Monday, March 31, 2014

The Problem with Perfection

One of the questions currently being pondered in the Design Thinking group on LI is; "What is the most beautiful object in the world?" Reflecting on that got me thinking about the nature of perfection.

As designers, we create all sorts of things. Physical objects, processes, combinations of ideas, images and sounds.  One element of the value of those created objects is the amount of time and effort put into making them but another is their degree of perfection.  For example, a rough 0.64 carat diamond can be had on eBay for about $800.  By the time it's been cut, polished and turned into a pair of 0.36 carat ear rings, that price can go up to about $1000.

One of the questions to ponder here is; which is more beautiful?  There is a natural elegance in the "rough" stone.  It octahedral shape isn't "perfect" in terms of symmetry.  The edges are uneven and curved.  Converting it into a brilliant pair of stud earrings, like those shown here, requires cutting and polishing to create 58 very symmetrical, sparkly, faces.

Clearing Winter Storm by Ansel Adams

Here is another image for consideration. Clearing Winter Storm is iconic, combining clouds, granite, snow and trees into a spectacular, breathtaking, landscape which is also natural (mostly), utterly asymmetrical and rather chaotic.

The production of both the earrings and Clearing Winter Storm took human intervention. Both are a testimony to the power and precision of man-made machines which can position and polish surfaces to optical wavelength precision. One captures the essence of organic chaos, nudged by Adam's visual sensibilities, into the perfect balance of light and shadow. The other is balanced 3D symmetry elevated to art. (By the way, a signed 1970's gelatin silver print of Clearing Winter Storm recently sold for nearly $50,000.)

At times we seem to be a bit schizophrenic about perfection.  On the one hand, we admire high levels of human craftsmanship, particularly hand done work, which creates symmetry and order. At the same time we value uniqueness and individuality.  Our Gods are perfect, eternal and unchangeable, yet some of the most beautiful things about the universe, particularly at minute levels of inspection, are fraught with randomness, even chaos.

The moment we reach out our hand to influence matter, or apply thought to ideas, we imprint our personal interpretation of value.  At times we move towards the Bauhaus, at others toward a more Organic School.  Which is "better" when underneath it all lurks the possibility that chaos theory is the most elegant explanation of everything and it all gets more and more random the further down you look? What is the boundary between perfect and natural?

Perhaps part of the answer lays in whether the thing being examined and judged is in a mirror.  

The works of nature abound in asymmetry and randomness. We hold our own creations to the highest measurable standards of balance and order. Perhaps we are missing a critical point somewhere.When what is natural is infinitely random and what is artificial is balanced symmetrical perfection.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chances are...

Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham has heard a lot of pitches and rejected most of them.

Over the past few months I've been searching for data on the success rate of new products and startup businesses. The consensus isn't good. Several articles, mostly from business magazines, agree that the chances of surviving the first three years are poor (25%) to dismal (10%). The Wall Street Journal recently reported that three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don't return investors' capital. Compare that with the odds of winning at craps (49.3%) and you might wonder why venture capitalists don't find another line of work.

One of the most well known funders of startups is Y-Combinator.  Since 2005, they've been investing about $100,000 each in a few dozen startups per year, plus providing a lot of other support. The fledgling businesses move to Silicon Valley and over a period of 3 months YC helps them polish their product and prepare to pitch their plans to other investors at an exclusive "Demo Day" attended by a carefully selected, invitation-only audience.  After that, the YC Alumni network continues to provide support for for the life of the startup.

A recent article at, summarizes the main reasons startups fail; Incompetence (46%), lack of experience either in management (30%), or in the line of goods or services being offered (11%). (Note that those are the things which Y Combinator tries to overcome with their support.) 

Those statistics aside, Graham says there is basically ONE mistake that kills startups every time:

Not making something users want.

You would think that would be pretty obvious. I mean, nobody would want to build something that nobody else wanted, would they? And they certainly wouldn't want to blow $100,000 of their own money doing it.  We'll come back to this point a little later. For now, you might want to think about  some of the traits which keep entrepreneurs going; their passion, enthusiasm and optimism and how they may derail what otherwise might be a terrific opportunity.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Empathy - What is it and where does it come from?

If empathy is such an important part of the Design Thinking process, it's probably a good idea to define what it is and find out where it comes from.

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, defines empathy as the ability to recognize and respond to someone else's feelings.  Roman Krznaric says empathy is the ability to step into another person's shoes, understand their feelings and use that to guide your actions.  So, it appears there are two parts to empathy, one which has to do with perception and the other with acting on those perceptions.

In September 2012, an international team of researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York published a study in the journal Brain, identifying the anterior insular cortex as the main activity center for empathy in humans.  Other neuro-imaging studies suggest that the AIC also plays a major role in the emotional processing of love, compassion, fairness and cooperation

Current studies indicate that we are born with it.  Israeli researchers conducted tests where a mother pretended to be injured, while simultaneously avoiding eye contact with her baby, so as to not bias the child’s responses. The researchers observed the infants and noted that the whole group (37) showed signs of genuine empathy for their mothers injury, in both emotional and cognitive ways. Younger babies’ displayed concern with their facial expressions.  Many cooed or made other sympathetic sounds. As the babies tried to figure out what had happened, their glances bounced from their mother's hurt body part up to her face and back to the injury.  Some made questioning sounds, or looked to the face of another adult for interpretation. Older more mobile and physically coordinated babies made attempts to comfort and help, softly patting their mothers and making soothing sounds.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a psychologist and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC recently coined the phrase Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD) to describe the condition where you're unable to step outside yourself and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from yourself.  (No, EDD isn't in the DSM yet.)

Another significant finding is that empathy can be dampened as a result of experience. Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor published online in Personality and Social Psychology Review, that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. During the same period students’ self-reported narcissism reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University. Other studies point to early life experiences and trauma as a major dampener of empathy.

So, as Design Thinkers, it appears we may have our work cut out for us if we are expected to have empathy in the toolbox. Fortunately there are ways to enhance it. We'll get to those next.

By the way, have you taken that empathy test yet?

Back to the Search for Origins for a bit.

In searching for the roots of Design Thinking, I'm currently attacking the issue on two fronts.
The first is my personal experience with DT, the second is a study of the literature.

Since I kept many of the textbooks and notes from my design courses at Stanford, I went back thru them to see what parts of the design process were being emphasized and when, particularly between 1978 and '81, when I was majoring in Product Design.

In those days, the design process was framed as ETC, for Express, Test, Cycle.  Bob McKim's "Experiences in Visual Thinking" was the text for ME 101; Visual Thinking, which was the introductory course to the Product Design major.  I took that class in the fall of 1977 and took Art 60, Basic Design, in the spring of 1978, which was also when I changed my major ("flipped") from Civil Engineering to Product Design. (and which I'll post about later.)

Going back thru my library, I found several books which I bought for courses in the PD major;

Experiences in Visual Thinking, by Robert McKim (1972 & 80)
The Universal Traveler, by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall (1972, 73, 74 & 76)
Conceptual Blockbusting, by Jim Adams (also Stanford faculty) (1974, 76, 79 & 86)
Design Yourself! by Hanks, Belliston and Edwards (1977 & 78)
Are Your Lights On?, by Donald Gause and Gerald Weinberg (1982) (not a text, but very good)
Wake Up Your Creative Genius, by Hanks and Parry (1983)

Wake Up Your Creative Genius is particularly interesting.  A lot of the material feels like Jim Adam's Conceptual Blockbusting. Wake Up Your Creative Genius has a much looser graphic style but would be a great guidebook for an entrepreneur.  Because it is about how to succeed at developing and profiting from your ideas,  Wake Up Your Creative Genius pushes well into Design Thinking's current triangle, which includes business viability.

One interesting thing about all these books is that none of them specifically mentions empathy in the index.  They all at least touch on the idea that emotion plays a big part in the design process and that the needs of the customer are very important, but IDEO and the have clearly dragged empathy front and center .

Recalling the Google nGrams of how frequently the terms Design Thinking and design thinking were used in the literature;  Before 1970, it was nearly zero.  From there it rose gradually until about 1982, (0.000,000,025%) where it really started to take off, rising over 1000%, (to 0.000,000,350%) between then and 2000.

For me, this hints that Design Thinking as a formal method wasn't really being discussed much before the early 80's.  Before that, from looking at the texts associated with the nGrams, the use of the term seems to have been mostly in the context of studying designers' thought processes generally, whether they be Automotive, Industrial, Product, Architecture or Software... whatever.

I some cases, business was looking for a way to tame the illogical methods of designers (those wily artistic engineers!) and to find more predictable, repeatable, manageable, ways of designing the increasingly complex systems of software and hardware made possible in part due to the explosion in the use of the computer.  In others, designers (Van Doren and Archer) were doing a bit of navel gazing in an early effort to try and explain themselves in an effort to build bridges to the C Suite and the Financiers.

So, my current feeling is that the deep, nameless, roots of Design Thinking now go back at least to the 1940's. Although Tim Brown tried to push that back to Thomas Edison, I think the current definition of DT, with its specific emphasis on business viability and empathy, draws a line of demarcation before the post War era of Industrial Design.

The reason I make that distinction is that from my study of Edison, I don't think he consciously advocated empathy in his process. His observations about himself clearly indicate that he was a lot more comfortable with things, and the money which their utility could generate, than the emotions the users of the electric light, telegraph or phonograph felt when using them.  Edison was about functional practicality, even in the way he dated and married.

The earliest application of a process focus on touching the hearts of your customer's (empathy), and business which I have found so far, is still Walt Disney.  In the early days he did miss out on the business side of the equation.  If not for his brother Roy managing the money, I'm not sure Walt would have survived on his own.  It just wasn't his primary focus.  Money was a way to get things done for him, not something to collect or hoard.  It needed to be put to work.  Walt wanted to put as much money as possible back into his projects, constantly ran over budget and originally wanted admission to Disneyland to be free.  However, he also knew that his guests would gladly pay for a good experience and had first hand knowledge of utter financial failure, so business viability was a very real goal for him.

In any case, the search continues...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Inspirational Diversion on Design Thinking

This is a slightly updated version of last week's video.
(Sometimes I just can't leave well enough alone...)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Key Elements of Design Thinking

I really love Tom and Dave and even Joi (sort of) but their July 2013 presentation at MIT's Media Lab in nearly an hour and a half long. (yikes!)

So, here is a condensed version that may work as a less bulky introduction for your family and friends, or the next time someone asks you what this Design Thinking stuff is all about while you are riding on the bus, or the elevator to the C Suite on the top floor of the Chrysler Building.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Origins of Design Thinking at Stanford

In July of 2013, Tom and Dave Kelley spoke at the Media Lab at MIT.  In addition to giving some good material about the core Design Thinking process, Dave also gave an historical overview of the events which led to the formation of the and teaching Design Thinking at Stanford.

Just for reference, here is a chronology of David and DT;

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1973 with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Kelley took a job at Boeing, where he designed the 747's LAVATORY OCCUPIED sign. He then moved to National Cash Register in Ohio. During the 1973-74 oil embargo a rider in his car pool told David about Stanford's Product Design program.  At Stanford, Kelley met Robert McKim, a pioneer in using experiential psychology in design. McKim, John Arnold (ME/Business) and Matt Kahn (Art), had laid the foundations for the Product Design and Joint Program in Design Programs at Stanford in 1958, Kelley earned his master’s in 1977 from the Stanford Joint Program in Design and began teaching design at Stanford.

1978 - Kelley partnered with Dean Hovey to form Hovey-Kelley Design, opening for business above a dress shop in downtown Palo Alto. 

1981 - Hovey-Kelley creates the first Apple Mouse mouse.

1984 - Kelley co-founded Onset Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. 

1990 - David becomes a Tenured Professor at Stanford. (although he did not have a PhD)

1991 - David Kelley Design merges with Bill Moggridge's ID2 and Mike Nuttall, to form IDEO. David co-founds Edge Innovations with Walt Conti and Edge Innovations, a special-effects company responsible for the whales in the Free Willy movies.

2000 - David was honored with the annual Chrysler Design Award and elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which recognized him for “affecting the practice of design.” 

In 2001, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum presented David and IDEO with the National Design Award in Product Design.

2002 - David is named the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering and spoke at TED 2002 on human-centered design.

In a 2003 meeting with IDEO's CEO, Tim Brown, Kelley had an epiphany: They would stop calling IDEO's approach "design" and start calling it "design thinking.” 

"We moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. We have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before." -- David Kelley

May 2004 -  Business Week's cover article, “The Power of Design,” profiled IDEO and its work helping companies change the way they innovate.’

2004 - David leads the creation of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, known as the ""

2005 - David receives the Sir Misha Black Medal for his “distinguished services to design education.”

2007 - The Hasso-Plattner-Institute for IT Systems Engineering was expanded to become the HPI School of Design Thinking, cooperating closely with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

2008 - Stanford and the Hasso-Plattner-Institute announce a $16 million research partnership in which they will investigate "design thinking," a methodology that melds an end-user focus with multidisciplinary collaboration and iterative improvement to produce products, services or experiences.

2009 - Kelley is awarded the Edison Achievement Award by the Thomas Edison Papers at Rutgers University for his “pioneering contributions to the design of breakthrough products, services, and experiences for consumers, as well as his development of an innovative culture that has broad impact.”

2012 - Kelley speaks on building creative confidence at TED.

2013 - Tom and David Kelley publish Creative Confidence

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Little Leonardo Da Vinci's

I participate in a few groups on LinkedIn and noticed something very interesting in two of them shortly after joining.  Much to my surprise, there seemed to be broad disagreement over not only the definition of Design Thinking, but Industrial Design and Product Design as well. That hit close to home, as my undergraduate degree is in Product Design and my alma mater has been at the forefront of teaching Design Thinking for many years.

Rather than draw any hasty conclusions, I decided to research the use of the terms, some of which I've already shared in other posts. From my perspective, there wasn't much question regarding the definition of either - after all, my diploma declared that I was a Product Designer and the early methods of the Design Thinking had been taught by my professors.  But there is another area which deserves some consideration, having to do with "ownership" and use of those terms.

In a June 22, 2000, interview, Dean Hovey stated; "Bob McKim particularly was trying to create little Leonardo da Vinci's. A person who was diverse in their expertise, skilled in many things, and diverse enough to create a whole product."

Leonardo da Vinci - If he could lay claim to being the first Design Thinker, that would be very interesting.

Although both the comment and the concept initially struck me as smacking a bit of hubris, the association with Leonardo was particular disquieting.  (Mention his name and angels sing.)  Leonardo has become a modern icon of brilliant creativity and trans-disciplinary intelligence. For Hovey to suggest that what Robert McKim wanted was for Stanford's Product Design Program to produce "little Leonardo da Vinci's" bordered on blasphemy.

Then, I refreshed my memory of da Vinci's life.  Leonardo was an amazingly brilliant artist and inventor, however, there was one area where he really struggled; business.  He had little commercial success during his lifetime, constantly needed patronage and often left projects unfinished for years at a time.  Not Harvard MBA material. Today, Design Thinking is supposed to bridge art, engineering and business viability.  (Perhaps someone should tell Dave Kelley that DT's goal now surpasses even replicating Leonardo.)

Which takes us to another question; Who could claim the crown of being the original design thinker - if that is even possible?  Brown follows the breadcrumbs to Edison, but I'm not sure the physical form of his works qualify as "beautiful" or art, let alone any considerations of ergonomics, or even safety.

We just disqualified Leonardo because of his lack of business success... 

Of course, we can't overlook L. Bruce Archer.   A brilliant theorist and teacher of Industrial Design methods, 1962 his team designed solutions for several significant problems in British hospitals.

Regarding that effort Archer recalled that they presented a report to their client, the Nuffield Foundation, who expected a series of "beautifully presented designs for funny-looking cutlery for patients to use lying in bed, and possibly ingenious devices to hold up their reading books, and other such stuff." because, "That was 'what art schools did'.

Nuffield told Archer and his team " go away and never darken their doors again." Hardly a roaring success.

How about Harold van Doren?  He literally wrote the book on Industrial Design and his work is much more refined than Edison, even if they aren't the timeless Mona Lisas of consumer products;

I was really excited about Edison because he pushed the horizon all the way past 1900.

Surely, there has to be someone with the artistic flair of van Doren, or even Leonardo, the business sense of Warren Buffett and the consumer instincts of Thomas Edison... but who?

Send me your suggestions, and maybe you'll win a nice prize.  (No kidding!)

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to be like Edison

In 1901, Orison Swett Marden published a book called "How They Succeeded" which contains interviews with several famous and successful people. Chapter 14 was entitled; A Talk with Edison.  It has some very interesting insights into Edison's motivations and how he viewed life. (I have slightly edited and rearranged some of the quotes to group them by topic. ~ df)  We will come back to these in a future post about the definition and practice of Design Thinking, but for now, let's just get inside Tom's head;

On Edison's Library and Drive to Learn

Marden: "The library at the laboratory is one of the most costly and well-equipped scientific libraries in the world. The collection of writings on patent laws and patents, for instance, is exhaustive.  At a glance it shows the breadth of thought of this man who grew up with hardly any school education."

Marden: "You were anxious to learn?"

Edison: "Yes, indeed.  I attempted to read through the entire Free Library in Detroit, but other things interfered before I could accomplish that."

Edison on Invention

Marden: "Do you believe that invention is a gift, or an acquired ability?"

Edison: "I think <inventiveness> is born in...  Some people may be perfectly familiar with a machine all their days, knowing it inefficient, and never see a way to improve it."

Marden: "Are your discoveries often brilliant intuitions?"

Edison: "No, when I have fully decided that a result is worth getting, I go about it, and make trial after trial, until it comes.  I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come indirectly through accident - except  the phonograph.

The inspiration for the phonograph came as I was singing into the mouthpiece of a telephone.  The vibrations of my voice caused a fine steel point to pierce one of my fingers held just behind it.  That set me to thinking.  If I could record the motions of the point and send it over the same surface afterward, I saw no reason why the thing would not talk.  I determined to make a machine that would work accurately, and gave my assistants the necessary instructions, telling them what I had discovered.  That’s the whole story.  The phonograph is the result of the pricking of a finger."

"I have always kept strictly within the lines of commercially useful inventions.  I have never devoted any time to electrical wonders, valuable only as novelties to amuse the public."

Edison On Business

" sure of the practical need of, and demand for, a machine, before expending time and energy on it.

"...give people something they want and will pay money to get."

Edison on work and his own inventions

“…for fifteen years I have worked an average of twenty hours a day.

Marden: "What makes you work?  What impels you to this constant, tireless struggle? 

Edison: "I like it.  I don‘t know any other reason.  Anything I have begun is always on my mind, and I am uneasy until it is finished; and then I hate it."

Marden: "Hate it?"

Edison: "Yes, when it is all done and is a success, I can‘t bear the sight of it.  I haven’t used a telephone in ten years, and I would go out of my way any day to miss an incandescent light."

Marden: "You lay down rather severe rules for one who wishes to succeed in life; "working eighteen hours a day".

Edison: "Not at all.  You do something all day long, don‘t you?  If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put in sixteen good hours, and everyone is doing something all the time -- walking, reading, writing, or thinking.  The only trouble is that they are doing a great many things and I do only one thing.  If they took their time and applied it in one direction, to one object, success is sure to follow.  The trouble is that people do not have one object to fix their attention and let everything else go.  Success is the product of the severest kind of mental and physical application."

It's Not About the Money

Marden: "Were you good at saving your own money?"

"No.  I never was much for saving money.  I devoted every cent, regardless of future needs, to scientific books and materials for experiments."

"You believe that is an excellent way to succeed?"

"Well, it helped me greatly to future success."

Edison: "One might think that the money value of an invention is the reward to the man who loves his work.  But, speaking for myself, I can honestly say that’s not so.  Life was never more full of joy to me, than when, a poor boy, I began to think out improvements in telegraphy, and to experiment with the cheapest and crudest appliances. But now that I have all the appliances I need, and am my own master, I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success - the application."

There are some very interesting Design Thinking ideas buried in Edison's remarks. But I think the story of how he picked a wife may illustrate that he was a bit weak in the empathy department;

"The idea of the great electrician's marrying was first suggested by an intimate friend, who told him that his large house and numerous servants ought to have a mistress. Although a very shy, Edison seemed pleased with the proposition and timidly inquired whom he should marry. The friend, annoyed at his apparent want of sentiment, somewhat testily replied; "Anyone."

One day, as Edison stood behind the chair of 16 year old Mary Stillwell, a telegraph operator in his employ, Edison was very surprised when she suddenly turned round and said; "Mr. Edison, I can always tell when you are behind me or near me."

It was now Miss Stillwell's turn to be surprised. With characteristic bluntness and candor, Edison looked her full in the face and said; "I've been thinking considerably about you of late, and, if you are willing to marry me, I would like to marry you."

They were married two months later, on December 25, 1871. Edison was soon upset to discover that Mary would not be his partner in his science laboratory. Early in 1872 he wrote in a notebook, "My wife Dearly Beloved Cannot invent worth a Damn!!"

Tom and Mary did have three children, including Marion Estelle Edison, who he nicknamed "Dot", and Thomas Alva Edison, Jr., nicknamed "Dash".  Mary died in 1884. He married Mina Miller in 1886 and had three more children with her.

Beginning to see the light...

In my last post, we looked at how some Google nGrams reveal a dramatic increase in the use of the titles "Industrial Design" and "Product Design" over the last 50 years. What does that indicate? Were there no Product or Industrial Designers before then? Exactly what is an Industrial or Product Designer, what do they do and how does that tie in with "Design Thinking"?

In his 1940 book, Industrial Design - A Practical Guide to Product Design and Development, Harold van Doren defined Industrial Design as;

"...the practice of analyzing, creating and developing products for mass manufacture.  It's goal is to achieve forms which are assured of acceptance, before extensive capital investment has been made, and which can be manufactured at a price permitting wide distribution and reasonable profits."

Van Doren was one of the 15 co-founders of the Society of Industrial Designers (SID), and became its president in 1948. At a 1944 meeting of the Associated Industries of New York State, he declared:

"The modern industrial designer is concerned with 3-dimensional products, equipment and machines made only by production methods, as distinguished from traditional handcraft methods. His aim is to enhance the desirability of these products by (1) Increasing convenience and improving adaptability of form to function; (2) attracting buyers by applying a shrewd knowledge of consumer psychology; and (3) employing to the fullest the esthetic appeal of form, color and texture."

In the June 2008 Issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article by IDEO president Tim Brown pushed the definition even further and started to put it into the context of Design Thinking;  

"Thinking like a designer can transform the way you 
develop products, service processes-and even strategy."

That statement is really interesting for what it says, both directly and indirectly, about design and Design Thinking.  It's not just about physical products anymore.  Today's designers are capable of, and trained to think about, much more than mass produced consumer goods.

In a talk given at the MIT Media Lab in July of 2013, IDEO's founder, Dave Kelley, explained that he started using the term Design Thinking  when he instinctively began adding "Thinking" to "design" when anyone came to talk with him about design.  Dave's view is that being a Design Thinker means that you think like a designer.  That's fine as a starting point. The problem is that's using the word design in the definition of Design Thinking, leaving open the question;

How does a designer think?

For an answer to that, let's go back to the Harvard Business Review article where Brown says several things about Thomas Edison;

"...Edison's genius lay in his ability to to conceive of a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device... he invariably gave great consideration to user's needs and preferences."
"Edison wasn't a narrowly specialized scientist but a broad generalist with a shrewd business sense."

"Edison made it a profession that blended art, craft, science, business savvy and astute understanding of customers and markets."

 Then Brown takes aim for the center field fence and hits this one:

"Edison's approach was an early example of what is now called "Design Thinking..."

If true, this could push the Design Thinking event horizon back, at least to Edison's death in 1931, and possibly much further, as Edison's first patent was filed in 1869 and the majority were filed between 1880 and 1920.

This all got me thinking about how Edison thought, and designed, which I'll address in my next post; How to be like Tom.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

More nGrams

Here is another look at some Google nGrams about design.  This time the subject is the use of the phrases "Industrial Design" and "Product Design";

This chart compares the use of "Industrial Design" and "Product Design" between 1800 and 2000.

As you can see, there was a little uptick in the 1870's but until about 1930 neither phrase was showing up in the literature much, at which point "Industrial Design" really starts to take off.

The other interesting thing is that "Product Design" started to take off in the late 70's and finally catches up with Industrial Design about 1995. Obviously there is something going on here.

In my next post, Beginning to See the Light, we'll dig deeper into this and start to see how it ties in with the current interest in Design Thinking.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Origins of Design Thinking

If you run an nGram on Design Thinking, it turns out that the phrase doesn't show up much in Google's book database much before 1970.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that design as a profession and research on how designers think started long before 1970.  In his 1940 book Industrial Design - A Practical Guide to Product Design and Development, Harold van Doren examined the thought processes and methods used by Industrial Designers in making things for mass consumption.  He also expressed the opinion that the name Industrial Design falls short of the mark in describing the what Industrial Designers actually do, preferring the phrase Product Design and Development.

L. Bruce Archer
Another leap forward occurred in the 1960's, when L. Bruce Archer began studying methods of design at the Royal College of Art in London.  In a series of articles published in Design magazine, he advocated six stages of the design process: programming, data collection, analysis, synthesis, development and communication.  This roughly parallels one of the current descriptions of the Design Thinking process; define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn.  (Remember, the phases are not sequential in Design Thinking.)

In the context of "Design Thinking", even more interesting is the story of how Archer came to be an Industrial Designer;  As a boy, he wanted to be a painter, but was discouraged from studying art past the age of 15.  After returning from World War II, Archer was advised to become an engineering draftsman.  He became a certified mechanical engineer and joined the Institute of Engineering Designers and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Archer's epiphany came after attending the Festival of Britain in 1951, where he heard about the budding profession of Industrial Design, an experience he described in near religious terms;

"‘I was saved... I could be an artist and an engineer at one and the same time."

This concept, that it is possible, even necessary, to both "feel" (like an artist) and analyze (like an engineer) is a key to Design Thinking.

In 1973, Robert McKim's book Experiences in Visual Thinking suggested a three step design process; Express - Test - Cycle. The scope of those process steps expanded to include other factors besides the purely functional aspects of finding a solution just as the capability of microprocessors, which were invented in 1971, became capable enough to enable the creation of "smart products" which could be programmed to respond to input in different ways.

By 1974, the HP-65 was a fully programmable handheld calculator, capable of a multitude of behaviors. At the same time, we began struggling with how to set the clocks on our new VCR's and digital wrist watches. The lines were forming for the upcoming Users vs. Engineers battle. "User Centered Design" emerged as a separate discipline, spearheaded by Don Norman who joined Apple Computer in 1993, the same year Newton was introduced. UCD asserted that products must be designed based on the needs of the user, and even set aside what Norman then deemed "secondary issues", like aesthetics. Apple did not agree, striving for a more balanced approach;

Dave Kelly now (2014) observes that the process of Design Thinking starts with empathy. To further illustrate the point, he tells stories of students in the who've "flipped", acknowledging and embracing their creative natures.  Sound similar to L. Bruce Archer's discovery in 1951?

So, perhaps we've pushed the roots of Design Thinking at least as far back as the mid 60's. In my next blog, More nGrams we'll drill down into the use of the term and then move on to; Beginning to see the Light, where we'll look at Harold van Doren who may have started down the path at least a decade earlier.

What's all the fuss about "Design Thinking"?

There is a lot of activity in the press these days about "Design Thinking". Some writers are dismissing it as just the latest hyperbolic business buzz.  If you do a web search on the phrase, what currently comes up at the top of Google's search is: Stanford Design Thinking - Learn Design Thinking and Innovation which is a link to the Stanford Center for Professional Development's page for the Stanford Design Group's Innovation Master's Series' course Design Thinking and the Art of Innovation.

In the last few months IDEO'S Dave and Tom Kelly have also published the latest in a series of books on design, called Creative Confidence - Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

Dave is a founder, chairman and managing partner of IDEO and heads the at Stanford. Obviously, there are some strong ties between Design Thinking, Kelley and Stanford.  Would it be fair to say that it all started there?

In this blog, among other things, I'd like to explore the history of Design Thinking and hopefully get to a simple explanation of what it is and does and how it works, at least in it's current incarnation.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I graduated from Stanford in 1981, with a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering, majoring in Product Design.  Dave Kelley received his Masters from Stanford's Joint Program in Design in 1977, teamed up with Dean Hovey to form Hovey-Kelly Design and also began teaching design at Stanford in 1978.

Dave Kelley Design merged with Matrix, ID Two, and Moggridge Associates to form IDEO in 1991. Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, aka the, was created in 2004.  So, it took nearly 40 years to get here.  A lot has happened along the way, but the story of what is now called "Design Thinking" goes back a lot farther - and we'll take that up in the next post; The Origins of Design Thinking.