Archives For designing for impact

It has been exciting to see design thinking gaining ground in a growing range of industries over the last few years, but even I have been surprised by the enthusiasm with which some in the legal field have embraced the concept.

The law is not exactly known for creative problem solving. But it turns out that the industry is facing the same set of challenges as everyone else as disruptive technology forces regulators and policymakers to think differently. This is a moment of rich opportunity for design thinkers, and we now have evidence that the world at large is taking notice.

IDEO’s Chief Counsel, Rochael Soper Adranly, has just been recognized by the Financial Times as one of the Top 20 global General Counsels of 2017 sitting alongside General Counsels of some of the largest companies in the world.

Rochael boldly applies creative problem solving in corporate legal departments and legal firms and that has set her apart from the pack. Her approach is based on the fundamentals of design thinking, as the Financial Times explains: “Today’s general counsel need to be both business-minded and human-centered. This means . . . having a clear awareness that legal problems are human problems.”

I truly hope that many more in the legal field take up Rochael’s message of human-centered design thinking.

Illustration by Anuja Shukla

What if we had a new way to design products, services, and businesses that were good for people, the planet, and business? That’s one of the questions we were seeking to answer when IDEO teamed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to launch the Circular Design Guide.

Why a design thinking guide for the circular economy? Design thinking is a great innovation tool for tackling complex systemic challenges. It not only offers an approach that generates momentum through prototyping, but also strengthens insight around what works (and what doesn’t). This new guide is meant to help innovators create more elegant, effective, and creative solutions for the circular economy.

Want to learn more? Get started by visiting circulardesignguide.com.

You may have heard that IDEO has joined the kyu collective (a unit of Tokyo-based Hakuhodo DY Holdings). kyu was formed by a group of diverse companies including SYPartners, Sid Lee, Digital Kitchen, C2, and Red Peak Group. It’s an exciting moment for us, and we wanted to explain why.

Since IDEO started over 30 years ago, we’ve walked the gangway from industrial products to digital experiences (which we started working on in 1985, when co-founder Bill Moggridge coined the term “interaction design” — a considerable improvement over soft-face, which he had come up with the year before to describe the application of industrial design to software products) to our current interest in designing complex systems. The rate of change has been dizzying, and today’s advanced technologies — AI, genomics, robotics, data science, the Internet of Things — have so outpaced our industrial-era organizations and infrastructure, they end up hitting institutional cul-de-sacs. The technologies don’t come to a halt, of course, they simply move on, seeking out other places where they race ahead. If our institutions are to survive, they’ll have to create new roadways.

That’s a design problem — one that requires new rules of engagement with a broad set of collaborators. We’re excited to have found those collaborators in a few like-minded design firms. Now we’re joining forces to form a creative collective called kyu.

Why now? Is it because we’re caught in the much ballyhooed death spiral of the independent design firm? Not so much. But we have learned a few things about what it takes to tackle today’s toughest systems challenges. Namely, that bringing human-centered design to education, government, healthcare — the sectors that need it most — requires a few important culture shifts:

1. We need to bust out of siloed design practices.
2. We need to develop ever-broader capacities, taking an interdisciplinary, deeply collaborative approach.

Take one example from recent work: it required a multidisciplinary team with a wide-ranging set of knowledge and skills to realize the vision for Innova, a K-11 school system. We built the school system’s curriculum, teaching strategies, buildings, operational plans, and underlying financial model from the ground up. In February of 2015, Innova became the largest private network of schools in Peru, with almost 20,000 students and 1,200 teachers and growing. It’s uplifting the middle class and helping give Peru’s next generation the chance to compete in the global economy.

That kind of project is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It emboldens us to work at greater scale. We’re not used to designing for and communicating to millions of people, but with new capacity, we’re hoping to get there. We turn our own questions on ourselves: What if we could help design education that readies today’s kids for the technologically enhanced (and challenged) environment they’ll grow up into? While we’re at it, what if we could then start addressing the very policy that shapes those educational institutions? That kind of moonshot systems thinking requires both agility and scale — it requires networked organizations and creative collectives. It requires designers who never stand still.

Another thing we’ve learned, largely from the open-source movement and the sharing economy, is that when individuals with their own aspirations and talents come together to build upon each other’s work and drive toward a greater goal, we can gain traction on much bigger challenges — and find new ways forward.

Of course, large corporations know this, too. They’ve realized design’s importance in nearly everything they do, and are either acquiring independent firms, or developing their own internal capabilities. We’re excited that design has become the keystone of doing business. That’s good for everyone. But when a company of tens or even hundreds of thousands hires a few hundred designers, the practice is still being treated as a tool, not as a core competence. That makes the longevity of independent design companies—and collectives that have creative mastery at their core—all the more important.

You see, even when you have a pack of designers roaming your halls, it’s hard for analytical cultures to integrate creative ones. The reason being that analytical cultures traditionally start with an answer, and then break the problem down into its constituent parts, whereas creative cultures start with questions and look at problems holistically. We’re not delivering a verdict here that one approach is superior to another, just that one invariably ends up being dominant. From the very beginning, IDEO has been a culture that starts with questions. It’s the only way we know how to uncover pressing human needs and design toward them. That’s at our core.

But for us, those questions can’t be limited to digital experiences. We’ve been working on those for 30 years, and our hunch is that they’ve reached a “peak design” moment. That’s not to suggest that digital experiences are unimportant or can’t get any better, but simply that they’ve become commoditized at this point. It’s time to apply our collective design practice to greater challenges, namely:

1. Serving the needs of the global poor
2. Designing new approaches to health, including aging and the end of life
3. Designing healthy and profitable food systems that can serve the needs of all
4. Designing citizen-centered government services
5. Designing the future of our urban communities
6. Anticipating the opportunities and challenges of over-the-horizon technologies
7. Designing the future of work and the corporation itself

Those are the edges of design and it’s where we feel a gravitational pull. Organizations and systems must be redrawn so that they are able to make use of today’s technological capacity in ways that help humans, not hurt them. The sci-fi specter of A.I. that outsmarts us or an Internet of Things that controls us can only come true if human-centered design is not present at the drafting table. Bringing others to the party who feel the same way just makes us faster, stronger, and able to build things of which today, we can only dream.

(Posted also on Medium)

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A few months ago, I wrote a post about five technologies in need of design makeovers in 2014. I’m happy to report my colleagues at IDEO.org, working with a group of NGOs and health and tech industry collaborators, have taken a shot at redesigning the most newsworthy item on that list, and the one with the worst reputation: drones.

The newly launched Drones for Health site focuses on the positive aspects of the remote aerial devices, asking the question, “How can drones improve global health?”

Rather than creepy privacy invaders or weapons of war, the team (Behrouz Hariri, Adam Reineck, and John Won) saw past the technology’s bad reputation and repositioned drones as “flying helpers,” coming up with scenarios in which unmanned aerial vehicles are uniquely suited to address big global health challenges.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, when the land is impassable, a drone could collect data from the sky; or what if they traveled the last-mile of the transportation infrastructure, delivering life-saving medicine and immunizations to the world’s hardest-to-reach corners?

The team’s vision, along with a set of design guidelines, are meant to inspire potential drone builders to create future flying helpers that look and act more human, contributing to the social good.

I’m inspired by this thoughtful, optimistic approach. In three short months, they were able to transform drones from dreadful to delightful. It made me wonder:

How might we inspire new collaborations and create more human-centered solutions to other maligned technologies like big data or email?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Does changing how you make things change the way you live?

The answer is “yes,” according to Made in the Future, an experimental project I collaborated on with some colleagues at IDEO Boston. The Made in the Future website recently launched and it explores how today’s innovations in maker technology might affect designers and society at large five to ten years from now.

To get inspired about what making something by hand means to people, we constructed toy airplanes with kids, cooked alongside chefs, built motorbikes with weekend gear heads, and hung out with gifted researchers at the MIT Media Lab. We looked at cutting-edge innovations in designing, manufacturing and distributing, and asked: where’s it all heading next? It was all incredibly inspiring and we learned a lot.

On the website, we break down what we learned into five themes, each illustrated with provocative product concepts. For example, a device called MatterTone addresses the desire for meaningful customization by creating 3-D recordings of ephemeral conversations.Master’s Archive, a combination camera/laser projector, enables augmented reality woodworking education in real time and speaks to the possibilities of tech-enabled learning and mastery. These are only a few of the types of tools we might create, how those things will change the way we act and learn, and how these technologies will ultimately shape our future.

Many of the advances in manufacturing and communication we enjoy today—not to mention a number of careers like “designer” and “engineer”—trace their roots back to the Industrial Revolution and early 20-century. Some of these seismic shifts took hundreds of years to play out. Imagine what will happen if, in the blink of a decade, mass manufacturing and mass media become massively personalized, variable, and collaborative?

If my predictions are accurate, creative skills will be in ever-greater demand even though access to tools will be significantly democratized, and creative confidence will be a necessary mindset for doing business. It also means we’ll longer be slavishly consuming goods, but collaborating with the most sophisticated, large-scale manufacturers to create the exact things we need when and where we need them.

If all this sounds worrisome, take heart, there’s one thing I know won’t change. Yesterday, today, or tomorrow: the act of making makes us human.

How will you participate in the maker society of tomorrow?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)