever organisation. But it does prove its worth when the goal is to open up a broad spectrum of ideas. Other approaches are important for making choices, but nothing beats a good brainstorming session for beating them.


Design professionals spend years learning how to draw. Drawing practice is not so much in order to illustrate ideas, which can be done with cheap software. Instead, 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 the most elegant mathematical calculation. Whether the task at hand is a hair dryer or a annual report, drawing forces decisions.

All children draw. Somewhere in the course of becoming logical, verbally oriented adults, they unlearn this elemental skill. Experts in creative problem solving such as Bob McKim, deBono, devoted much of their creative energy to mind maps, two-by-two matrices, and other visual frameworks that help explore and describe ideas in valuable ways.

When I use drawing to express an idea, I get different results than if I try to express it with words, and I usually get to them more quickly.


The techniques of the design thinker — brainstorming, visual thinking — contribute to the divergent process of creating choices. It is here that one of the simplest tools available for convergence comes into play: the Post-it note.

Once every idea is gathered together for a project review, there needs to be a process for selecting the ideas that are strongest and hold the greatest promise. Storyboards help — panels that illustrate, almost like comic strips, the sequence of events a user might experience in checking into a hotel, opening a bank account, or using a newly purchased electronic device. But sooner or later some level of consensus is called for, and it rarely comes about by debate or executive fiat. What is needed is some kind of tool to extract the intuition of the group, and this is where a generous supply of Post-it notes cannot be beat.

At IDEO we use them to submit ideas to the “butterfly test.”

Lets imagine an entire wall of a project room has been covered with promising ideas. Each participant is given a small number of small Post-it ballots to attach to the ideas they think should move forward. Members of the team flutter about the room inspecting the tableau of ideas, and before long it is clear which ones have attracted the most “butterflies.” The process is not about democracy, it is about maximizing the capacities of teams to converge on the best solutions.

Though we all have deadlines all the time, in the divergent and exploratory phase of design thinking, deadlines take on an extra level of importance. The deadline is the fixed point on the horizon where everything stops and the final evaluation begins. These points may seem arbitrary and unwelcome but an experienced project leader knows how to use them to turn options into decisions. It’s unwise to have a deadline every day, at least in the earlier phases of the project. Nor does it work to stretch it out for six months. It takes judgement to determine when a team will reach a point where management input, reflexion, redirection, and selection are most likely to be valuable.


Design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking.

Thinkers who exploit opposing ideas to construct a new solution enjoy a built-in advantage over thinkers who can consider only one model at a time. Integrative thinkers know how to widen the scope of issues salient to the problem. They resist the “either/or” in favor of the “both/and” and see non-linear and multi-directional relationships as a source of inspiration, not contradiction. The most successful leaders “embrace the mess.” They allow complexity to exist, at least as they search for solutions, because complexity is the most reliable source of creative opportunities. The traits of management leaders, in other words, match the traits I have ascribed to design thinkers. The skills that make for a great design thinker — the ability to spot patterns in the mess of complex inputs, to synthesize new ideas from fragmented parts; to empathize with people different from ourselves — can all be learned.

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Building to think

Since openness to experimentation is the lifeblood of any creative organisation, prototyping — the willingness to go ahead and try something by building it — is the best evidence of experimentation. We may think of the prototype as a finished model of a product about to be manufactured, but that definition should be carried much further back in the process.

Prototyping is thinking with your hands. This is in contrast 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.


Although it might seem prototyping will slow you down, it generates results faster. 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.

Even rudimentary prototypes can catapult discussions forward, put everyone on same page, and save countless meetings, videoconferences, shop time, and airplane tickets.

Just as it can accelerate the pace of a project, prototyping allows the exploration of many ideas in parallel. Early prototypes should be fast, rough and cheap. The greater the investment in an idea, the more committed one becomes to it. Over-investment in a refined prototype has two undesirable consequences. First, a mediocre idea may go too far toward realisation — or even, in the worst case, all the way. Second, the prototyping process itself creates the opportunity to discover new and better ideas at minimal cost.


Prototypes should command only as much time, effort, and investment as is necessary to generate useful feedback and drive an idea forward. The greater the complexity and expense, the more “finished” it is likely to seem and the less likely its creators will be to profit from constructive feedback — or even to listen to it. The goal of prototyping is not to create a working model. It is to give form to an idea to learn about its strengths and weaknesses and to identify new directions for the next generation of more detailed, more refined prototypes. A prototype’s scope should be limited. The purpose of early prototypes might be to understand whether an idea has functional value. Eventually designers need to take the prototype out into the world to get feedback from the intended users of the final product. At this point the surface qualities of the prototype may require a bit more attention so that potential consumers are not distracted by the rough edges or unresolved details.

Some pretty amazing technology is available today for designers to create prototypes quickly and at an extremely high level of fidelity, including ultraprecise laser cutters, CAD tools, 3D printers. But all the technology in the world will come to naught if it is used to create prototypes too refined, too detailed, and too early. “Just enough prototyping” means picking what we want to learn about and achieving just enough resolution to make that the focus. An experienced prototypes knows when to say “Enough is enough.”


Same rules apply when the challenge is a service, a virtual experience, or even an organisational system. Anything tangible that lets us explore an idea, evaluate it, and push it forward is a prototype.

Movie industry has long since used storyboarding. These include scenarios, a form of storytelling in which some potential future situation or state is described using words and pictures.

Scenarios also force us to keep people at the center of the idea, preventing us from getting lost in mechanical or aesthetic details. They remind us at every moment that we are not dealing with things but with “transactions between people and things.”


Overlooking social dimensions of the problem can be an issue.

An emerging form of “prototyping in the wild” involves the use of virtual worlds such a Second Life or social networks. Companies can learn from consumers about proposed brands or services before they invest in the real thing.


All prototypes share a single paradoxical feature: they slow us down to speed us up. By taking time to prototype our ideas, we avoid costly mistakes such as becoming too complex too early and sticking with a weak idea for too long.

Prototyping is always inspirational — not in the sense of a perfected artwork but because it inspires new ideas. Prototyping should start early in the life of a project, and we expect them to be numerous, quickly executed, and pretty ugly. Each one is intended to develop an idea “just enough” to allow the team to learn something and move on. At this relatively low level of resolution, it’s almost always best for the team members to make their own prototypes and not outsource them to others.

One way to motivate early-stage prototyping is to set a goal: to have a prototype ready by the end of the first week or even the first day. Once tangible expressions begin to emerge, it becomes easy to try them out and elicit feedback internally from management and externally from potential customers. Indeed, one of the measures of an innovative organisation is its average time to first prototype.

In the ideation space we build prototypes to develop our ideas to ensure that they incorporate the functional and emotional elements necessary to meet the demands of the market. As the project moves forward, the number of prototypes will go down while the resolution of each one goes up. If the precision required at this stage exceeds the capabilities of the team, it may be necessary to turn to outside experts — model makers, videographers, writers, or actors, as the case may be — for help.

In the third space of innovation we are concerned wth implementation: communicating an idea with sufficient clarity to gain acceptance across the organisation, proving it, and showing that it will work in its intended market. Here too, habit of prototyping plays an essential role.

When a new idea is almost ready for implementation, it will often be tested in the form of a pilot deployment.

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When we sit in an airplane or shop for groceries, we are not only carrying out a function but having an experience. That function can be compromised if the experience attending it is not designed with the same mindfulness a good engineer brings to a product or an architect to a building.

Three themes that make experiences meaningful and memorable:

  1. We now live in an experience economy in which people shift from passive consumption to active participation
  2. Best experiences are not scripted in HQ but delivered on the spot by service providers
  3. Implementation is everything


Innovation is “a good idea executed well.”

The hierarchy of value (basic needs to emotionally satisfying experiences) — corresponds to a fundamental shift in how we experience the world, from the primarily functional to the primarily emotional. Understanding this shift, many companies now invest in the delivery of experiences. Functional benefits alone are no longer enough.


Just as Web 1.0 blasted information at prospective customers whereas Web 2.0 is all about engaging them, companies now know they can no longer treat people as passive consumers. The shift in participatory design is fast becoming the norm in the development of new products. The same is true of experiences.

Design has the power to enrich our lives by engaging our emotions through image, form, texture, colour, sound, and smell. The intrinsically human-centered nature of design thinking points to the next step: we can use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation.


The drive to lower prices — through such industrial processes as packaging, chemical preservatives, refrigeration, storage, and long distance transport — not only removed much of the natural quality from food but also dehumanised an experience that lies close to the origins of human society. The growing popularity of farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, the slow-food movement, suggests that consumers crave a different experience of food shopping.

From Disneyland to Mayo Clinic, experiences can be created in the most playful and the most serious of categories.


Getting people to change is difficult under the best of circumstances and all but impossible in the face of resistance. One way to get people to try something new is to build on behaviours that are familiar to them. Case Study: “Keep the Change” program of Bank of America.


Exceptional experience starts with your own people.

Creating an experience culture requires going beyond the generic to design experiences perceived as uniquely tailored to each customer. Unlike a manufactured product or a standardised service, an experience comes to life when it feels personalised and customised.

A real experience culture is a culture of spontaneity. That is why the training program at Four Seasons include improvisation rather than drilling the staff with canned scripts.


For an idea to become an experience, it must be implemented with the same care in which it is conceived.


Just as a product begins with an engineering blueprint and a building with an architectural blueprint, an experience blueprint provides the framework for working out the details of a human interaction.

The difference is that an experience blueprint also describes the emotive elements.

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Many notions have been proposed to explain what differentiates human beings from other species: bipedal locomotion, tool use, language, symbolic systems. Our ability to tell stories also sets us apart. 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.


A whole new dimension to the designer’s tool kit: the “fourth dimension,” designing in 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, improvisation, and scenarios are among the many narrative techniques that help us visualise an idea as it unfolds over time.

Designing with time is a little different from designing in space. The design thinker has to be comfortable moving along both these axes.

To design an interaction is to allow a story to unfold over time. This realisation has led interaction designers to experiment with the use of narrative techniques such as story boards and scenarios borrowed from other fields of design.


Designing with time means thinking of people as living, growing, thinking organisms who can help write their own stories.


At the heart of any good story is a central narrative about the way an idea satisfies a need in some powerful way. As it unfolds, the story will give every character represented in it a sense of purpose and will unfold in a way that involves every participant in the action. It will be convincing but not overwhelm us with unnecessary detail. It will include plenty of detail to ground it to some plausible reality. All this takes skill and imagination. Though it is not always necessary to make your audience cry, a good story well told should deliver a powerful emotional punch.


There are occasions when the story itself is the final product.


Storytelling can play another vital if obvious role: communicating its value to its intended audience in such a way that some of them, at least, want to go out and buy it.


Design challenges are not only a great way to unleash the power of competition, they also create stories around an idea, transforming people from passive onlookers into engaged participants. Case: X Prize Foundation.


Effective storytelling, of using the element of time, relies on two critical moments: the beginning and the end. At the front end, it is essential that storytelling begins early in the life of a project and be woven into every aspect of the innovation effort. It has been common practice for design teams to bring writers in at the end to document a project once it has been completed. At the far end, a story gains traction when it is picked up by its intended audience, who feel motivated to carry it forward long after the design team has disbanded and moved on to other projects.


“Design” is no longer a discrete stylistic gesture thrown at a project just before it is handed off to marketing. The new approach taking shape in companies and organisations around the world moves design backward to the earliest stages of the product’s conception and forward to the last stages of its implementation — and beyond. Allowing customers to write the last chapter of the story themselves is only one more example of design thinking in action.

In each of the preceding chapters, have tried to identify techniques that originated in the design community — field observations, prototyping, visual storytelling — that lie at the center of a human centered design process.

  1. It is time for these skills to migrate outward into all parts of organisations and upward into the highest levels of leadership. Including the CXOs.
  2. As design thinking begins to move out of the studio and into the corporation, the service sector, and the public sphere, it can help us to grapple with a vastly greater range of problems than has previously been the case. Design can help to improve our lives in the present. Design thinking can help us chart a path into the future.

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Business thinking is integral to design thinking. A design solution can only benefit from the sophisticated analytical tools — discovery driven planning, option and portfolio theory, prospect theory, customer life-time value — that have evolved in the business sector. The unforgiving world of business can help design teams think responsibly about constraints, even as designers test those constraints as a project moves along. In prototyping an e-banking concept, for instance, an interaction designer might observe that the assumed source of revenue, advertising, would compromise the quality of the user experience. A business-oriented designer on the team might respond by evaluating alternatives, such as subscription or referral fees. This collaborative process allows everyone to assess the “viability” component of the innovation equation in creative ways, not merely as an after-the-fact market analysis.

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Ways to Grow Matrix

Above matrix can help evaluate the innovation efforts within an organisation. Companies can use this to get a good picture of their innovation efforts.

Projects in bottom-left Q — tend to be incremental in nature. Majority of a company’s effort is likely to be put into this type of innovation, which might include the extension of a successful brand or the next iteration of a current product.

Evolutionary innovation might involve adapting an existing product so that it can be manufactured at a lower cost and thus marketed to a wider population. Ex: Tata Nano.

The most challenging type of innovation — and the riskiest — is that in which both the product and the users are new. A revolutionary innovation creates entirely new markets, but this happens only rarely. Ex: iPod. Segway, by contrast, was a failure.

A company’s best defense is to diversify its portfolio by investing across all four quadrants of the innovation matrix.


Design thinking is unlikely to become an exact science, but there is an opportunity to transform it from a black art into a systematically applied management approach. The trick is to do this without sucking the life out of the creative process — to balance management’s legitimate requirement for stability, efficiency and predictability with the design thinker’s need for spontaneity, serendipity, and experimentation. The objective should be Integration: holding these conflicting demands in tension while we create innovations, and indeed companies, that are more powerful than either of them.

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An organisation that commits itself to the human-centered tenets of design thinking is practicing enlightened self-interest. This is simply the most reliable source of long-term profitability and sustainable growth.

It is no longer possible to think in adversarial terms of a “buyers market” or “sellers market.” We’re all in this together.

We are in the midst of an epochal shift in the balance of power as economies evolve from a focus on manufactured products to one that favours services and experiences. Companies are ceding control and coming to see their customers not as “end users” but rather as participants in a two-way process. What is emerging is nothing less than a new social contract.

Every contract, however, has two parties. We cannot sit back and wait for new choices to emerge from the inner sanctums of corporate labs and studios. The public, too, must commit to the principles of design thinking.

Left to its own, the vicious circle of design-manufacture-marketing-consumption will exhaust itself and Earth will run out of fuel. With the active participation of people at every level, we may just be able to extend this journey for a while longer.

“Product” orientation to a “Service” orientation is key to scaling up the tools of the design thinker to grapple with complex systems.

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

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