Archives For design thinking

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


At IDEO, we often start brainstorms with the phrase, “How Might We” (HMW, for short). We use these three words because they help frame a problem in an open-ended, optimistic, and collaborative way. “How” assumes there are solutions out there. “Might” says some of the ideas may work, others won’t—either way, it’s OK. And “We” says we’re going to solve the problem together by building on each other’s ideas. (I write more about this powerful phrase in my book, Change By Design.)

This is the first of several such HMW posts I’ll be posting over the coming months. The intent is to provoke conversation about some of the big global challenges we face and reframe them as creative opportunities.

The inspiration for this post was a recent discussion I moderated on “The Rise of Megacities” for the World Economic Forum. A megacity is defined as having over ten million people. One panelist informed us that as cities increase their gross domestic product, the average wellness of their inhabitants declines. At first, this seems counterintuitive. While city dwellers are undoubtedly earning more than they would in their rural homelands, dense living conditions, poor sanitation, and lax policing mean they’re also exposed to terrible diseases and increased crime. Over time, these things lead to increased income inequality. A small portion of the population does disproportionately better both economically and physiologically, while the majority stays locked in poverty with significantly shorter life expectancies. Social instability and violence quickly follow.

Another insight from the session: in many megacities, the lowest paid workers—drivers, maids, etc.—commute up to six hours a day. This has terrible impact on quality of life. Thankfully, some Latin American cities are beginning to address this issue. For instance, one of Rio De Janeiro’s most notorious favelas, Complexo do Alemão, has a sophisticated cable-car system that speeds 30,000 passengers a day to work in the city center. Each resident gets one return ride per day for free. Reducing commuting times means residents have more time to spend with their families, on education, or even second jobs.

Our thought-provoking discussion got me thinking in HMWs:

How might we redesign cities to increase the wealth and health of the majority of inhabitants?

How might we use open spaces in cities to promote wellness?

How might we reduce the amount of surface area currently dedicated to cars (now around 30%)?

How might we design new services to help city dwellers achieve sustainable livelihoods?

How mights we rethink zoning rules and exploit emerging digital-manufacturing technologies to bring work closer to where people live?

Data shows that megacities, in general, are a good idea. They reduce carbon emissions, generate wealth, and increase productivity and innovation. One of the greatest design challenges of the 21st century will be ensuring everyone benefits equally from these cities’ explosive growth—instead of some being unfairly exploited by it.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Photo: CC Image courtesy of Daniel Julie on FlickrPhoto.

Six Sigma and Design Thinking

September 10, 2009 — 22 Comments

Sara Beckman of the Haas Business School has written a great article in the New York Times about Six Sigma and design thinking called Welcoming the New, Improving the Old. She talks with Chuck Jones of Whirlpool who gives a lovely analogy of design thinkers as quantum physicists and everyone else (including the Six Sigma crowd) as Newtonian physicists. Multiple possibilities versus defined measurement.

Sara makes the argument that businesses need to learn to build bridges between these two approaches. I have to admit that for a long time I was highly skeptical of design thinking’s ability to operate in a Six Sigma environment and I was once quoted in the Economist as saying that it was toxic to innovation.

I don’t think that anymore. Having spent more time studying companies like Toyota I have realized that high quality (the goal of Six Sigma) is a great platform for new ideas (the goal of design thinking). Similarly, as Chuck Jones implies, Six Sigma can help new ideas get better faster. Having been involved in several first mover products at IDEO I can attest to the fact that very rarely is that first iteration the best possible product in terms of quality or functionality.

Perhaps we should think of design thinking and Six Sigma being part of a cycle, each feeding the other to create new and improved products, services and experiences. Of course the biggest challenge will be to build business cultures that are agile enough to incorporate both.

Change By Design

April 20, 2009 — 11 Comments

It is finally time to announce the title and publication date for my book about design thinking.

It is called “Change By Design – how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation“. It will be published by Harper Collins under their Harper Business impression and is due for release late September 2009.

There is more detail at the book website and I will be adding more material as we get closer to the publication date.

Many of the responses and conversations on this blog have informed the book and I would like to offer an early thank you to all of those who have been so engaged in the debate over the last few months.

This doesn’t mean the end of this blog – far from it. I hope we can keep this conversation going and develop interesting new perspectives on the role of design and design thinking.

Five questions

December 19, 2008 — 8 Comments

I popped into BusinessWeek a few days ago so that they could interview me for their “Five Questions” series. I spent most of my time talking about design thinking.