Book Summary: Change by Design by Tim Brown

When you hear the word DESIGN, it is common to think about intricately designed devices or a new designer bag. Papanek, a designer, argues that design is the manipulation of people into buying things they don't need with money they don’t have.

But what if the design was really more?

What would your life or business look like if you could design anything you wanted, including change?

In his book, “Change by Design”, Tim Brown provides the answer to that question.

Part I - What is Design Thinking?

An artist doing design thinking before she starts painting.

According to Tim Brown, the leading creative design agency IDEO specializes in understanding people’s needs and matching them with what is technologically achievable.

Although the study of creativity is still a largely unexplained phenomenon, Brown and his colleagues at IDEO have come up with what they call “an overlapping system of spaces” in the continuum. Inspiration space: a problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation space: generating, developing, and testing ideas; Implementation space: ideas take form and enter into the marketplace.

Charles Eames, the legendary designer, often said that accepting constraints is a hallmark of good design. This is what differentiates your typical, everyday designer from a true design thinker: A person who can balance the following three constraints.

Feasibility focuses on what is functionally possible in the foreseeable future; viability looks into how something might become part of a sustainable business model, and desirability considers what makes sense to people.

As Brown notes, a design thinker will establish each of these three constraints, but a competent designer might struggle to find an appropriate balance. Even though you might not know what they have in common, over a million people agree that the Nintendo Wii is an innovative product.

Part II - Putting People First

3 customer service rep ready to serve people, and putting people first.

Designers work to create products that customers want, rather than creating products based on what the customer "needs".

Once again, we have three elements to consider in the process of putting people first: insight, observation, and empathy.

Insight: learn from others’ experiences

It is not always in the lab or boardroom that a business idea starts. So, go out into the world and see what they see, feel what they feel, and hear what they hear. Only by experiencing it can you start to design a solution. The single obstacle that stands in the way of an effective solution? The misconceptions you hold on to from before even beginning.

One example of discrimination comes from Jennifer Portnick, a size 18 woman who wanted to become a Jazzercise dance instructor. The company's requirements that instructors be "fit" meant she didn't qualify.

Portnick challenged Jazzercise's weight-discriminatory policy and won, forcing them to change their procedures. The assumptions made before this policy was instituted were the problem: that all overweight people want to be thin, that weight is inversely proportional to happiness, or that their clothing size displays a lack of discipline.

You may be agreeing with these assumptions right now. But consider this: You risk losing the opportunity to uncover crucial insights when you make assumptions about any stakeholders in your business. Design thinkers will have an advantage over you going forward. And may God help you if some of them work for a competitor.

Observations: what they don’t do is interesting.

The middle of the bell curve is where most people have an equal distance on either side, so it can be where you find a solution for what your customers want. In order to get authentic insights, it's important to seek out the most extreme users in your field. These people will teach you what regular customers won't. That's where the gold is.

In one example, when IDEO wanted to learn insights for a new line of kitchen tools they began their research by studying children and professional chefs. Seeing a child struggle with a can opener made them realize that they needed to manufacture more comfortable tools. This realization led the Zyliss company to stop manufacturing “matched set” tools and start manufacturing a system of different handles for every tool. These Zyliss tools have been very popular ever since their creation in 1988.

Empathy: the perspective of others

The King once said, “before you abuse, criticize or accuse me…walk a mile in my shoes”.

If you make the first words, “decide, conclude or assume”, then you have a good formula for generating insights.

Those who serve others in a professional setting should never forget that they are probably very different than their clients. What is your customer’s journey like? This immersive exercise can give you more insight into the product or service they want from you.

When IDEO was helping redesign the emergency room, one methodology to follow that improved a patient’s experience was sending an undercover person in with a fake injury and observing their point of view.

At first glance, there are opportunities for incremental improvements to the patient experience that can be easily implemented. However, by looking deeper at the footage, it becomes clear that this is not a strong enough solution and much more attention needs to be placed on improving the anxiety-causing environment. These changes allowed them to create a new environment that would not only support physical processes but also emotions.

Part III - Creating a Solution

A man is solving a puzzle, thinking about the next solution.

To generate a solution to your problem, first, create constraints and then pursue insights. Even though they are at odds, we can't achieve divergence without also achieving convergence.


Divergent thinking means that we can generate multiple options to consider. The process of testing competing ideas against one another in the pursuit of a final outcome is that the end result will be more compelling.


Convergence is what drives us toward solutions, and it can be the most difficult part of our exercise. We have to allow ourselves to let go of options that were promising but are no longer yielding the outputs we want.

It’s only natural to not only revert back and forth between divergence and convergence but also test out new theories. These six rules are all it takes for anyone looking at getting their innovation right, but as Shawn Brown points out, the hardest part is knowing when to apply them.

  • Cross-departmental collaboration allows for best practices to emerge.
  • Those who are most susceptible to the changing environment may not be able to keep up.
  • Ideas should not be given preferential treatment by the creator.
  • Ideas that generate a buzz should be favored - in fact, only those generating buzz should be supported by the organization.
  • Senior leadership should use their "gardening" skills to water, trim and harvest ideas.
  • An overarching purpose should be articulated to provide direction for the organization.

Follow these rules, and your culture of experimentation will thrive. Ignore them and it will wither away.

Part IV - Prototyping Solutions

An airplane engineer creating the first sample of prototype.

In order to mitigate risks, it is necessary to prototype solutions quickly and find out if the potential solution meets the constraints of feasibility, viability, and desirability.

Brown argues that when we create prototypes to test an idea, we’re able to see it quicker and refine it more quickly.

In order for prototyping to be helpful, it must be simple and straightforward at first. The goal is to create a prototype as soon as possible, with minimal expense. One of IDEO’s most internationally recognized prototypes was conceived when conceptualized, a rollerball from the tube of Ban Roll-on deodorant was attached to the base of the plastic butter dish, making for an iconic representation in the future Apple Computer Mouse designs.

The goal of a wireframe is not to create a fully functional prototype.

Don’t spend too much time on it because you may form something that sounds "finished" and "finished" solutions that are difficult to kill.

You can also prototype services. Even if the final product or service is intangible, you can still test your idea by creating different scenarios to see how they would work out. The best scenario to create in this case would be your customer journey because it shows a person’s experience with the service from beginning to end.

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