Change by Design — Tim Brown : Personal Analysis

At the very beginning of his book, just after going through the two first paragraphs, Tim Brown already tells us one of the component of this concept Design Thinking is : “[…] Creating not just efficient transportation, but the best possible experience”. Speaking of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Western Railway in UK, and his process going through the construction of it, Brown gives us characteristics that could make a designer a Design Thinker. He is saying that his talents should lie between “technical, commercial, and human considerations”. He later explains that design thinking was born when designers started to combine their skills, their knowledge concerning the human needs, and how to match them with economical, physical or technological constraints.

There is no “one best way” to achieve a design project. The methodology can give us good points through which start a project, but it can’t be processed through steps you have to cross one after the other, these steps are overlapping each other, which makes the methodology used for every project different.

Tim Brown adds that one of the reason why design thinking can’t be a linear process is also that, “design thinking is an exploratory process”. He means that during the process of researches, some discoveries will be made, discoveries which will be assimilated differently depending on what project you’re working on and what the said discoveries are. They could be assimilated without changing anything in the process of designing, or either could be thought in a way that changes the very way of thinking a project.

Design Thinking becomes interesting also when speaking about the viability of a created product or concept. Tim Brown is saying that a project built using a linear method has this tendency to become predictable, and “predictability leads to boredom”. A project considered by the mean of design thinking will lead to unexpected conclusions, enjoyable creations, and unique solutions, all these factors making it harder to copy, and hence, more viable than any other project.

‘The willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of competing constraints is the foundation of design thinking”.

After that quote, Tim brown says that in every design project, a designer faces three main constraints : The feasibility of the project, its viability, and the desirability of the thing created. He is saying that more than only solving these solutions one by one, a design thinker will find the ideal balance between them, and then bring sustainability to his project. He uses the example of the Nintendo Wii, saying that in a time where the competition between the video-games companies was only about the quality of graphics, Nintendo stood up by focusing more on the user experience, and then, created new possibilities, new habits, and “broke out of the vicious circle” they were imprisoned in by creating a brand new field they could dominate.

“Designers, then, have learned to excel at resolving one or another or even all three of these constraints. Design thinkers, by contrast, are learning to navigate between and among them in creative ways”.

Going further through the book, we then discover what Brown calls the “Three spaces of innovation” and the explanation regarding the way design thinking changes the way one can innovate. With design thinking these three spaces; inspiration, ideation, and implementation, are no longer belonging to the designer only, but also to the project manager, their two roles are mixed together (the designer does not only do the creation part but also has to organise his schedule for example, and the project manager is not only distributing tasks amongst the team, but has to think about the very way designers are creating to help them properly), in order to form the most harmonious team possible.

Coming back to previous concepts like “human centred design” or “human needs”, Tim Brown develops on 3 elements that I particularly enjoyed in this book : Insight, observation, and empathy.

The two first words, insight and observation, are said to be “the key sources of design thinking”. Given the way Brown is using them in his book, we could change them into two of their synonyms : Perspicactity, and view. By using these words, I am trying to mean that the observations (through field researches, survey and other means) one can make during a design project will be the “key sources” leading its development. A design thinker should be able to observe, to view different elements like behaviours, habits, “thoughtless acts” done by any user, and be perceptive enough to interpret them and decide of their importance, percpetive enough to transform “notes, videotapes and photographs” into usable data. Like Tim Brown is saying, the point is “watching what people don’t do” and “listening to what they don’t say”. It is only after understanding the different ways people are acting that a designer can answer human needs and claim to practice a human centred kind of design. This idea leads us directly to the third and last concept, empathy.

I will end this essay on this one, considering the fact that it is the concept that has been leading my way of seeing design through these past years studying and practicing it. This part will be using data I collected through my reading, but will use a very personal point of view to interpret them.

Through this whole book, we keep on comparing designers with engineers, scientist, managers… but with this concept of empathy, we can start to compare them with artists.

One of the aim of plastic art, let’s take painting as an example, is to make people feel certain emotions, make them remember things they forgot, have them understand something meaningful for them, by watching a work of art. The notion of feeling is in the centre of this art, but nowhere during the process of painting (I am not speaking of when the painting is exhibited, but of the process of creation itself) the artist actually tries to feel what his spectators will feel, he only is putting his own feelings, his own experiences and emotions, his own words on the canvas. In that sense a plastic artist is working for himself. A plastic artist, like a scientist, tries out different things and observes the reaction of every subject exposed to these things. that is where we can find differences and similarities between him and a designer, and find a use to this concept empathy is.

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

Designers, and more precisely design thinkers, have to not only think about what the future users of their product will experience, but they have to experience it themselves. Plastic arts and Applied arts can be compared in a sense that for both of them, creativity is a needed tool and the process of creation can sometimes be the same (painters and graphic designers for example, both have to have knowledge about colors, shapes, know the way to use them…), and both of them are focused on what people will feel. However, they differ completely when you realise that their methodology is not the same. Plastic artists tend to think about people as viewers, or spectators, designer are thinking about them as users, thanks to design thinking, and its concept mostly based on human behaviour, not only based on feelings, but also on experience.

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