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What do 3M’s Post-it notes, Apple’s iPod, and Nintendo’s Wii have in common? All three of these revolutionary inventions come from companies whose customers are the focus of innovation process. They use design thinking to to come up with new ideas and transform them into business success.

Why do TV remote controls, which in the 1960s only had a few buttons, now have more than 30—often irritating of customers who would prefer far fewer? Because television manufacturers, like many companies, have lost the sense of functionality. “They don’t think in terms of design,” observes Tim Brown, author of Change by Design. Brown offers a welcome reminder of a fundamental challenge: how can companies develop an approach to innovation centered not on technology, as is so often the case, but rather on people? Brown’s answer is, “design thinking”—a method borrowed from designers, which starts with observing customers and then converges toward innovations that respect both technological and business constraints.

“Revolutionary ideas don’t emerge by chance; they are responses to everyday challenges,” explains Brown, who advocates design thinking to extend organizations’ innovation capacities. Taken from industrial designers, this approach combines “necessity with utility, constraints with opportunities, and need with demand.” It is an way of thinking that focuses on the individual and facilitates the transformation of ideas into viable and desirable customeroriented projects.

Initial Constraint: Customers
According to the American designer, architect, and filmmaker Charles Eames, when it comes to the creation process, industrial designers “willingly embrace constraints”—namely, feasibility, viability, and desirability. The parallel with companies is easy to establish. “Design thinking” means developing products or services that combine 1) usefulness for the customer 2) technical feasibility, and 3) an integration capacity to fit into a viable business model. “But that is not enough!” declares Brown. “The starting point for all thinking has to be the customer, not technology and not the market!”…

To read the article in full:

Innovation: Leveraging Customers, Ideas, and Technology to Transform the Business


Based on Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim BROWN, Harper Business, September 2009.