SPECIAL ISSUE Masters of Design THE 20 MOST INFLUENTIAL PLAYERS IN BUSINESS DESIGN AND WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM THEM JUNE 2005 Strategy by Design In order to do a better job of devel- oping, communicat- ing, and pursuing a strategy, the head of Ideo says, you need to learn to think like a designer. Here’s his five-point plan for how to make the leap. By Tim Brown Illustration by Dorit Rabinovitch >> IT’S REMARKABLE how often business strat- words, and there aren’t enough of those is ideally suited to this endeavor. It can’t egy, the purpose of which is to direct action people out there. What’s more, words are help but create tangible, real outcomes. toward a desired outcome, leads to just the highly open to interpretation—words Because it’s pictorial, design describes opposite: stasis and confusion. Strategy mean different things to different people, the world in a way that’s not open to many should bring clarity to an organization; it especially when they’re sitting in differ- interpretations. Designers, by making a should be a signpost for showing people ent parts of the organization. The result: film, scenario, or prototype, can help peo- where you, as their leader, are taking them— In an effort to be relevant to a large, com- ple emotionally experience the thing that and what they need to do to get there. But plicated company, strategy often gets the strategy seeks to describe. If, say, the tools executives traditionally use to mired in abstractions. Motorola unveils a plan to create products communicate strategy—spreadsheets and People need to have a visceral under- that have never existed before, everyone in PowerPoint decks—are woefully inadequate standing—an image in their minds—of why the organization will have a different idea for the task. You have to be a supremely you’ve chosen a certain strategy and what of what that means. But if Motorola cre- engaging storyteller if you rely only on you’re attempting to create with it. Design ates a video so people can see those prod- 2 FA S T C O M PA N Y June 2005 “Design thinking is inherently a prototyping process. Once you spot a promising idea, you build it. In a sense, we build to think. ucts, or makes prototypes so people can and what you innovate are design prob- the world. You can’t just stand in your own ” touch them, everyone has the same view. lems. When you bring design thinking into shoes; you’ve got to be able to stand in the Unfortunately, many people continue that strategic discussion, you join a power- shoes of others. Empathy allows you to have to think of design in very narrow terms. ful tool with the purpose of the entire original insights about the world. It also Industrial products and graphics are out- endeavor, which is to grow. Here is Ideo’s enables you to build better teams. comes of the design process, but they do not five-point model for strategizing by design. We look for people who are so inquisi- begin to describe the boundaries of design’s tive about the world that they’re willing to try playing field. Software is engineered, but Hit the Streets to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped it is also designed—someone must come up >> ANY REAL-WORLD STRATEGY starts with hav- people.” They have a principal skill that with the concept of what it is going to do. ing fresh, original insights about your mar- describes the vertical leg of the T—they’re Logistics systems, the Internet, organiza- ket and your customers. Those insights mechanical engineers or industrial design- tions, and yes, even strategy—all of these are come only when you observe directly what’s ers. But they are so empathetic that they can tangible outcomes of design thinking. In happening in your market. As Jane Fulton branch out into other skills, such as anthro- fact, many people in many organizations Suri, who directs our human-factors group, pology, and do them as well. They are able are engaged in design thinking without notes in her book Thoughtless Acts? (Chroni- to explore insights from many different per- being aware of it. The result is that we don’t cle Books, 2005), “Directly witnessing and spectives and recognize patterns of behav- focus very much on making it better. experiencing aspects of behavior in the real ior that point to a universal human need. If you dig into business history, you see world is a proven way of inspiring and That’s what you’re after at this point—pat- that the same thing occurred with the qual- informing [new] ideas. The insights that terns that yield ideas. ity movement. As business strategist Gary emerge from careful observation of people’s These teams operate in a highly experi- Hamel has pointed out, there was a time behavior . . . uncover all kinds of opportu- ential manner. You don’t put them in bland when people didn’t know what quality nities that were not previously evident.” conference rooms and ask them to generate manufacturing was and therefore didn’t Very often, you can build an entire strat- great ideas. You send them out into the think about it. Nevertheless, they were egy based on the experiences your cus- world, and they return with many artifacts— engaged with quality—they created products tomers go through in their interactions with notes, photos, maybe even recordings of of good or bad durability and reliability. your organization. Service brands have a what they’ve seen and heard. The walls of Then thinkers such as W. Edwards Deming horrible habit of focusing on the one inter- their project rooms are soon plastered with deconstructed quality—they figured out action where they think they make money. imagery, diagrams, flow charts, and other what it was and how to improve it. As soon If you’re running an airline, there’s an awful ephemera. The entire team is engaged in as people became conscious of it, manu- temptation to focus all of your attention on collective idea-making: They explore obser- factured goods improved dramatically. what it’s like to fly a particular route on a vations very quickly and build on one The same thing needs to happen with particular aircraft. In fact, you can track another’s insights. In this way, they gener- design. Organizations need to take design backward and forward a whole series of ate richer, stronger ideas that are hardwired thinking seriously. We need to spend more interactions that consumers have with you to the marketplace, because all of their obser- time making people conscious of design that are very relevant. If you start to map out vations come directly from the real world. thinking—not because design is wondrous that entire journey, you begin to under- or magical, but simply because by focus- stand how you might innovate to create a Build to Think ing on it, we’ll make it better. And that’s much more robust customer experience. >> DESIGN THINKING IS INHERENTLY a proto- an imperative for any business, because typing process. Once you spot a promising design thinking is indisputably a catalyst Recruit T-Shaped People idea, you build it. The prototype is typi- for innovation productivity. That is, it can >> REGARDLESS OF WHETHER your goal is to cally a drawing, model, or film that increase the rate at which you generate innovate around a product, service, or busi- describes a product, system, or service. We good ideas and bring them to market. ness opportunity, you get good insights by build these models very quickly; they’re Where you innovate, how you innovate, having an observant and empathetic view of rough, ready, and not at all elegant, but they June 2005 FA S T C O M PA N Y 3 “We look for peoplethe world so inquisitive about who are that they’re willing to try to do what you do. work. The goal isn’t to create a close approx- imation of the finished product or process; ” Some years ago, a startup called Vocera came to us with a new technology based on egy early on, in a sense you’re doing a pre- mortem: You’re giving yourself a chance the goal is to elicit feedback that helps us the Star Trek communicator—that “Beam me to uncover problems and fix them in real work through the problem we’re trying to up, Scotty” device. They had worked out time, as the strategy unfolds. solve. In a sense, we build to think. the technology—an elegant device the size When you rapidly prototype, you’re actu- of a cigarette lighter that you could wear Design Is Never Done ally beginning to build the strategy itself. And around your neck and use to connect >> EVEN AFTER YOU’VE ROLLED OUT your new you’re doing so very early in the innovation instantly with anyone on the network. But product, service, or process, you’re just get- cycle. This enables you to unlock one of your the team had no way to describe why peo- ting started. In almost every case, you move organization’s most valuable assets: people’s ple would need the thing. We made a five- on to the next version, which is going to intuitions. When you sit down with your sen- minute film that played out a scenario where be better because you’ve had more time to ior team and show them prototypes of the everyone in the company had these gadg- think about it. The basic idea for the note- products and services you want to put out ets. The storyline followed how one person book computer came out of Ideo some 20 in two years’ time, you get their intuitive feel used the communicator to rapidly assemble years ago: Ideo cofounder Bill Moggridge for whether you’re headed in the right direc- a crisis team dispersed across an office cam- is listed on the patent for the design that tion. It’s a process of enlightened trial and pus. The film showed that while fixed com- lets you fold a screen over a keyboard. Since error: Observe the world, identify patterns munications and mobile phones are very then, the laptop has been redesigned—and of behavior, generate ideas, get feedback, good for expected interactions, this device greatly improved—hundreds of times, repeat the process, and keep refining until was ideal for reacting to the unexpected. because design is never done. The same you’re ready to bring the thing to market. The team used the film to tell their story; goes for strategy. The market is always Not long ago, we worked with a large it helped them raise VC funding and it acted changing; your strategy needs to change food-processing company on the possibility as the guiding framework for the develop- with it. Since design thinking is inherently of incorporating RFID technology into its ment and marketing of the product, which rooted in the world, it is ideally suited to supply chain. After many rounds of proto- is called the Vocera Communications Badge. helping your strategy evolve. typing and getting feedback, we made a But there’s an interesting twist to this tale. It all comes back to the fact that in order three-minute video that described a very We thought the badge would work best on to really raise innovation productivity complex interaction of suppliers, customers, big office campuses. The market thought within organizations, at the strategic level logistics, weather, geography, and a host of otherwise. Vocera’s two largest markets are and everywhere else, you have to increase other real-world conditions that showed hospitals and big-box retail stores. the amount of design thinking inside organ- how RFID might work. The video rapidly In the end, it didn’t really matter that izations. Doing so helps you get to clarity accelerated the development of a potential the market opportunity morphed into faster, helps your organization understand RFID-based strategy, because the company something different. Because you’re testing where you’re taking it, helps you figure out could instantly give us even sharper feed- and refining your strategy early and often whether you’re on the right track, and back and help us refine it. Rapid prototyp- in the design process, the strategy contin- enables you to adapt quickly to change. ing helps you test your progress in a very ually evolves. When the market changes, Those are pretty valuable survival skills. tangible way and ultimately makes your as it did with Vocera, the strategy can Some companies already understand this strategic thinking more powerful. change along with it. This gives you a big and are working design thinking into their jump start over abstract, word-based forms organizations. It’s not such a hard thing to The Prototype Tells a Story of strategy, in which the first time you get do. The toughest part is taking that first step— >> PROTOTYPING IS SIMULTANEOUSLY an eval- to test the strategy’s outcome is when you breaking away from your habitual way of uative process—it generates feedback and actually roll it out. You can’t gauge the strat- working and getting out into the world. ■ FC enables you to make midflight corrections— egy’s effectiveness until you achieve the end and a storytelling process. It’s a way of visu- result and do your postmortem. I don’t see Tim Brown is the CEO and president of Ideo, ally and viscerally describing your strategy. why that’s useful. By building your strat- one of the world’s leading product-design firms. This article was originally published in the JUNE 2005 issue of FAST COMPANY, © 2005 by FAST COMPANY. All rights reserved. Visit us on the web at www.fastcompany.com. For subscriptions, call 800-542-6029 or 904-446-7582 outside the U.S. and Canada.