How Good Designers Think

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We all know that really good designers somehow think differently about new products from you and me. But just exactly what does this difference consist of? Simon Rucker of Seymourpowell discusses...

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How Good Designers Think

  1. 1. How GoodDesignersThink...
  2. 2. Good designers somehowthink differently about newproducts from you and me... [They] aim to move beyond what you get from simply asking consumers what they need and want... Simon Rucker, Associate Director at SeymourpowellWe all know that really good designers somehow think differently (I’d like it bigger, cheaper, quicker, smaller, etc). It rarely deals withabout new products from you and me. But just exactly what does the new/never been done before – the unexpected but relevantthis difference consist of? The best summary of what makes really solution.good designers tick was a simple post by Bruce Nussbaum backin 2007. No one ever asked for Starbucks, or Walkmans/ iPods, the Internet or texting, for example – they were truly new ideas. And no amountSince reading that I’ve often pondered the subject and today, I find of consumer research gave Steve Jobs the confidence to re-it helpful to look at my experience of how good designers think (and imagine the music industry.do) at each stage of the innovation process: insights, inspiration,and action. Good designers aim to move beyond what you get from simply asking consumers what they need and want. First of all becauseInsight: They Look at What We Don’t Know they understand that most people when asked don’t say what they mean or mean what they say, but also because people often don’tMost insight, because it relies so heavily on asking consumers, only know. Good designers want to unearth what consumer can’t telldeals with improvements to known/ existing products and services them: latent & emerging needs and motivations; actual behaviorsConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. and attitudes; and, crucially, barriers to as well as drivers of change absorbed quickly with a diagram, or as Bruce describes it “quickly– or simply put, what your competitors don’t also already know. lashing together a physical or digital mock-up” of a proposed solution.How? Secondly, good designers live and work in the future most days,Firstly, good designers don’t tend to think about consumers; they immersed in the activity of actively creating and shaping their client’sthink about people and what they want and need. It’s a subtle future visions of new products and services. And this familiarity withpoint, but thinking about people as consumers immediately fusing creativity with what’s feasible and commercial every day isdehumanizes them and makes it harder to empathize. what makes good designers so good at doing this consistently and better than others.Secondly, good designers like observing – really looking at whatpeople do rather than simply relying on what they say they do. AsPaul Smith once explained, when asked where he got his ideasfrom: “You and I could walk down the street together and look atthe same things, but I’d SEE ten times more than you would.”Thirdly, they bring expertise in other categories and industriesto bear on problems in others. They pull together threads fromdifferent functions, disciplines, fields, and sectors, and integrate No one ever asked for Starbucks, or Walkmans/them into a new and (the dreaded word) ‘holistic’ understanding.Fourthly, good designers look at what might all change in the short,medium and long-term, by engaging with the best trends andforecasting intelligence. Unlike other crystal ball gazers they use iPods, the internet orthis prescience to help them understand how they could bend thefuture, shape it to their vision. texting - they were trulyAnd lastly, good designers pressure test their conclusions byconsulting with other cultural ‘interpreters’ from a broad range of new ideas ...other disciplines.Inspiration: They Look for What to DoGood designers want to solve problems – and this makes them Thirdly, they overcome the “not invented here…” syndrome. Forwant to transform insights into inspiration. new ideas to survive and indeed thrive they have to be successfully embraced by all the relevant (another ghastly word) ‘stakeholders’.How? Good designers can act as a translator between functional silos as different as supply chain, marketing and R&D.Firstly, they have the ability to visualize what has never been. AsBruce Nussbaum said in the same post, “Many firms are plagued Action: They Keep Goingby articulate and persuasive ‘smart talkers’ who sound good inmeetings but get bogged down in abstract complexities.” Good When good designers talk about innovation, they mean (and I makedesigners are good at what I call inspirational tangibility, ‘making no apologies for cribbing Lord Sainsbury’s much quoted definition),it real’, whether it be by concretizing with a sketch what would “the successful exploitation of new ideas”. They don’t stop with theotherwise be abstract thoughts or so many post-its in a meeting, invention. They turn their inspirations into reality.enabling large amounts of complex data to be understood andConfidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. How?Firstly, in the case of a new product or service, it’s unlikely to besuccessfully brought to market unless it can be integrated into andbe supported by all the other aspects of the marketing mix: and ifwe’re talking new business strategy, then good designers have tounderstand how the new offering could and should impact (andto what degree) all the other aspects of the organization: from itsstructure, to its mission and culture…all the way to the businessmodel(s) that underpin everything.Good designers don’t claim to be able to do all these things,but they do know to work with the various functions and outsideresources that do. And unlike some others, they don’t leave theircolleagues at the bus stop; they stay with the project until the endbecause nothing gives a good designer more satisfaction thanbeing able to point to something that everyone else thinks is thebest thing since sliced bread and saying, “I did that!”Secondly, they are good at practical resolution. Bruce Nussbaumdescribes the problem thus, “Some of the smartest execsget bogged down in the messy process of implementation.”But again, good designers’ ability to ‘make it real’ can helpresolve contradictions and find highest common denominatorcompromises, helping the (innovation/ marketing) process moreforward.Thirdly, good designers are good at iterative prototyping, refiningthe concept through repeated cycles and getting feedback fromthe right people as they go. James Dyson famously made twothousand prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner before he gotit right. The rest, as they say, is history.Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.

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