“Design Thinking” – A framework to promote innovation

(From the EiC – Don’t forget to check out the growing CE library. Previous reviews can be found here. Or check out the winner of the “CE Reads” contest here. Or find must reads for CEs here– Jonathan)

By Rob Cooney

Change By Design by Tim Brown is one of a series of books authored by the leadership team at the design firm IDEO. The book is an excellent introduction into design thinking and how you may apply it for your personal and professional activities.

What is design thinking? It is a set of principles that can be used by anyone to solve a wide range of problems. You do not need to be a “designer” to use these tools.

In the early chapters, Brown takes the reader through a framework that explains the principles and practices of design thinking. He makes it clear that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to design thinking. For successful innovation, however, he believes that there are three important “spaces” to appreciate:

  • Inspiration: identifying the problem or opportunity
  • Ideation: “the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas” (p. 16)
  • Implementation: taking your idea, developing it, and bringing it to realityOf course, innovation cannot occur without placing appropriate boundaries. Brown goes on to explain three constraints that hamper the above “tion” spaces. These include:
  • Feasibility: Is it functionally possible?
  • Viability: Can we create or sustain it? (i.e. the business case)
  • Desirability: Does this make sense? To us? To others?

With the spaces and boundaries defined, innovation via design thinking requires some support as well. First, design thinkers must view their work as a project with a beginning, middle, and an end. Next, they need a framework for their work. Brown refers to this as “the brief.” The brief provides the framework, outlines milestones, and defines the objectives. Design thinkers rarely work in a vacuum. Instead, they are often members of teams. I think we can all can agree with the IDEO saying, “all of us are smarter than any of us.” Finally, design thinking requires an environment that promotes innovation. This includes rewarding success while allowing for failure (or even encouraging failure, so long as you learn from it), and providing spaces for innovation to occur.

With the building blocks in place, Brown goes on to explain the process of design thinking. First, design thinkers “put people first.” They do this through insight, observation and empathy. As an interesting aside, IDEO has even worked on patient experiences within healthcare. You can read the story beginning on page 50.

From the building blocks to the processes, Brown continually offers pearls about how to utilize design thinking to create new products or services. For example, he includes a section on behavioral change via design thinking, and another on prototyping.

Overall, I found this book to be a fast read thanks to Brown’s liberal use of stories and examples. Having read all of the design books published by IDEO’s leadership, I found this one to be extremely helpful in explaining the process of using design thinking. I’ve taken several of the ideas and used them to lead residents and their quality improvement projects.

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If you are involved in curriculum design or trying to innovate within your department, this book will be helpful.

For more resources on design thinking, check out these sites: