In recent years, the likes of Tim Brown and Roger Martin altered the role of design in the place of business from a noun to a verb. From CEOs to the classroom, the effects of design thinking have changed the way we work. But design isn’t only for creative types and entrepreneurs. It plays an intricate role in many facets our daily routines. And with the right tools, design thinking just may improve our everyday lives.
Illustration by Anushka van Huyssteen
This is not an article on design. At least not in the sense that you might typically think.
If I were to ask you to picture a designer in your mind, what would you think?
What comes to mind for me is either an eclectically dressed 20 something, or the super-chic, all-black-wearing “creative,” maybe a graphic designer, fashion designer, art director, or interior designer.
Maybe you thought of people like the Eameses, Jony Ive, Coco Chanel, Pharrell (personal favorite), Frank Lloyd Wright, Massimo Vignelli, or any number of other incredible designers whose work we have had the joy of interacting with.
You may not have thought of a person, but perhaps you thought of the objects designers have made: furniture, clothing, art, cars, ceramics, music buildings, graphics, etc.
I’ve always been intrigued with how these designers’ ideas become the physical forms that we marvel at. It almost seems like magic. And, because it seems like magic, we tend to relegate design to a select group of special people that we gaze upon like superheroes.
It’s time we made design more accessible.
Design holds the key to a better future.
Design is for everyone.
WHAT IS DESIGN?
I love objects. Well-crafted, interesting physical forms have always drawn me in. For years, I sold “curios” on Etsy.
Curio: a rare, unusual, or intriguing object
There was something functional but also emotional about these objects that spoke to me. I couldn’t always put my finger on it, but I seemed to have a knack for recognizing the underlying intentionality of the design. I always loved the show American Pickers, and as I began my side business, I got addicted to the hunt of finding these diamonds in the rough (and still do).
I was yard saling in Anna Maria Island when I came across a bag of vintage cameras that stood out to me. They were aesthetically pleasing, and I knew that I could sell them as props, but they also had a look of integrity and quality about them. They were a brand called Leica.
I debated paying the 35 dollars that they were asking and finally pulled the trigger. I was glad I did. Leica is a world-renowned German camera brand that is highly sought after. These beautifully designed cameras ended up being from World War II, and I sold them for $2,500!
These Leica cameras were an example of the good design that I seemed to be intuitively chasing as I went to Salvation Armies, antique shops, and places like Renninger’s in Mount Dora. (You need to go.)
So what is design anyway?
I believe that good design is the intentional collaboration between art and science. We call it the design spectrum, and it holds these two seemingly opposite disciplines in a dynamic tension that we believe makes for some of the most satisfying designs.
Steve Jobs built his company on this idea, and most of us are personally still benefiting from his design work. He said in a 2011 keynote address that, “Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts and humanities.”
Science + Art
Logic + Intuition
Function + Form
Head + Heart
Design is both.
FROM DESIGN TO DESIGN THINKING
The appreciation for physical design, mainly furniture and architecture, led me to study the people behind it. The work of Ray and Charles Eames, the Knolls, Eero Saarinen, the Bauhaus Movement and its leaders like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius really began to shape me.
I found a book called Arts and the Man by Irwin Edman (written in 1928; excuse the misogyny) at a yard sale for a quarter, and it started to shape my thinking about art creativity and design, broadening it from just objects to ideas. “The measure of a civilization is exactly to be estimated by the extent to which its characteristic activities have the quality of art, its characteristics have the free and stimulating peace of enjoyment.”
I am a big believer in following your nose, and after reading book after book about art, creativity, and design, I came across something that has significantly shifted my approach to creativity and leadership: design thinking.
I found it by way of the Stanford d.School, which, along with the design firm IDEO, represents kind of ground zero for design thinking.
“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing — building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.” – Tom Kelly IDEO
This focus on empathy made sense to me. I never have really liked leadership much, but design thinking gave me language for the way I typically try to solve problems. I dove head first into design thinking, read everything I could get my hands on, took classes with IDEO, flew up to Harvard for a Design Thinking certificate, and began practicing, experimenting, and learning.
Long story short, we started We Are Curio in January of 2016 to help people and organizations “Expand What’s Possible.” Our focus is to make innovation and design thinking accessible through identity, ideation, and strategy.
We love what we get to do.
Even Jay-Z needs design thinking. I mean, I have not personally been updated on the situation, but I believe he still has 99 problems lingering that need to be solved. So if you are reading this Jay, the We Are Curio team is available.
Really, we all need design thinking, because at its core it’s a problem-solving framework.
Here is our definition of design thinking:
“Design thinking is a problem-solving framework that consistently leads to innovative, human-centered solutions.”
It’s anthropological because it focuses on deeply understanding people first before looking to design any solutions. This is done through empathy, listening, research, and dialogue with the stakeholders involved in the design challenge.
It’s collaborative because it enlists stakeholders and cross-discipline teams to participate in the design process. This idea of designing with not for is rooted in the Scandinavian concept of Co-Design.
It’s’ integrated because we have to bring our whole selves to the problem-solving process. Like we said earlier, the overlap of art and science, logic and intuition, rationality and emotion are what lead to great solutions.
It’s action oriented because design thinking is actually as much about doing as it is thinking. Idea people turn into designers when they begin prototyping, testing, and iterating their way forward. Think 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. Live in Beta.
PROCESS, MINDSETS, AND TOOLS
While there is a certain aspect of creative genius behind each of the designers we admire, there are also mindsets, processes, skills, and tools that they rely on to make the magic happen.
We say that every idea needs an IEDA. IEDA™ is the process that we use to move all of our ideas to action. The only problem with a process is that if you don’t have the right mindsets and tools during the process, you won’t get the results you are looking for. Kind of like taking someone on a date with no money and expecting it to be a success. Doesn’t work well.
Our approach (above) pretty much frames everything we do. It isn’t always linear, but guides us through the messy work of design. You can literally lay it over any problem that you may be facing.
What I love about design thinking is that it is not limited to the creative disciplines. We have watched this framework guide people to human-centered innovation in city government, education, start-ups, non-profits, churches, and established businesses.
Our world is facing some serious challenges. We don’t just need more leaders to solve them, we need more designers.
Actually, you probably already are designing, just unconsciously.
For instance, I assume you have a morning routine. Some of you are proud of it; some are embarrassed by it. No matter how you feel about it, we are all trying to get to coffee with minimum casualties along the way.
Every single person’s routine is different, and that is because you have designed it. You have taken into account your emotions, your logic, and made something that hopefully works well for you.
Design is all around us. Any time you step out of the unintentional and into the intentional, you are choosing to design. What you are choosing may not be good design every time, but nonetheless you are designing.
You can design a better present and a better future for yourself. The more seamlessly you merge form and function, utility and beauty, emotion and logic, art and science, the better your designs will be.
Inside each of us, the spark of design waits to be unleashed. It’s your job to create the conditions for your inner designer to come alive.
If you have never thought of yourself as a designer, you should.
Design is for everyone.