July 15, 2009 — 7 Comments

I am speaking at TED Global in Oxford next week on the topic of what happens when we move from design to design thinking. One of the things I am trying to do is to get the audience to suggest the kinds of questions design thinking might be used to tackle. To facilitate this I am using a Twitter hash tag #CBDQ to allow people to post their suggestions. The latest ones can be seen at IDEO.com or by searching the #CBDQ tag. It would be great to get that underway in advance of my talk. If you have any briefs or problems you think would be interesting then please go ahead and post them.

Tim Brown


7 responses to #CBDQ

  1. If we can assume that many people feel powerless to make positive changes, then an important issue seems to be the need to empower people to believe that they have the ability and creativity to change their lives, their world, their places, their everythings–and so an important question would be how design-thinking can facilitate this change. If everyone is a designer in some way (and we all are), it may be useful to define processes that tap into this nascent ability and get people to see and believe in their ability to design and to create real changes. Even small design efforts may get people to view the places they inhabit differently, perhaps feeling that they are in fact able to effect positive change and are not hostages to the status quo.

    Kindergartners are likely to call themselves artists, but by 6th grade very few children are willing to do so. Design, like art, is something we have been taught to think that “others” do. We need to put design back into the community development process, and we need to get the community involved in innovating new ways of living. Everyone can enjoy and take part in the design process. I almost always substitute designing for planning when I think about community development. The planning process is more rigid, linear and formalized than the more fluid and iterative “design thinking” process.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Maybe you are/aren’t familiar with the Backchannel used by Mobile Monday Amsterdam. Its a great way of keeping track of suggestions from the audience using Twitter and and a projection screen alongside the live speaker. very interactive

    It works great. A photo of Doc Searls @momoams.

  3. caroline derrah July 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

    re: engaging the ‘all of us’ in each of us – the Young Foundation has launched a program to encourage people + communities to participate in the processes that shape their places. Using web media//web 2.0 to activate them in the political process (a design process that could benefit from “design thinking”!) .. report on a broken park chair, suggest a new and improved service, unveil a random idea to your local councillor.


  4. I think that David has a good point about people having the idea that design and art are things that “others” do, but I think it goes even more fundamental than that. It is how people perceive design (and, I think is what keeps people from “thinking” design). Like art, I think that Western culture has treated artists and designers as frivolous and just making “pretty”. This is a something I run into time and again, both as a designer and an artist. They don’t see art as critical thinking and they don’t see design as problem-solving. They see “making pretty” and not important enough to be taken seriously.

    When I encounter individuals with this perception about design, I ask then who do they think “designed” the clothes they are wearing; the house they live in; the cup they drink from; the car they drive and so on.

    I think a larger and perhaps more critical question might be: how do we change the perception of how people understand design? I think that then, and only then, can people begin to understand the importance and power that design has and how it impacts their lives every single day of their lives.

  5. I am unsure that the ‘general populus’ really need to understand how to participate in a debate about what design is. I studied “community design” which presented design as a collaborative process that we each engage in when we make decisions. The quality of that collaboration, discussion + decisionare the quality of the design. If we all had more constant forums + knew a little more background, we could spend our time discussing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch rather than the importance + meaning of design thinking.

  6. Last May I talked at first Russian TED-like conference on “Thinking for a Living in the Participation Economy”. Though I am in the business of design consulting, I did not mention “design thinking” since so far it is not a word in Russia to start with… Thought it is not easy to understand everything without text, my presentation is here: http://www.slideshare.net/Lumiknows/thinking-for-a-living-in-the-participation-economy-1543988

    Anyway, if to be short, design thinking is a tool to create human experinces – not just “consumer experiences” – in all its total existentiality. Below is an explanation of my point of view.

    What is the most significant change in people’s mind we all witness nowadays? The change which influences heavily upon all spheres of human activity? I think it is a growing consciousness with which people start approaching their life experience. Following Peter Drucker’s prediction done almost twenty years ago, we are now taking responsibility for better knowing ourselves and finding the right place to develop our being. In other words, more and more we will aspire to comprehend the needs of our inner state rather than be obsessed with the external symbols of prestige and status prescribed by the culture of consumption. The shift has obviously begun in the West some time ago but still waits in the wings in such countries as Russia, China.

    What does this existential transformation mean for businesses? One of the implications is that in the nearest future we are going to witness indicative changes in such a determinant for modern marketing construct as “consumer”. As a consequence, we will transcend “customer experience” to come at “[total] human experience”. And it is here where the new opportunities for further development lie.

    There are already lots of discussions, especially among design consultancies, how we should approach that category of people who buy and use our products and services: ‘users’, ‘customers’, ‘participants’ or even “co-creators”. But what I would like to stress here is that regardless of the name we play with we still aim at creating and ultimately managing such an experience which, in our opinion, would suit all possible and impossible people’s needs to make them our “customers”. This at first sight generous intention, however, has obvious problems for, according to late 2005 HBR article Marketing Malpractice, “Every year brings 30,000 of new products. About 90% of them fail despite thorough and expensive market research”.

    Convergence of marketing segments, on the one hand, and their endless proliferation, on the other, complex media environment, thousands of players and endless product choice, pervasive uncertainty, principal unpredictability of customer journey and, as a result, low ROI in NPD are just a top of an iceberg. At the bottom, in my opinion, is our habitual mode of thinking in terms of opposition and rigid boundaries: there is a corporate world on the one end and there are those whose aim of existence is to consume everything businesses produce. The latter may have their needs but it is only the former with its global system of production and distribution who can satisfy them. Ironically, as Raymond Williams puts in his A vocabulary of culture and society, “In almost all its early English uses, consume had an unfavourable sense; it meant to destroy, to use up, to waste, to exhaust”…

    It is useful to remember then that the modern “consumer” came into contemporary lexicon following the evolution of large-scale industrial economy and its necessity not only to supply goods and services, but also plan well in advance its production. Thus, along with the development of modern commercial advertising the machine creating needs and wants came into existence. Today, when people are getting more and more self-conscious, I think we will watch transformation of “customer needs” into “human lessons” as a basis for future businesses. And it seems to be not a bad way out of the impasse in which global economy found itself after having been trying for the last fifty years to catch up, predict, meet, guess and, of course, create the notorious “customer needs” with – let’s be honest – a questionable result.

    After all, “customer experience” in its exact sense is just a small part of the total human journey on the planet called Earth. Narrowly defined “customer journey” limits our opportunities reducing them to those – mainly unpredictable – moments when people think they need a sort of the product or service upon which we try to set up our business. As a human, I am always on. But as a customer, only when I want it and, of course, I do not care how to increase my loyalty to brands or help you outperform your competitor! What if to try to reformulate “customer touch points” along “customer journey”, as well as “customer needs” and “customer intelligence” to “human touch points”, “human needs”, “human intelligence” etc.? If we follow this approach we do not construct anything new but follow life in all its complexity and richness. This – I would say the Zen – approach means we start seeing the world as it is: beyond the boundaries of different market segments and product categories, but as we usually see it when leading our day-to-day life. That immediately means we abandon “customer” approach in favor of a more holistic, i.e. more “human” one.

    It is this Virgin and Starbucks did when expanded boundaries of the fixed in their industries “customer journey”. From a marketing point of view, they made a sort of revolution, but from a human point of view all they did they just followed people in their life journey. It is so natural: when we fly or drink coffee we do not stop thinking, talking, communicating and enjoying life regardless of the industry to which this activity could be ascribed to.

    It is this that IKEA do when demonstrating its products environments rather than single and isolated pieces of furniture. They went beyond boundaries of products thinking to lifestyle thinking in the same way as we fill our living rooms with all sorts of objects – furniture, textile and dishware, lighting, paintings and electronics, food, clothes and souvenirs easily find each other in our personal space paying no attention to what product categories they belong to.

    In the same way approach taken by Nike + Apple is a more total understanding of people’s life overstepping the limits of “customer experience” in garments and gadgets taken separately. Have they created something really new when suggested people putting on sportswear and listening to their favorite music while running? No, millions of people around the globe nowadays wear sports shoes and turn on player for their morning run. And, of course, do this simultaneously. Nike+ has become so popular only because they have synchronized these two – from marketing point of view, different – product categories already existed in morning experiences and just added some nice features like calorimeters, website etc.

    But all these nice examples are just the first step on this path to break all sorts of boundaries we have in the modern marketing today. The point is that a lexicon of opposition between companies and customers, not to say “competition” itself are very much on. Look, today’s marketing vocabulary resembles that of war reports: ‘how to allocate appropriate resources’, ‘how to retain customers’, ‘how to build marketing databases to analyze customer buying patterns’ etc. and etc. If somebody from the Mars had looked through the headlines of business magazines, he’d have decided “companies” and “customer” are two opposing parties leading a constant battle with each other: while the former try to find, reach, “become closer”, make them buy and retain, the latter tend to escape, to slip away, become invisible for marketers and finally make their “final decision” regardless of the company’s business aims and objectives. Bearing in mind the emergence of an advanced – very well-informed and experienced – customer, it is no wonder that companies seem to lose the battle…

    Unbalance between those who can change something in this life – big brands, global organizations and influential corporations – and those who can only accept, consume without any significant influence upon the situation has reached its maximum. Now on, we will witness how “average customers” will raise their voices saying we also want actively participate in the process and impact upon decisions critical for ourselves, our children and next generations, upon human civilization and environment. And businesses will not be able to compete with this exponentially increasing number of people all over the world but to only change their mindset and create organizations based on partnership and participation.

    My understanding of the future is that we are going to experience a significant shift in business language as a result of emerging aspirations of people both inside (“workers”) and outside the company (“consumers”) to make most out of their human potential, to learn more about their strengths and limitations, to fulfill themselves as friends, lovers, parents, neighbors, thinkers – you name it. That means they – us! – will work and spend, mainly, to experience new lessons during their life-long journey and not to just satisfy some vague “wants”, “needs”, and “norms”. I recall a best seller One Woman’s Search for Everything. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert based on protest against doing what a society wants you to do. When, suddenly, you realize that you cannot live up to these principles anymore you start doing what you really want to do with the years allotted to you. This is a trend of our times and recently I encountered It Is Easy To Become Happy by Russian Marina Ginter writing exactly about the same transformation – and in the same autobiographic manner, including biting mosquitoes! – as Miss Gilbert.

    And all that is a fundamental change making us stop thinking in terms of “they” – “us” but rather “we”. Why? Because following people’s changed aspirations, we will have to reject dealing with market segmentation as useless since in front of us we will see different groups of people whose aim would be to learn how to become more, say, daring, or loving, self-controlling or able to think more creatively and imaginatively. Thus, marketing’s goal which is today to reach consumers to make them buying decision and manage their customer experiences will be transformed into how to help people raise consciousness and realize their full potential. One of the biggest challenges on this way I see that marketers of the future will have to think not so much in terms of “profit”, but that of “fulfillment” – both of their own, and of those by whom they are surrounded in the market place. But anyway in this game will be no providers and consumers but partners since everybody would like to learn his own lessons! After all, as Russian genius Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “What can be more fantastic and unexpected than reality?”…

  7. Hi Tim,
    I am glad that you are promoting the idea of “design thinking” on the TED conference in Oxford, because most people seem to be stuck within their field of expertise.
    I mean my clients been paying me for the work they could see but not for the imagination and thinking I have brought into the world before.

    The best way to understand what design thinking means and how it can be applied was for me the MA course called Applied Imagination at Central Saint Martins in London.

    We had 3 terms that have changed the way we see the world for ever. One is “everything human made is an artefact”, two is “design is applied imagination” and three is “creative thinking is an iterative process”.

    We did not look at design or creativity as a make up. We actually defined a problem and found through our creative thinking, iteration and testings solutions.

    And that’s why I am so glad to see your design thinking or applied imagination aspiration as a blog, because actually the entire world is engaged doing it but conventions have no terms for this phenomenon.

    For me design or the “just do it” attitude is not enough. I am convinced that the right source of inspiration is highly significant to design thinking as well. Most design solutions are inspired by other designs or by simply nothing. Geometrical simple shapes are good examples for that.

    My design led me to the simple conclusion that humans wants to create always something life like or an abstraction of life. I looked at the most influential innovations humanity has seen. Cars come from horses, telephone from the ear, airplane from the bird, computers from the brain, Darwin’s evolution theory from the tree and the internet from the web.

    So I said to myself why not just systemize this design thinking and make everyone an innovator. And if my theory is true, which was difficult for me to proof wrong so far, the world of design and creativity is metaphorically speaking a new born baby. That’s my hope for the future. That we create something by getting the right inspiration from life. And I am not saying we are not doing it, but I say we do it to little.
    The concept of Laliaflia is for me a door opener to design thinking. I have the feeling I can invent what ever I want using this system.

    If you are interested in my design thinking have a look at http://www.laliaflia.com

    Wish you good luck for the conference.


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