Ten Points about design thinking

FEBRUARY 12, 2010

On Feb. 12, 2010, Fred Dust, partner and practice leader for the global design and innovation firm IDEO, presented “From Here to Conscious Capitalism: Getting There with the Design Approach,” which contained the following excerpts:

  • We are not going to talk about whether business can have social impact. I don’t believe that’s an “if” question. I think it’s a “must.”
  • We are a people company. We are human centered. We look at real people and try to understand what they do and what they need.
  • Not looking at behaviors will lead to failure, I promise you. A retailer developed a milk carton for more efficient packaging and shipping. Unfortunately you couldn’t pour from it; the milk slopped all over. The company’s response was to go out into the stores and teach people how to pour milk again – not a great way to solve the problem.
  • Really studying people can lead to some interesting solutions. The mayor of Bogota, Colombia was concerned over the city’s high rate of pedestrians being killed at crosswalks. Fines for drivers or jaywalking pedestrians didn’t work.  His team studied what mattered to Colombians and realized Colombians hate humiliation. They hired 80 mimes to stand on street corners and humiliate people who made traffic mistakes. Within months the fatality rates dropped radically.
  • In general, big organizations become less and less wise. Many of us entered academia, business, healthcare or government to make a change, to do things for other people, but we eventually forget it and the organization helps us forget it.
  • We believe that prototyping is the way to design. This involves creating many iterations rather than waiting until the final design is decided. We’d rather try something sooner and fail sooner than try something way later and have it fail in the market. In the long run, this is far cheaper than if you had actually gone forward with a final design.
  • With social networking and the Internet, we can actually prototype and engage quickly. Using Microsystems Prototyping, people actually prototype small, fully functional systems quickly and put them out into the market and test how well they work. An example is a doctor who hated red tape between him and his patients, so he built an iPhone application and Web site so that his patients can directly connect to him to set appointments, which are paid through PayPal. It sidesteps our entire health-care system.
  • We believe happiness is increasingly important to people; it is a metric that’s coming up a lot more for business. When people feel like they’re engaged and happy, they do better things for their company and you see better results. One thing that drives this is when people feel like they are doing things that are good for others.
  • To find great solutions, it is important to be a better observer.  Travel helps you step outside of your context to say, “Wait, this is weird, why are they doing this?” and to try to puzzle it out. Everyone at IDEO carries a camera everywhere. It is a physical reminder that we should be looking all the time.
  • We are doing a lot of work with government right now. Government is incredibly slow and bureaucratic, so getting things through the system takes a long time. We’ve had to struggle to recognize that in some cultures, improvement is innovation.

Fred Dust is a partner and a practice leader at IDEO, based in San Francisco. He leads Systems at Scale, the group responsible for helping clients with large systemic infrastructural questions from governmental shifts, to behavior change, and beyond. Dust is a member of the Board of Governors at Parsons The New School, and also acts on the Advisory Board of the Aspen Institute. He holds a bachelors degree in art history from Reed College and a masters of architecture from the School of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley.

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