Design thinking – an important book of Tim Brown

Design thinking is a new paradigm for innovation. Based on cumulated experience form design practices, design thinking seems to open new approach to develop service and human-centered solutions. Tim Brown’s new book Change by Design(2009) is an inspirational introduction to design thinking. The book is full of insight, thanks of huge experience as a designer, as well as a cofounder, CEO and president of IDEO.


According to Brown design thinking offers an approach needed today:


“What we need is an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective, and broadly accessible, that can be integrated into all aspects of business and society, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and therefore have an impact.” (p. 3)


I appreciate especially the humanistic orientation behind design thinking. Humanism is present in the very concept of innovation used in the Book. Innovation is for ideas “that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty and education”. I call this kind of innovation sustainable! The other humanistic aspect of design thinking is to produce human-centered solutions to problems be they related to new products, services, organizations or processes.


The major principles of design thinking might be expressed as follows.


  • Insight: go out and observe the actual behavior of people – especially observe relationship between people
  • Observation: watch what people do and don’t do, listen to what they say and don’t say.
  • Empathy: we have to feel the real persons: they are not objects but subjects with their own mental world
  • Prototyping: prototyping helps to generate results faster; it is easier to evaluate ideas if we make them tangible; one could also prototype organizations.
  • Experiences: we can even design experiences (flights, restaurants etc.)
  • Storytelling: storytelling opens a new dimension to design, that of time – memories, scenarios; stories open new viewpoints to things and give new meanings


How to implement successful design processes. We have to organize our work to interdisciplinary teams and complete our skills by activating networks of experts if needed. Design is project type working and permanent organizational arrangements are not so suitable for this kind of creative working. It’s also important to understand the logic of design processes. I refer here to three “spaces” of creation. According to Tim Brown they are (p. 16):


  1. Inspiration: the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions
  2. Ideation: the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas
  3. Implementation: the path that leads from the project room to the market.


These spaces are not in sequence, but they are overlapping and looped.


In the last chapter ten Tim Brown raises an amazing large view: designing a life. In design processes we are constraint by nature, life itself. Design is a part of creative development of nature. Designers participate to this creation process.


I like refer here to two philosophical points. One is the distinction between poieses and praxis presented by Aristotle. Poiesis (to make) is restricted to making or producing that has as its aim something beyond itself; like to design a new car. Praxis(action, conduct) on the other hand is the activity which has aims and value in itself. In its best, design thinking might be praxis! The other reference is to the concept of élan vital of Henri Bergson, a French philosopher. Elan vital is a life force leading to continuous creation of life. Design thinking as a human activity is expressing élan vital. Joy is a mark of creativity.


Personally I take design thinking to be essentially a way to create human-centered solutions to various kinds of challenges and problems faced in every day life as well as in public sector and business.


The book:


Tim Brown, Change by Design. How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Business. 2009.