Design Thinking: How it Applies to Business

Design Thinking… is cropping up everywhere. I have accounting firms asking me about it. The Standford and IDEO have harnessed the term into something of a cliche. I had an experience recently as to what it is that has always rubbed me the wrong way about the hubbub over Design Thinking. If you’re not familiar with Design Thinking, trust me when I say that there’s a hubbub. It is a topic that creates a division within design circles. What has always made me bristle about it is the fact that every time anyone uses the term, it is an advertisement for another design firm (IDEO). I know that IDEO doesn’t claim it to be only theirs to use. But they also don’t make any bones about the fact that the term/methodology started with them.

I’ve always been a believer in the basic thought process behind Design Thinking (DT). The fundamental premise behind DT is that the user is the focus of the design process not the technology. Human centric design is what designers have been circling around for a long time. The truly successful designers are the ones that have figured out how to find the clients that are ready to let go of the sales driven methodology of features and benefits which seems to drive very quickly to a focus on the product and/or technology. Addressing how the product is created based on asking what the users want from the product as opposed to basing the development on research that dives into how the device fits into a user’s life.

On the surface, the difference is quite subtle. You can, and many do, argue that there is no difference. Both are looking at the end user’s needs. Where the difference lies is that Design Thinking is based on observational research of how people interact with a product or service and use that research to inform how improvements can be made that, ideally, will surprise the user. This approach eschews the belief that it is the technology that creates the desired “surprise”. It is about the experience of the product and how it fits into a person’s life that brings meaning to the product. Not how many items it has on a features and benefits list or because it uses some “cool” technology.

What makes this methodology powerful is that it is now possible to design more than just a product. You can now design services and processes on top of the products that may fit within those services and process. As soon as you wrap your head around this subtle difference, you will start to see where the value lies in the having design on your side.



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Phil Collins

Face ValueI had a bunch of stuff I should have done tonight but instead of doing it, I turned on Netflix. It was the first time in quite a while that I sat in front of the TV and just aimlessly sought something to distract my mind. I bumbled my way through the Netflix documentary list and I came very close to hitting play on a Nirvana documentary. Something made me keep looking, because while it looked good, it didn’t feel right. At least not for my mood tonight.

What is good?

Does it reach you? Does it touch you?

That’s the most important part.

Instead, I ended up choosing a retrospective on the making of “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. Phil Collins has always been my favorite musician. Between Genesis an his solo albums, he’s been a part of my life ever since a junior high school field trip introduced me to him when a classmate played “Abacab” on an old school boom box. It is strange how moments in your life are so clear. I remember hearing the music and everything else went away. I was instantly a fan for life.

I just get bored. I don’t like working on things for a long time.

What I found watching Phil for an hour, I never realized how much of a kindred spirit we seem to be. The way he described his creation of “Face Value” was eerily close to how I feel I go about anything creative I do. The main thing seems to be that “Face Value” was born out of angst. He states early in the documentary that the album was a glimpse into his mind after his divorce. “In the Air Tonight” was complete improve based on a mood.

Some of the best work I’ve ever created came from moments of complete uncertainty in my life. Moments when my mind was lingering on the edge of depression or burning with some kind of anger. There was definitely that undercurrent throughout that album and was confirmed while watching the documentary.

My attention span is kind of…limited in terms of “let’s do this and move on”. As opposed to…”let’s do this until we’re sick of it. But it’s perfect.

That last quote is the one that left me gobsmacked. It sums my creative process up. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m one that can find a moment of perfection in the imperfect. For me, that’s what “Face Value” has always brought to my life.

Roger Ebert

There’s not much to say other than cancer sucks. It takes people from us way sooner than we ever want or they ever deserve. Roger Ebert is an interesting story for me. Being that I grew up in Chicago, Ebert was part of my childhood. He was always there in the kind of way you don’t realize until 30 years later.

He was there when I arrived in Vancouver at the age of 24 and because he was so familiar, I never thought twice about the fact that I had just moved thousands of kilometers from home. He was simply part of my life.

Now, he’s gone and I am surprised at the affect his death has had on me. I didn’t realize that he was an inspiration with his heroic approach to his disease and life after cancer (treatment). It is a special kind of humility that allows you to put yourself in front of millions without a jaw and all the cosmetic oddities that come with it.

I never met him. I never really paid attention to him beyond knowing that I could generally rely on his movie reviews to provide me a good landmark for choosing what movie I’ll go see. Take care, Roger. I’ll show your humorous and inspiring TED talk as my thank you to a lifetime of unrealized stability.

Changing the World

It is interesting how little themes start to pop up everywhere you look when you start looking for it. It was really struck home for me when my 9 year old daughter who, while sitting in the back seat of our car, noticed the fact that she now notices dogs everywhere now that she really wants one. A simple example that demonstrates my point. I need to go and do a search through my archives, but I am quite sure I’ve mentioned that I have believed for a long time that I have a bigger role to play in “this life”. The idea of “changing the world” is a grandiose goal, but it is one that I believe I am capable of. More to that, I believe it is one that anyone is capable of if they have something they believe in strongly enough to do it.

The thing about “changing the world” is that it is a bit of a non sequitur. It is one of those sayings that is difficult for anyone to dispute. It is also nearly impossible  to measure.

I was recently involved in a conversation on the Core77 discussion forums where I first started noticing the recurring them of “changing the world” in my life. I have come to the belief that I have followed a meandering path through industrial design that has been leading me towards learning that I am capable of changing the world. As was stated in the above link to the Core77 discussion:

Then you hit 40-something and you realize that your skills truly can change the world and you’ve been wasting them on helping other assholes make a shit pile of money that want to nickel and dime you to the end.

It is a bit of a jaded approach to the issue at hand, but it is also a pretty liberating thought process. I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life learning skills that, if I apply them the way I know I can, I have the ability to change the world. I’m envious of those who learn this at a younger age. There are people all over the world that are learning…or more to the point, believing….they have the ability to change the world. I love that we seem to be entering an era that is dedicated to rising the tide for us all. It is well demonstrated in a discussion with Ken Banks and Desmond Tutu (shown below, or you can go to Vimeo here). They participated in a social entrepreneurship course that took place on a cruise ship that travelled the world visiting sites where there are problems to be solved for those living in poverty. A pretty amazing concept.  A boat full of people that may not yet know that they can change the world, but they want to learn. Simply Awesome.



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Chain Sketch Video

I put in another quick entry to the Core77 Discussion Forum’s chain sketching thread (found here). I drew an “Alligator eating ice creaM

core77 chain drawing












I also did up a quick video of me drawing it:

Design and Policy Management

I’ve been considering the thoughts around the curation of the design industry for a couple years now. It started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the International Council for the Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID). I’ve been using the word “curator” because it seems that the design industry requires someone that can manage the discussion of the industry. It currently seems that the curator of the design industry is IDEO. They seem to have have the most voice and attract the most public attention when it comes to the discussion(s) surrounding the design industry.

The realization I am coming to is that the term I should be using is “Policy”. Who manages policy for the design industry…specifically the Industrial Design industry? I would think that organizations like IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) or ACID (Association of Canadian Industrial Designers). I know that ACID does some policy management, but it is not particularly transparent. The same goes for IDSA. I don’t see any indication of policy management. Even more to the point, I don’t see the driving of design policy.

I will be the first to admit that just because I don’t “see it” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I do know, however, that most government policy makers I speak with (still) don’t seem to understand the value of Industrial Design, and therefore are not gaining benefits of tax credits (e.g. SR&ED in Canada) that other R&D fields get.

This thought process comes from the blog where Fred Wilson speaks about his Venture Capital company and their focus on managing policy for their portfolio of investments.

So, if you’re involved with any of these professional industries I’m referring to, I’d love to hear how you’re driving policy.

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Plant Some Shit

Ron Finley provides, hands down, the most inspiring presentation I’ve seen that speaks to how we can contribute to “unfucking the world”. This topic of “unfucking the world” is huge in my mind right now. I’ve said to many people lately that I’m a doer. I am the kind of personality that needs a mission. I’m looking for people that want to help me to do my part in “unfucking the world”.

Not once did Mr. Finley use the words “unfuck the world”. He wore it on a tee shirt that was displayed in one of his slides. I love it and it will likely be rattling around in my head for quite some time. Because I need something that will allow me to move out of this place where I feel as though I’m just wading through the mire of crap around me. Mr. Finley’s purpose isn’t mine. But it is similarly motivated. It is motivated by wanting to act on something bigger than  ourselves. It is motivated by wanting to do something more than sit back and watch what feels like the world crumbling around us.

I’ve tried the garden thing. It isn’t “me”. So, while I applaud Ron Finley and his actions to try and help reimagine South Central Los Angeles…I don’t see me planting some shit. I see me building some shit and I need help doing so. I need a donor funder.

If you have some cash that is burning a hole in your pocket and you want to put it towards something that could, conceivably, help change the world. Please get in touch with me. You will be hearing more about Kijani Technology in the near future. But until then, watch Ron Finley’s video and see if it inspires you to plant some shit:


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Chain Sketching

There’s a great thread happening on the Core77 discussion boards that is called Chain Sketching. The idea is that someone creates a sketch with a matching title that has the last letter bolded and capitalized. For example, one might draw a picture of a car and would have to write “caR”.

I posted a llamA


Design & Thinking

I’m down in Seattle for a screening of the documentary “Design & Thinking“. It is a Kickstarter-funded movie that gets into the discussion of “what is design” and how it applies to the world around us. My company (OneOak Design) in conjunction with Analytic Design Group organized the event. I am moderating a discussion panel after the movie that has Alysha Naples (TEAGUE), Carl Ledbetter (Microsoft XBox), and Karyn Zuidinga (Analytic Design Group).

It is completely sold out which is very exciting. 300 people coming to the Seattle Art Museum to discuss design, have a few appies, a few drinks, and some good conversations.


Design is Sales

I’ve been rummaging this thought through my brain for several months now. It was reinforced to such a strong degree this morning that it has me needing to get it out there. Design is Sales in both a literal and figurative sense. Here’s what I mean:

Design is Sales in that if your product is poorly designed it won’t sell. Especially in the consumer realm, good design is simply table stakes for product development. So, design translates to sales.

Design is Sales is also figurative. As in, the role of a designer is similar to that of salesman. Selling your idea to someone is what design is all about. As a design contractor, your job starts by trying to sell the design process to a client before it quickly proceeds to designing a series of viable product design concepts that need to be sold to the client.

Think about the premise that the sales process is all about finding the emotional reasons someone might want to buy. Every sale is based on an emotional need. One person might have their ass in a sling because they bit off more than they can chew and now they have to bring in more bodies. Someone else might want to hire a “rockstar” designer because it pumps their ego. There are myriad reasons why people buy things. It is no different from a TV to Design Services.

So, if every sale is an emotional one, and every designer is trying to make an emotional connection to a product….Design is Sales.

I’d love to see more designers get sales training and the first place designers need to start focusing those sales training courses is on their own profession. Designers suck at selling design. I’ve never understood why a profession that is so good as a whole at creating emotional connections with products, can’t turn those skills on their own profession.

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