I just finished Change By Design by Tim Brown, the CEO and president of IDEO, and I highly recommend it, both for designers of all specialties, as well as all business leaders. I will write up more general thoughts and a review of this book in a future post, but I wanted to first write about a particular section where I drew stark similarities between Tim Brown’s explanation of “design thinking”, and how it resonates with my own understandings of design.

During my first semester of this past, my final year of my Master’s program, I took a class called Design Theory taught by Erik Stolterman. Our final project was the development and presentation of a design process theory, for a particular user group (from web developers to cake decorators, chosen by each team). My team decided to not only introduce how we understand, verbalize, and visualize the design process, but also to show our particular user group how to “fuel” our model to produce better, more creative, results.

We envisioned our clients to be small web development teams, some designers, some developers, known for producing good results, but starting to feel stuck in a rut producing deliverables that all look and feel the same.

I loved this project and was thrilled by the opportunity to present many theories and concepts I had been refining, of my own understanding or the design process, since I began learning about interaction and experience design. The major idea I proposed was the design process as a amoeba-like container, filled with many design activities which produce one of two effects on the design space: expansions, and contractions. “Expansions” are activities focused on creatively exploring each individual, unique, design space for the possibilities and opportunities it provides. “Contractions” narrow the focus and are about making decisions about what is possible within the project constraints. These opposing activities keep the design process in a continually moving motion.

Our team felt that many people struggle more with the “expansion” activities and using play can fuel exciting, unpredictable, creative ideas and insights which will take final designs to the next level.

As I read Change By Design, I was struck when I came to the section where Brown talks introduces what he calls “convergent and divergent thinking” (Chap 3, pg. 66). “Convergent thinking is a practical way of deciding among existing alternatives. What convergent thinking is not so good at, however, is probing the future and creating new possibilities.” On the other hand, “the objective of divergent thinking is to multiply options to create choice.”

“By testing competing ideas against one another, there is an increased likelihood that the outcome will be bolder, more creatively disruptive, and more compelling.” Or as we summarize it, “Play With It”.

This duality, expanding and contracting, diverging and converging, yin and yang, is what leads to designs that really change the world.  “Divergent thinking is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation.”

Check out our final group theory project here — “Play With It”.

And you can find Tim Brown’s book here on Amazon.com.

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