Thursday, August 17, 2017

Alex Osborn on Judgement in the Creative Process

Alex Osborn is generally remembered as the inventor of Brainstorming, but that characterization falls far short of the breadth of his experienced insights regarding creativity.

In chapter 13 of Your Creative Power Osborn explored the value of judgement in the creative process. He suggests that there are two types of thinking, one he called Judicial and the other Creative. Many of his ideas are still alive, vibrant and illustrated in today's best creative engineering practices.

This post is an edited version of Chapter 13 from Your Creative Power, with emphasis on Osborn's key ideas about judgement in the creative process.


Our thinking is mainly two-fold: We have a Judicial Mind which analyzes, compares and chooses and a Creative Mind which visualizes, foresees, and generates ideas. These two minds work best together. Judgment keeps imagination on track. Imagination opens ways to action, and can enlighten judgment. In creative efforts, judgment is good, when properly timed.

Both judgement and creativity call for analysis and synthesis. Judgement breaks down facts, weighs them, compares them, rejects some, keeps others—and then puts the resultant elements together to form a conclusion. The creative mind does much the same, except that the end-product is an idea instead of a verdict. Judgment tends to confine itself to facts, imagination has to reach out for the unknown, at times making two plus two something more than four.

Basically there are two kinds of judgment—critical judgment and constructive judgment. Critical judgment relies on knowledge. Constructive judgment needs help from our imagination. Answering the question; "Is Nylon better than silk?” calls for a process of critical analysis.

Asking “Should we do this or that?” requires us to think up all possible alternatives, and foresee the results. We have to ask ourselves questions such as, “What are the consequences?” . . . “What if others did that?” “What if conditions change?” And in each case we have to tap imagination for the answer.

Circumstances force us to use our judicial mind every waking hour. We also study mathematics, logic, debate, history, discuss pros and cons. Much of our educations train and strengthen our judicial faculties. Another consequence of well developed judgment is dislike of failure. We often praise the unerring judge. You will hear; “He’s a wonderful man—he never makes any mistakes.” ten times as often as you hear, “He has imagination and he makes it work.” We are more likely to call creatively imaginative people “nuts.” A good slogan for all of us would be, “Judge wisely, but at the right time.”

The right mood for judicial thinking is largely negative. “What’s wrong with this?” . . . “What’s bad about that?” . . . “No, that won’t work.” Such reflexes are right and proper when trying to judge. We also need a negative attitude for caution such as: “Beware of it—it’s too new.” . . . “Are we sure this won’t be a mistake?”

In contrast, our creative thinking calls for a positive attitude. We have to be hopeful. We need enthusiasm. We have to encourage ourselves to the point of self-confidence. At the same time, we have to beware of perfectionism. (A trait exhibited by both Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. - df)

Edison looking somewhat critically at his invention

Edison’s first lamp was a crude affair. He knew that it could be improved—if not by him, by somebody else. He could have hung onto his imperfect version while he tried and tried to make it better. Or he could have junked the whole idea. But, he didn’t do either. His first electric lamps were better than candles, kerosene lamps, or gaslight, so he introduced them. Then he went to work on improvements.

Positive attitude is a characteristic of creative people. Form the habit of reacting Yes! to a new idea. First, think of all the reasons why it’s good; there will be plenty of people around to tell you why it won’t work. (Today we call this improv; The Yes and... or Yes if.... responses. -df)

Judgment and imagination can help each other if kept apart when they should be kept apart. In creative effort we have to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde. From time to time, we must turn off our judicial mind and light up our creative mind. (Similar to Disney's Three Roles. -df

We must wait long enough before turning up our judicial light again. Otherwise, premature judgment may douse our creative flames, and even wash away ideas already generated. Especially in approaching a creative problem, we should give imagination priority over judgment and let it roam around our objective. We might even make a conscious effort to think up the wildest ideas that could possibly apply. (On the doorstep of brainstorming here. -df)

Let’s not let judgment throttle imagination. Instead, let’s check our ideas through tests. If we can’t test and have to rely on somebody’s judgment, let’s not allow our critic to sap our creative energy. Let’s judge such judgment. If it’s adverse—and we’re convinced it’s right—we should then get busy, do a backtrack and turn up more alternative ideas. If unconvinced, we should “damn the torpedoes” and go “full speed ahead.” (This is re-expressed in McKim's  "Express - Test - Cycle" -df)

Derived from; Osborn, Alex. Your Creative Power (pp. 88-95). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ode to Elephants in the Room

Four wise men of D'sign Land, to learning much inclined,
wanted to know of Design Thinking, every fact and find.
That each might grow in wisdom strong, and practice, most refined.

The Engineer approached the task with stout and mighty brain,
to logic was his trust inclined and feelings he disdained.
''Tis truth! he cried, the name declares, the subject's clear to see,
based in science, cognitive, and ever so shall be.

The Artist, sensing something up, across a wider plane,
implored his fellows urgently, to not deny the pain
and pleasure felt, by one and all, proclaimed songs and rhymes,
emotions hid and plain were key to understand mankind.

The Academic squinted hard and tried his best to see
only the parts which could be proved, with facts and history.
By Jove!, he cried, this stuff is fluff, and everyone should know
there is no substance here at all, there is no there to go.
There's nothing new within these walls, it's all been done before,
by Alex, Bucky, Nigel, Phil.  Researchers know the score!

Up next, a businessman approached as they oft do,
and focused on the processes and the profits they lead to.
Think of Design, she cried, as ways to overcome,
inefficiencies in making cash for everyone.
Analyze the gaps and slice processes lean,
to even make the dullest coin take on a brand new sheen.

So went the argument went on, exceeding loud and long
And although each was one quarter right
All four were triply wrong.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Three Faces of Design Thinking

One of the hot topics in the Design Thinking Group on LinkedIn is the question of exactly what Design Thinking is. This is often manifested by the length of conversations with titles like; "Why Design Thinking Will Fail" or which accuse Design Thinking of being mere marketing hype.

My training in DT goes back four decades. I was at Stanford, in the Product Design Program, in the late 70's at the same time that David Kelley, founder of IDEO, was getting his Masters and Matt Kahn, Robert McKim, Jim Adams and Larry Leifer were teaching.  The Joint Program in Design, which had been formed in 1958, was a step on the way to the creation of the in 2004.

Expanding on Herbert A. Simon’s work, Robert McKim wrote Experiences in Visual Thinking in 1973. It focused on the ways which perceptual thinking skills can be observed, utilized and improved, and how powerful these skills are in their "capacity to change your world of ideas and things.”

John E. Arnold, arguably DT's grandfather at Stanford had picked McKim to teach there and was also a significant influence on Jim Adams, both of whom wrote books which were used as texts in the Product Design program.

Beginning in 1984, Rolf Faste expanded on McKim's work, defining and developing the core concepts which David Kelley would later call "Design Thinking" in describing IDEO's design process, which he had learned at Stanford.

The focus of  the PD program was to explore, learn, and develop ways to solve problems creatively, in a multi-disciplinary context. The core sequence included classes in art as well as engineering, with heavy emphasis on what would today be called project based learning.

 In 1991, Kelley merged David Kelley Design with Matrix Product Design, ID TWO and Moggridge Associates to create IDEO.  In 2004, David led the creation of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design also known as the "" Kelley recalls that it was about that time that he started to refer to IDEO's process as Design Thinking. He also credits Bob McKim with being his primary influence and mentor at Stanford.

In a very informative and revealing 2016 interview with Kelley, Maria Camacho mapped out the trail from PD to DT at Stanford;

Upon my graduation, David's and my path began to diverge; I went to work in industry, including Apple Computer from 1986 to 1996, followed by PD and PE roles primarily in consumer high tech and aerospace, while David began teaching and consulting.

Fast forward four decades and the controversy over what is and isn't DT still rages. Unfortunately, that creates ambiguity, complexity and confusion around the value of what is arguably the most powerful tool to resolve ambiguity and complexity. David is aware of this, as he stated to Camacho;

"Everyone means something slightly different by the term. I guess this is OK. It doesn’t bother me, but I hear people using design thinking to mean something quite different from what I mean. There are many words in the English language that people use, and they all mean something different by the same words."

Reflecting on this, I recently realized that what has happened may actually be worse; People are also using different words to describe the same things. This came to the forefront for me recently while reading Alex Osborn's 1940 book Your Creative Power.

Osborn is probably most remembered for his theories on brainstorming. In fact he came from a marketing background and was a prominent creativity theorist in mid 1900's. With Sidney Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process.

Your Creative Power is a handbook of Osborn's thoughts on imagination, creativity and creative problem solving. It contains a wealth of ideas which parallel the core principles of Design Thinking. This should come as no surprise, as they are exploring the same subject area. There are also touch points between Osborn and John Arnold, who's 1956 summer program included presentations by R. Buckminster Fuller on the “comprehensive designer,” J. P. Guilford’s concept of measuring and developing creativity,[ and A. H. Maslow’s “Emotional Blocks to Creativity,” with considerable attention given to Osborn’s notion of brainstorming. James Adams would later expand on the subject of creative blocks in his book Conceptual Blockbusting.

So with such common roots, how have we come to this state of confusion? Perhaps the trouble lies in the multi-disciplinary nature of the subject.

Design Thinking purports to encompass three areas; Technology, Humanity and Business;

One of the consequences of this blending is that conversations about DT span three areas having to do with three areas; Feelings, (Art/Humanities) Thinking (Science and Technology) and Business (Doing). Today, each of these areas has become so specialized that they are treated differently in graduate education and have their own academic vocabularies.

I've written previously about the idea that DT actually is whole brain problem solving, but a consequence of that can be problems in communication, like the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, we are biased in our perceptions and expressions.

“Think” statements refer to the denotative aspects of the environment. They attempt to define, assert, opine, rationalize, or make causal connections between environmental events. They are bound by the rules of logic and scientific inquiry; they may be true or untrue. Many times a think statement can be proven or disproven. Think statements require words to be communicated. They are the venue of the rationalists, the engineers.

“Feel” statements refer to the connotative aspects of our environment. They attempt to report our internal affective, immediate, non-rational, emotional, “gut” responses to environmental events. Usually, feel statements are personal and idiosyncratic in that they refer to inner states, what is happening inside of us. 

Feel statements, like dreams, cannot be true or false, or good or bad, but only honestly or dishonestly communicated. Feel statements may not require words at all; when they do, they usually take the form of “I feel (adjective)” or “I feel (adverb).” They are the framework and coin of artists and designers.

The difficulty is that Engineers tend to be more comfortable with the verbage of Thinking, Artists/Designers are more comfortable with the vocabulary of Feeling and Business-people are more comfortable with the language of Doing.  Simply throwing them together and not expecting some conversational conflict is unrealistic.

This can be illustrated by some images from three different sources, all claiming to be describing Design Thinking:

Jeanne M. Liedtka is an American strategist and professor of business administration at the Darden School of the University of Virginia, particularly known for her work on strategic thinking, design thinking and organic growth.  Here is her explanatory design thinking "Invention" graphic:

Of design thinking, Liedtka states:

"Design thinking is a problem-solving approach with a unique set of qualities: it is human centered, possibility driven, option focused, and iterative. We ask the question “What if anything were possible?” as we begin to create ideas. We focus on generating multiple options and avoid putting all our eggs in one particular solution basket. Because we are guessing about our stakeholders’ needs and wants, we also expect to be wrong sometimes. So we want to put multiple irons in the fire and let our stakeholders tell us which work for them. We want to manage a portfolio of new ideas."

For Liedtka, Design Thinking exists within the world of Business, integrating People and Technology by examing the relationships between Possibilities, Uncertainties and Constraints (a.k.a Gap Analysis)

Here is Liedtka's process flow chart:

Compare this to the 2011 IDEO model;

Or this model, from the inside cover of Tim Brown's book;

Or this image from MIT's DT program;

Or this recent expression of the Osborn-Parnes CPS model;  (BTW- Osborn had no illustrations in his 1940 book, but displayed a masterful grasp of the skill of writing - unlike some engineers.)

Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process

"Judicial thinking must be kept out of such brainstorming. Even discretion is unwanted. As one of our radio-men remarked, 'At any brainstorming table the villainess is a gal named Prudence.' In this operation all present must shoot wild and pile up every possible alternative by way of ideas."

Now, we can start to see the differences and similarities; 

Alex Osborn is the quintessential Ad Man; smart, witty, good with words.  He fills over 350 pages with written insights from decades of experience in problem solving and, like the Product Design Program at Stanford 30 years later, his central theme is creativity and the need for imagination.

Steven Eppinger, a self-declared systems oriented engineer, uses simple, direct PowerPoint style graphics and a mere dozen words to describe the phases and skills of Design Thinking in the terse, precise language of an engineer. His YouTube video on MIT's Design Thinking process feels like a design review. 

IDEO's Tim Brown, MA - Industrial Design, Royal College of Art, lays the process out like a hand drawn, spilled spaghetti, cartoon.

Is there something wrong going on here, or something perfectly normal, even expected?

More to come...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

MIT's Steve Eppinger on Design Thinking

I recently came across a video which is part of the MIT Executive Education series which featured Steven Eppinger speaking on Systematic Innovation by Design and Design Thinking. (see below)

Dr. Eppinger is a well known and respected educator in Product Design and I am very familiar with his book; Product Design and Development, which is used as a text for college level design courses.
He is by his own admission a Systems oriented guy with a preference for clear processes. Design Thinking Phases

Eppinger's Critical Skills of Design Thinking

Eppinger retains the reference to Empathy and includes a reference to Go and See in his first phase.
Create includes Many Designs and Prototyping, which correlate with Ideate and Prototype.
Implement calls for Iterations and declares that Details Matter which loosely corresponds to Test.

One interesting thing about the MIT model is that it re-frames Design Thinking from five phases to three, similar to the reduction that Alex Osborn did to his Creative Problem Solving model;
Orientation, Preparation, Analysis, Hypothesis, Incubation, Synthesis and Verificationwhich he repackaged into three activites; Fact-Finding, Idea-Finding, and Solution Finding

Osborn appeared to be expanding his perspective in both directions, adding more details to the parts while also generalizing the whole.

Osborn's Creative Problem Solving Framework

The differences are more of presentation than content, in that a deeper examination of the model, as illustrated by this annotated version of the five phase process;

Empathize is for learning about the audience, from which Points of View and User Needs are extracted. Ideation includes Brainstorming multiple solutions. Prototype is where representations of concepts are created, followed by User Testing and feedback - starting the cycle anew.

Design Thinking with explanations

Eppinger only makes an indirect reference to the framework, by using IDEO as an example of a company applying Design Thinking.  There is no mention of John Arnold, David Kelley, Larry Leifer, Jim Adams, Bernie Roth, Matt Kahn, or how IDEO was founded by Kelley, staffed with other Stanford Product Design Program graduates. (Perhaps the rivalry between Stanford and MIT is percolating under the surface.)

The original presentation was an hour. I have edited it down to 15 minutes and restricted the subject matter to Eppinger's comments about MIT's interpretation of Design Thinking. 

Next up; My week with Alex Osborn and some observations on Creative Problem Solving.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Many years ago I began to notice parallels in the vocabulary of different engineering disciplines. For example, both electronics and hydrology use the word current. In one case it is a measure of the flow of molecules of water and in the other, refers to the flow of electrons.

The problem with using seemingly common words to explain things is that it can lead to confusion, or disagreements, as illustrated by this example from Kaiser Aluminum's booklet, Communications;

Another opportunity for confusion comes when we don't see the whole situation, as told in the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant;

It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant, And happening to fall
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the elephant is very like a WALL!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Ho, what have we here,
so very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
this wonder of an Elephant Is very like a SPEAR!"

The Third approached the animal and happening to take
the squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant Is very like a SNAKE!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a TREE!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear said: "E'en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can,
this marvel of an elephant is very like a FAN!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
than seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant is very like a ROPE!"

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong!

There is another way, which I think of as the Walks Like a Duck principle, illustrated by a story about ideas which come in the night;

Kowloon at Night

On June 24, 1995, the Chief Executive Officer of a worldwide organization spoke at a meeting for regional leaders and their wives, giving them directions to guide their next few years of service in the company. He advised them;

Listen for the ideas which wake you up at night, and respond to them. I don’t know why they happen. I only know that they do. They can come in the day as well, of course. But listen to those night-time ideas. In the middle of the night, ideas have come to me which have been very creative. 

For example, in July 1992 I was responsible for finding space for a new facility in a large and crowded city where land was very expensive. The company had been searching for a new place to build there for a long time. I went to bed one night, feeling unsettled about the decision I had to make. I woke up very early the next morning.

Something very interesting came to my mind; I thought; We already own a piece of property; a district office with small conference room. It is in the heart of the city, in a prime location with the best transportation. Why don’t we build up rather than out or on another parcel? We can remodel the first two floors of existing offices and build more on the top, adding two or three additional floors. Having had that inspiration I relaxed and went back to sleep.

Today in Kowloon, a densely populated section of Hong Kong, a taller building stands where the small office once stood, providing a temporary residence, offices, a library and conference rooms. It is a testament to the power of ideas which wake us up in the middle of the night.

This type of experience is well enough known to have a name; The Eureka Effect. It refers to the moment of insight when a puzzling problem is suddenly solved. It is named after a story about the Greek polymath Archimedes.

The Eureka Effect has another name; Insight, a psychological (scientific) term to describe the event in problem solving when a previously unsolvable puzzle becomes suddenly clear and obvious. Often this transition is accompanied by an exclamation of joy or satisfaction, an Aha! moment. MRI scans showed more connections in the brain —a key element to the creative process.

These two stories are describing the same type of event - call it inspiration or an Ah Ha! moment. What is particularly interesting is that one comes from a scientific perspective, the other deeply religious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Art and Science of Religion

Universal Genius - from

The Art Institute of Chicago has an article entitled The Enduring Relationship of Science and Art on it's website which is adapted from a lecture by Robert Eskridge titled “Exploration and the Cosmos: The Consilience of Science and Art.”

I'm going to quote from it heavily in this posting, in support of the idea that art, science and religion are nowhere near as incompatible as many would have you believe today and that science, art and engineering naturally overlap. They involve ideas, theories, and hypotheses which are prototyped and tested in places where thought and action come together; model shops, laboratories and studios.

Artists, scientists and engineers are investigators. They study people and things and then transform what they learn into something else. In ancient Greece, the word for art was techne, from which our modern words technique and technology are derived—terms that are equally well applied to artistic, engineering, scientific and even religious practices.

Leonardo da Vinci is known as an artist whose works were informed by scientific investigation. He observed the world closely, studied physiology and anatomy in order to create convincing images of the human form. He believed that the moral and ethical meanings of his paintings would emerge through the accurate representation of human gestures and expressions. For Leonardo, science and art were different paths that led to the same destination—a higher spiritual truth. His extraordinary drawings are revered as examples of the Renaissance concept of the integration of all disciplines.

Leonardo wrote; "We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God."

The Astronomer and the Geographer - Vermeer

The Astronomer and The Geographer, paintings by Johannes Vermeer, are other examples of the connection between science and art. Equally interested in this world and the larger universe, the 17th century Dutch were intent on both looking and investigating. It was here the microscope and telescope were first developed. Vermeer’s paintings celebrate science, the work of artists and the materials of the world.  These paintings represents the link between science and art by demonstrating the combined interest in finely crafted objects and scientific systems, such as cartography and astronomy.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt - Monet

The effects of color, light and time were key elements of the works of Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, and Monet. 

Monet suggested that our sense of our physical environment changes continuously with our shifting perceptions of light and color. On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, captures a fleeting “impression” of the landscape through loose brushwork and composition. It expresses feelings, even before the mind labels, identifies, and converts images into memory.  Monet’s captures the oscillation between impression and perception in an instant; the shifting of light and color across the landscape with the passage of time.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
As an art student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, Georges Seurat studied the physics of color, with help from French chemists who had recently developed premixed paints, conveniently packaged in tubes, and synthetic pigments such as ultramarine blue, which previously were very expensive.  As poor artists, neither Seurat nor Monet could have created their blue-filled, experimental works without the availability of scientifically and commercially produced and packaged paint.

Pointillism was in a way the forerunner of the full color digital display. Up close, the surface of Seurat's paintings contain thousands of painted dots and dashes, discrete areas of color. He placed dots of complementary colors next to each other. At a distance, they interact to create vibrant blended colors and larger, whole forms, representing the range of the visible spectrum.

Picasso's Portraits of Kahnweiler and Vollars

Picasso combines took Monet’s ideas about the contingency of time and Seurat’s theory about the perception of discrete elements and pushed them into distortion of space, breaking up the figures and objects, even varying the points of view within the same image. Painted just a few years after Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity, understanding Picasso’s Cubist style, like understanding Einstein, requires multi-disciplinary perspectives to be fully comprehended.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The invention of photography in the middle of the 19th century was a technological breakthrough, both artistically and scientifically. Photography - Light Writing - captures and presents the physical world accurately and quickly, but also the emotional - even spiritual worlds. Ansel Adams' majestic vistas of mountains and rivers embraced the bond between man and nature while recording with astonishing technical accuracy the effects of light and atmosphere.

The ancient Egyptian sky goddess, Nut, arching over the earth.

This connection between art, science and religion is evidenced as far back as Egypt, preserved in the pyramids and hieroglyphics, illustrating again how art, science and religion co-exist in an enduring, evolving, relationship.

Next up; The bridges between feeling, thinking and doing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Neurological Basis of Design Thinking

Design Thinking;

  • What is it?
  • Who invented it? 
  • Why is it needed? 
  • When would or should you do it? 
  • Where can you learn it? 
  • How is it done? 
These questions, and their answers, point to a deeper set of issues about DT which are rooted in differences in both our vocabulary and points of view which are outgrowths of our brain structure and the ways our tolerance for ambiguity and complexity express themselves in problem solving.

To illustrate this idea, let's build on our current understanding of neurophysiology;

Core to Design Thinking is being Human-Centric. This is an often cited trait of DT, but it is usually mentioned in the context of empathic inquiry. Perhaps more important is the implication that there are humans involved. This is important because humans have brains and those brains work in certain observable and predictable ways. Thanks to real time imaging techniques we've begun to pull back the curtain on how the brain works and how we perceive that activity.

Cross Section of the Human Brain

This remarkable collection of neurons fundamentally operates in three spheres; Cognitive, which we associate with thinking, Emotional, which we associate with feelings and Behavioral which we associate with doing.  Real time scans of neurologic activity in the structures of the Cerebral Cortex, Midbrain and Primitive Brain generally correspond to our experiences of Thinking, Feeling and Doing.

The Design Thinking framework also has three main areas; Humanity, Technology and Business which have their associated expressions of Desirability, Feasibility and Viability.  This correlation isn't accidental. As humans, we use our multifunctional brains to ThinkFeel and Act our way thru the process of learning and problem solving. What is learning but simplifying the complex and clarifying the obscure? (a.k.a Handling "Wickedness")

The DT Triad

Note the three other correlations between these areas in the DT framework;
  • Thinking is about what happens in the Technology space.
  • Feeling/Emotions are at play in the Desirability space.
  • Viability is what is tested and proven in the Busi-ness (action) space.
What sets the DT apart from other approaches is its consideration *all* aspects of the situation; Emotional, Cognitive and Behavioral. It provides a comprehensive "whole brain" framework to uncover and address the known and unknown elements in all three domains when discovering and developing solutions. This point is often overlooked when discussing DT, which leads to a great deal of confusion, particularly when being compared to mainly rational frameworks like the scientific method.

A Circular DT Model

One Pass thru the DT Phases

DT also acknowledges a core aspect of dynamic systems; It takes time to converge on a predictable solution; This has an analog in Control Systems in the concept of Damping or Feedback.

Even with optimum (critical) damping, oscillating systems don't settle in the shortest amount of time until about the third cycle, which is why in we plan for at least three express-test (prototyping) cycles.

Degrees of Feedback vs. Cycles to Settle

Design Thinking's prototyping element addresses the need to manage risk (ambiguity and complexity) by using inexpensive tools to rapidly model ideas and outcomes, thereby discovering errors and problems more quickly. Prototyping also highlights the need to turn customer needs into quantifiable requirements with tolerances as soon as possible.

Rapid Prototyping Tools

The practical implications of this correlation between how your brain works and the Design Thinking framework are powerful and simple;

Thoughts + Emotions + Experience = Deep Learning  

If you have an idea, you have a theory.
If you have an emotion you have a reason to act.
If you have acted, you have first hand knowledge.

Put all this together and you have a comprehensive approach to solving a wide range of problems. Design Thinking brings your full range of mental tools, methods, and actions to the table.

It is also what differentiates DT from other problem solving methods which emphasize analysis, ("scientific") or emotion (the "arts") or "business" (managing people, time and money) to solve (or create) problems.

Design Thinking is using all of your your tri-part brain, to act, feel, and think, in solving problems or create new realities, which increases the quality of your solutions.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rapid Prototyping


Here is a terrific example, from the folks at NTD, of what you can do with some cardboard, superglue, hot-melt, a handful of plastic syringes and some fish tank air line. This video can also be viewed in much higher resolution by clicking HERE

Rapid Prototyping is an extremely useful tool in the early stages of concept development. Doing something  like this might uncover a latent flaw in an idea which wouldn't otherwise surface until much later if using a top-down design process.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Being Analog in an Increasingly Digitized World

Donald Norman is one of my favorite Odd Ducks. He has been blending technical and human sciences since the 1950's.

In 1957 he received a BSEE in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, went on to earn a M.S. and a PhD in Mathematical Psychology which is "based on mathematical modeling of perceptual, cognitive and motor processes, and on the establishment of law-like rules that relate quantifiable stimulus characteristics with quantifiable behavior."

Next, as an associate professor in the Psychology Department at University of California, San Diego Norman was a founder of the Institute for Cognitive Science and an organizer of the Cognitive Science Society. 

Norman left UCSD to join Apple Computer in 1993, initially as an Apple Fellow as a User Experience Architect, using "User Experience" in his job title, and then Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group.  Don was an early advocate of "user-centered design."

"Design is a way of... determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them. Design combines an understanding of people, technology, society, and business." - Donald Norman

But there is a ghost in the machine which Norman attempts to exorcize in an article entitled Being Analog, that was originally published as Chapter 7 of his book; The Invisible Computer.
(Being Analog is a very thought provoking piece, which you should read.)

Norman strikes at the heart of the matter in the first sentence;

"We are analog beings trapped in a digital world, and the worst part is, we did it to ourselves.

We humans are biological animals. We have evolved over millions of years to function well in the environment, to survive. We are analog devices following biological modes of operation. We are compliant, flexible, tolerant. Yet, we have constructed a world of machines that requires us to be rigid, fixed and intolerant.

Here we are, wandering about the world, bumping into things, forgetful of details, with a poor sense of time, a poor memory for facts and figures, unable to keep attention on a topic for more than a short duration, reasoning by example rather than by logic, and drawing upon our admittedly deficient memories of prior experience. 

When viewed this way, we seem rather pitiful. No wonder that we have constructed a set of artificial devices that are very much not in our own image. We have constructed a world of machinery in which accuracy and precision matter. Time matters. Names, dates, facts, and figures matter. Accurate memory matters. Details matter.

All the things we are bad at matter, all the things we are good at are ignored. Bizarre."

A troubling question is hiding on a deeper level; Are we, as children, parents and grandparents, becoming a bit too much like our digital systems? Norman's list of human traits; being compliant, flexible and tolerant, stands in striking contrast to those of the binary machines we have created which are rigid, fixed and intolerant. He says our machines demand that of us and that we, as the creators of those machines, have done it to ourselves. That is true, but falls short of the mark;

What we - as consumers - have done is allow the designers to give us technology the prolonged use of which may be turning us into beings who are becoming inflexible and intolerant. At least some of us.

Looking at the current discourse in the wake of the most recent election, what are we arguing and seeing others argue, about if not matters of accuracy and precision, time, names, dates, facts, and figures, memory and details.

As the ambiguity and complexity grows, left unaddressed, this situation will only get worse.

So, the question is; what can be done about it? Can designers save themselves and their customers from themselves?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reflections on René Descartes

You stink, therefore I don't give a darn.

Rene Descartes is generally considered to be one of the greatest minds of his day and the father of the scientific method of inquiry.

Of Descartes, wrote;

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the “father of modern philosophy”... he rejected the final causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment.

On a much more personal level, the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews review of Desmond Clark's 2006 book; "Descartes: A Biography" makes some very candid observations about the father of modern scientific thinking, adding credibility by stating that the book is notable for its exhaustive detail, drawing helpfully upon Descartes' voluminous and revealing correspondence to reconstruct as best as possible Descartes' movements and mindsets throughout his almost 54 years of life... Clarke provides for the reader to better understand Descartes as a person and as an intellectual. 

NDPR points to three related themes which "edge repeatedly to the forefront throughout the book;"
  • Descartes' seemingly endless travels and his eventual isolation in voluntary exile;
  • Descartes' own largely unflattering character;
  • The ubiquitous and sometimes menacing presence of others exercising an influence over Descartes' life and work, especially his scientific work.

What follows are some edited extracts from the review;

Beeckman, one of Descartes earliest close friends, remarked, on one occasion, that Descartes saw travel as a replacement for study in schools and through books, of which he read few.

His aversion to the ideas of others extended to his avoidance of learned people

In fact, as he matured, he tended to avoid all contact with people, and his adult life was lived primarily in isolation.

Clarke's characterizes Descartes as lonely, paranoid, and generally unpleasant: "He had become [by 1638] a reclusive, cantankerous, and oversensitive loner, who worried incessantly about his place in history and the priority he claimed for various discoveries."

Clark writes of Descartes' "sensitivity to criticism and the certainty that he claimed, prematurely, for his own view", stating further that Descartes "fought with almost everyone he encountered while constantly announcing that all he wanted was 'the security and tranquility' required to complete his intellectual projects".

Among Descartes other flaws Clark lists; lack of modesty, paranoia and suspicion, reluctance to concede intellectual points, a tendency to bear grudges, duplicity, and manipulative treatment of people, even of supportive friends.

Descartes seems to have been in almost constant battle with one or another critic or erstwhile friend, while describing himself as 'docile' and reluctant to speak in his own defense.

Perhaps the least attractive of his many failings was Descartes' duplicity. "He sends pairs of letters to Queen Christina and to Chanut presenting sharply divergent attitudes toward the Queen's invitation to Sweden. 'These parallel letters… ', writes Clarke, "show Descartes at his dissembling best."

I close this post with three questions;

  • How does this seemingly self taught, argumentative, arrogant and self serving critic of everyone and everything but himself end up becoming the father of modern philosophical thought and scientific inquiry?
  • How can one be a fan of Descartes methods now termed :scientific" without simultaneously harboring similar traits, or at least sympathies, within one's self? 
  • Is the Cartesian mindset a necessary precursor for being a competent designer, scientist or engineer? 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Archer's Systematic Method for Designers

L Bruce Archer's Systematic Method for Designers was published 1964 by the  Council of Industrial Design in London and published serially in Design magazine in 1963 and 1964, revised, with additional material.

It is an impressive work, comprising seven sections, described in 13 pages;

1) Aesthetics and logic
2) The nature of designing
3) Getting the brief
4) Examining the evidence
5) The creative leap
6) The donkey work
7) The final steps.

Each section is loaded with the wisdom and advice of a seasoned practitioner, organized with the rigor of an academic mind.

In the introduction, Archer comments about the tectonic shift he saw under way in the design profession;

"The most fundamental challenge to conventional ideas on design, however, has been the growing advocacy of systematic methods of problem solving, borrowed from computer techniques and management theory, for the assessment of design problems and the development of design solutions."

With regard to aesthetics Archer observed that "as soon as two people start to talk abut design, misunderstandings arise. Some... are due to over-leaping vocabularies, such as those of the engineer and the architect, where the same term can mean slightly or completely different things. Many misunderstandings, however are due to fundamental differences in value and logic."

"Some of our most successful designers have been able to draw a line between sense and sensibility, logic and intuition, function and aesthetic, which needs neither analysis nor justification. They probably think that there is a deal too much talk and not enough action. Others, however, remain racked with prejudices which make them lash out at words like 'analysis', 'logic' and 'method' - or even at words like 'good taste' and 'style'. It would probably do them good to talk about design a bit more."

Phase 4 - Develop Prototype design(s)

The arc of Archer's thinking shifted over the years, as he struggled to close the gap between thinking, feeling and doing as foundations for a grand theory of design. After many years pursuing the idea that computers could help manage the immense complexity of a process which filled 13 pages, had 228 steps, plus five pages of accompanying arrow diagrams, embodies in six phases;

1) "Receive the brief, analyse the problem, prepare detailed program and estimate.
2) Collect data, identify and analyse subproblems, prepare performance specifications.
3) Prepare outline specifications.
4) Develop prototype designs.
5) Prepare and execute validation studies.
6) Prepare manufacturing documentation.

This detailed, top-down approach dovetailed nicely with the well organized planning methods being developed in government managed military and aerospace at the time.

Note that some of the arrows in the diagram point left, indicating some recursion in the process flow. (This is also true of the other five phases.)

 Archer's Eight ways an idea can be expressed

In Part five: The creative leap Archer states; "When all is said and done about defining design problems and analysing design data, there still remains the real crux of the act of designing - the creative leap from pondering the question to finding a solution." Several paragraphs later he observes; "...there can be nothing unscientific about the traditional reliance on intuition and inspiration in design." Confronted with the then recent discoveries of the Transactional school of perception, he concluded; "We are thus brought face to face with the reality of the need for rich, wide and fruitful experience among designers, as well as the capacity for flexibility and fantasy in thought." Archer also asserts that this leap is something which the designer must do alone, although I suspect he was referring to the idea that our thinking occurs within our individual minds first, rather than a collective, shared consciousness.

For all his process rigor, Archer understood the value of cut-and-try. He wrote; "In some industries - furniture, for example, it is often quicker and cheaper to build a prototype and submit it to user tests than it is to carry out extensive detailing and stress calculation. The advantage of suck-it-and-see (cut and try? -df) methods is that however subtle the variables, a direct measure of the overall success or failure is possible. The chief disadvantage is that so many problems of construction must be wholly or partly solved before performance testing can even begin."

Archer's family donated 34 boxes of documents to the Royal College of Art in 2007. The RCA's website states; Different stages of Archer’s model for the design process would later be understood in now-familiar terms such as ‘quality assurance’ or ‘user-centred research’, Unfortunately, access to the documents is limited due to their not having been converted to digital formats.

He did use the phrase "design thinking" on page 1 of Systematic Method for Designers, in context it reads; "Ways have had to be found to incorporate knowledge of ergonomics, cybernetics, marketing and management science into design thinking. As with most technology, there has been a trend towards the adoption of a systems approach as distinct from an artefact approach."

I'll leave it to the reader to determine if they think Archer was referring to a formalized method of design in that statement. My read is that he was speaking of the way designers think, as opposed to a formalized method - and, based on his work, writings and teaching, he clearly was interested in developing an expression of a repeatable design process.

Contact me for more information on Archer's work.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's Your Style; Thinking, Doing, Feeling or...?

For several weeks I've had an idea percolating to frame Design Thinking as a learning style which combines feeling, thinking and doing in order to discover and solve problems. Today I found a web site by the New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/ New Jersey Bilingual Educators which had a one page handout entitled What does your preferred learning style mean? Much to my delight, the column headings were; Thinking, Doing, Feeling and Innovating. The footnote said it was adopted from Skip Downing's On Course Workshop.

Unfortunately, the link to the Learning Styles Inventory there was broken, but here is what the NJTESOL/NJBE web page showed:

Reframing this to the context of the Design Thinking process, the pieces are all there; Analysis Empathizing, Building and Testing and Reflection. I was disappointed that the Innovating column didn't integrate more of the items from the other three - are Innovators not also Thinkers and Doers and Feelers? I also disagree with the notion that Innovators would be "Uncomfortable with answers based on abstract theories, cold facts, hard data, emotion, or personal considerations" but perhaps thats because the context is academic rather than practical.

What do you think? As a Design Thinker, are we not seeking to be Feeling, Thinking and Doing as the situation demands?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Brief History of IDEO's Design Thinking Process

In the February 1, 2009 issue of FastCo Design, Linda Tischler told the story of David Kelley, the founding of IDEO and the at Stanford, but there is much more to the story than that.  It also mentions the cradle of Design Thinking at Stanford; the Joint Program in Design. What follows is an edited and expanded version of what started out as her story;

Stanford's Joint Program in Design dates from 1958, when Professor John E. Arnold, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, moved to Stanford with a joint appointment as Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Professor of Business Administration.

John Arnold and a friend from Arcturus IV

Arnold had received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1934 and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1940 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In the 1950s he sought to shift the meaning of design from being “the language used to tell fabrication and assembly where to make their cuts” to “the language of innovation,” by which engineers expressed their imagination, He proposed the idea that design engineering should be human-centered, which was a radical concept in the era of Sputnik and the early Cold War.

In 1959 Arnold wrote; "...[the engineer] can take on some aspects of the artist and try to improve or increase the salability of a product or machine by beautifying or bettering its appearance, or by having a keener sensitivity for the market and for the kinds of things people want or don’t want.” Similar to L. Bruce Archer and Harold van Doren, Arnold was suggesting that beauty and desirability were key elements for the engineer to consider.

John was already known for his unconventional methods of teaching engineers, for example; Arcturus IV; a problem-based learning assignment that put his students in an off world setting to work on tools and appliances for a bird-like race of "Methanians" who had “three eyes, including one with X-ray vision” as featured in the May 16, 1955 issue of Life Magazine.

Building on Arnold's work, Bob McKim (Emeritus, Engineering) and Matt Kahn (Art), created the Product Design major and the graduate-level Joint Program in Design. The curriculum was formalized in the mid-1960s, making the Joint Program in Design (JPD) one of the first inter-departmental programs at Stanford.

The Ping Pong Ball Problem made it into Adam's book

Textbooks included McKim's Experiences in Visual Thinking, and Jim Adams', Conceptual Blockbusting, a Guide to Better Ideas. McKim's work predated other writers and proponents of the Visual Thinking concept. ME101: Visual Thinking became the introductory course to the Product Design major. Adam's Conceptual Blockbusting contains more than one problem right out of John Arnold's bag of mental challenges.

When Bob McKim transitioned to Emeritus status, Matt Kahn, Rolf Faste and David Kelley  continued instruction in the tradition of merging art, science and need-finding though the 1980s and 1990s. ME101 is still taught at Stanford and the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Department of Art continue their collaboration, with faculty drawn from both schools.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1973, David Kelley took a job at Boeing, designing what he calls a "milestone in aviation history"; the 747's LAVATORY OCCUPIED sign. He moved to National Cash Register (now NCR) in Ohio, which turned out to be a similarly frustrating experience. Fate intervened during the 1973-74 oil embargo, when a guy in David's car pool told him about Stanford's product-design program.  At Stanford, Kelley met Bob McKim, who became his mentor.

In 1978, Kelley and some of his Stanford pals banded together to launch a design and engineering firm, Hovey - Kelley Design, opening for business over a dress shop in downtown Palo Alto. In 1981, the firm created the first Apple mouse.

In 1991, Kelley's firm merged with two others; Bill Moggridge's ID2, which had designed the first laptop computer, and Mike Nuttall's Matrix Design, whose skill was in visual design, to form IDEO.

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

"I'm not a words person," Kelley said, "but in my life, it's the most powerful moment that words or labeling ever made. Because then it all made sense. Now, I'm an expert at methodology rather than a guy who designs a new chair or car.”

"They went meta on the notion of design," says Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, referring to the shift from object design to focusing on organizational processes. "They concluded that the same principles can be applied to the design of, say, emergency-room procedures as a shopping cart.”

Like Arnold's view, Design Thinking represents a serious challenge to the status quo at more traditional companies, particularly those where engineering or marketing dominate the process. Patrick Whitney, Dean of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) sends many of his graduates off to IDEO and says he sees this resistance all the time. "A lot of my students have MBAs and engineering degrees. They're taught to identify the opportunity set, deal with whatever numbers you can find to give you certainty, then optimize.”

It took David Kelley a while to appreciate the power of stepping back before forging ahead. In the mid-1980s, while at Hovey Kelley, he used to write proposals with the phases of the process he'd learned at Stanford — understanding, observation, brainstorming, prototyping — all priced separately. Clients invariably would say, "Don't do that early fooling around. Start with phase three." Kelley realized that the early phases were where the big ideas came from — and what separated Hovey Kelley from other management consultants.

"That moment was really big for me," he says. "After that, I'd say, 'No way, I won't take the job if you scrap those phases. That's where the value is.’ "

How much value? Procter & Gamble's CEO A.G. Lafley sent the company's entire 40-member Global Leadership Council to IDEO headquarters twice for a total immersion in the process. "Our senior management was blown away," says Claudia Kotchka, former vice president for design innovation and strategy. "They learned that design is more than aesthetics, and that there are different ways of solving problems than the analytical methods that most disciplines teach.”

Still, despite the enthusiasm in Palo Alto, once the P&G Global Leadership Team got back to Cincinnati, ideas created in the design process kept getting stuck as they ran into the commercial side of the business. This frustrated Kotchka, who called Kelley, Rotman business school dean Roger Martin, and IIT's Patrick Whitney to help find a way to break the deadlock. Over the summer and fall of 2005, the three came up with a prototype of an integrated approach that took a product team through the design process all the way through the impact on strategy. What's more, they trained the P&G employees to facilitate such programs on their own.

The way Kelley sees it, a polyglot team gives an extraordinary advantage in generating truly creative ideas. That idea was one of the animating forces behind the — a place that would help typically analytical Stanford students become more creative thinkers. The school would draw from business, law, education, medicine, engineering — the more diversity, the better.

Kelley is still a bit astonished at what he has been able to pull off. "I've been here 30 years, and nobody paid any attention to me at all," he says. "At one point, they were trying to reduce the size of my office — which was 78 square feet. Now I'm sitting in meetings with the president, with him asking if I want another building and talking about making creative confidence a requirement at Stanford, just like a foreign language."

The most mature form of the process turns up the gain on the artistic/feeling leg of the art/science/business problem solving triad. Participants in the's seminars start their journey by empathically interviewing strangers, looking for emotional hot buttons, in an effort to discover hidden problems to solve. It's a long way from the top-down, buttoned-up world of Mil-Aerospace inspired methods where everything is carefully planned out in advance. but its a lot more creative and Kelly would testify that it's also a lot more fun.

John Arnold would be pleased.