Design Thinking


Design Thinking

Design thinking is innovation intelligence. Design thinking is not about the combination between aesthetic sensibilities and design capabilities.  It is moving the right brainers to the core of the organizational globe. I understand it as a practical application, a systematic approach to problem solving and innovation with a very unique way of thinking. To me, design thinking is both an innate quality and a learned, practiced skill; art and science; heart and mind.

Industrialism vs. Craftsmanship

In order to understand the not-so-recent surfacing of the term, it's important to rewind back a decade or so. In the path of manufacturing wealth, humanism and the emotional connection between makers and consumers were done away with by the cold production line. Morality, emotions, and aspiration were no longer a business practice much less a requirement. It's no surprise to find so many brands dealing with distrustful clients, disconnected consumers, apathetic employees and bland, non-impressive products & services. And that's on a good day.

Case in point, Ford Motor Company. On January 23, 2006, at the time Bill Ford announced the closing of fourteen factories (cutting 34,000 jobs), he said this in relation to the failed ways and new plans:

"Here is what we will not stand for: incremental change, avoiding risk, thinking short-term, blocking innovation, tying our people's hands, defending procedures that don't make sense, and selling what we have instead of what the customer wants. In short, we will not stand for business as usual. [...] We call our North American plan, “The Way Forward.” It’s bold and sweeping and it builds on the innovation-driven vision we talked about last September. It puts the customer first. [...] We must be guided by our long term goals of building brand, satisfying customers, developing strong products and accelerating innovation. [...] To me, innovation is seeing what others can’t see, and using that vision to build what others have never built. [...] As we tried to design it, test it, and launch it on time, we found that the old systems and methods were getting in the way. So we put scientists and product engineers on the same design team and offered them the flexibility to get the job done. [...] Today, we are moving from a culture that discourages innovation back to a company that celebrates it."

This is refreshing, to hear a Chairman and CEO speak in such non-conventional terms, with emphasis on what we, design thinkers, have always been advocating: thinking different. Today we see many companies forced to analyze their business and finally figuring out that true differentiation requires more than business as usual.Breaking away from incremental improvements required something new.

Disruptive Innovation

In this very congested tech world filled with a massive influx of apps, goods, and services fighting for a piece of the Millennial (Generation Y) pie, differentiation can be the most powerful business strategy. What powers differentiation? Innovation. And what drives innovation? Design thinking. Design drives innovation, innovation powers brand, brand builds loyalty, and loyalty sustains the bottom-line, profits. Awesome-sauce!

Disruptive innovation can be the greatest advantage any company can tap into with the help of design thinkers. Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation as:

...the innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

Be mindful. Be designful. Be a catalyst.

I believe that design thinking empowers. It is the key to innovation. And it is hard work because it's about action. In the commercial sphere, it is the intelligence that allows innovation, customer experience, and brand value to intertwine into one solid chord. However, there's a greater purpose that's evident the minute you step outside the corporate sphere and consider the human race as ONE people sharing and consuming the Earth's resources. What are we going to do with this incredible tool we hold in our hands, the power of innovation for a greater good? How can we improve not just our lives but the lives of others around the globe? How can we improve our environmental footprint? How can we collaborate, share knowledge, contribute more and consume less?


Design Thinking (WIP)

What's Design Thinking

Culture & Ecosystem

Mind, Heart & Gut

A New Business Model

Design Thinking Tools (WIP)

Visualization User-Experience & UCD Brainstorming Napkin Pitch Assumption Testing Prototyping Listen, Learn & Iterate

Personality Profile of a Design Thinker

Personality Profile of a Design Thinker

I just had to share this written by Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO. It's the breakdown of the mindset of a design thinker. Published by Harvard Business Review.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need weird shoes or a black turtleneck to be a design thinker. Nor are design thinkers necessarily created only by design schools, even though most professionals have had some kind of design training. My experience is that many people outside professional design have a natural aptitude for design thinking, which the right development and experiences can unlock. Here, as a starting point, are some of the characteristics to look for in design thinkers:


They can imagine the world from multiple perspectives—those of colleagues, clients, end users, and customers (current and prospective). By taking a “people first” approach, design thinkers can imagine solutions that are inherently desirable and meet explicit or latent needs. Great design thinkers observe the world in minute detail. They notice things that others do not and use their insights to inspire innovation.

Integrative Thinking.

They not only rely on analytical processes (those that produce either/or choices) but also exhibit the ability to see all of the salient—and sometimes contradictory—aspects of a confounding problem and create novel solutions that go beyond and dramatically improve on existing alternatives. (See Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.)


They assume that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution is better than the existing alternatives.


Significant innovations don’t come from incremental tweaks. Design thinkers pose questions and explore constraints in creative ways that proceed in entirely new directions.


The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborator. The best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines; many of them have significant experience in more than one. At IDEO we employ people who are engineers and marketers, anthropologists and industrial designers, architects and psychologists.



A Culture Conducive to Design

A Culture Conducive to Design

There's always been such an emphasis on the look & feel of office spaces that I wouldn't be surprised if images of cool agencies come to your mind when we speak of the culture and ecosystem of creative agencies or design-related offices. You can find any of the above strewn all over my neighborhood in San Francisco. Too often the more important elements of the human ecosystem are the most neglected and dysfunctional. Social, cultural, and behavioral elements, the way people interact and get work done, that's where the focus should be, particularly by user-centered designers striving to become design thinkers.

Design thinking requires adaptive, dynamic systems that challenge the dysfunctional linear traditional management dogmas (processes) that have stuck around for no intelligent reason. Creativity is such a wonderful and amazing quality that every effort should be made to safeguard that spirit individually and as a team. Here is a list of behaviors and practices that are conducive to design thinking and those that will extinguish creativity in a flash.

Design Culture vs. Cult

What do you get if you mix the cult of performance & short-term success with the cult of productivity and busyness? The result would be a performance-driven system that rewards the folks who seem busy working long hours, who aim for quick wins, and fix short-term problems, instead of recognizing the invaluable contribution of those who aren't afraid of being accountable, of taking time to think and play with ideas; who gladly take on challenges that have no easy solutions; who have a macro view of the landscape and apply long-term strategic solutions.

My two cents...

I'm grateful (and brave enough) to design for businesses in incredibly diverse industries. (Although I must admit, at the time of writing this I've reached a pivotal point that comes from the realization that the establishments that control the systems that make up these industries are far too wealthy, powerful, and dangerous; and unless we design thinkers do something about it like innovate for the betterment of the world as a whole instead of contributing to a corporation's bottom-line at the cost of our planet/child labor/human rights, our future looks bleak...but that's a topic reserved for another post.)

I've worked among very talented peeps as a user-centered designer (UCD), user-experience designer, art director, visual artist... in San Francisco. I've been inside banking giants (just don't tell anyone), sat next to dotcom millionaires, innovated with innovation agencies, worked with startups, non-profits, health industry, gaming industry, you name it. I can still say one of the most draining environments is the rigorous process driven system held together by red tape. The memories of hours sitting on meetings about processes for processes makes my skin crawl. At the heels of that comes the competitive spirit and jealousy mostly displayed by women within large corporations and sales-driven companies. I get that they're hungry for a spot in that corporate ladder. That's most certainly not what drives me but I can try to empathize. It's just such a shame that it's usually done at the price of innovation and collaboration. Still, I am not easily discouraged. I believe positive change is contagious. There's incredible power in leading by example. If you want things to change, then do something about it today. Better late than never! :D

The Millennials–Young, wild and free

The Millennials–Young, wild and free


Why care about Generation Y? Because you work with them, you probably manage a few, you market to them, you design for them, and because their take on life, work and everything in between is so different than most generations past. Another reason: Millennials are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce, with estimated numbers as high as 70 million. Wouldn't you want to understand what drives them and what makes them tick?

Keep in mind, there are exceptions to every generation. Not trying to create a Gen box here. That would not be cool. These are just general characteristics that are too great to ignore and understanding some of the differences helps us work so much better together. Inspiration came from a great article published on the HOW-March 2012 issue entitled "Millennials: What makes them tick?" Great read!

So who makes up the Millennials or Generation Y? According to some, it includes those born between 1978 and 1999.

Some of the characteristics:

  1. A job is an experience, not part of a career
  2. Multitaskers (conversations, projects, clients, entertainment)
  3. They're team-oriented (collaboration)
  4. They deal with change easily
  5. They value life outside of work above all else
  6. They have a strong sense of entitlement
  7. They value innovation ("latest & greatest")
  8. They believe & rely on the web for product/company recommendations
  9. They're the most socially-conscious group
  10. They won't respond if you're trying too hard

1. Jobs come and go. How they view their jobs is incredibly important and I can relate from my own personal experience. I certainly don't view my career in a linear fashion. Millennials are more likely to try one job for a short period of time and move on to something new just to see what that's like. There's no such thing as a job downgrade when they're in pursuit of a new experience.

2. Short attention span? You mean multitasker. Their ability to multitask is incredible thanks to having cell phones, texting, video games, and the internet as a standard in their lives. This also means they'll get bored easily if you spoon-feed them single projects at a time. And remember they're adept at technology, probably more than their list of abilities outlines.

3. Two brains are better than one. They value collaboration, in person and more so online, and thrive in an open atmosphere. Working in teams comes naturally to them. If they're working on very complex projects all on their own, be ready for an inundation of questions about the project and associated tasks.

4. Change is part of the norm. That's right! Because they've experienced high's and low's in this economy, they're not phased by change, unlike their predecessors. They adapt very fast. Losing a job, having pay cuts and changes to responsibilities is just part of working. They know they'll be changing jobs sometime soon anyways, so what's the big deal. (Shrugs shoulders)

5. Overtime at double-time pay? Sorry, got plans. It's not just the talk. They do really value their personal time over anything else. Their strong sense of identity is not associated with what they do for income. Their happiness (and identity) comes from what they do with their free time. They prefer to makes less and work fewer hours than having large salaries without a personal life. This also means flexible work hours are much more effective for this group. Hate to break it to ya, but if you try forcing them to a 9-5, they're just going to jump ship quicker. Just the way it is. (Shrugs shoulders)

Additionally, how & with whom they spend their working hours is just as important. They will not be a part of efforts/jobs/companies that don't align with their value systems.

6. They want it all now. What trenches? They don't necessarily believe in putting in the time in order to yield rewards or greater responsibility. If you manage them, focus on helping them gain experiences rather than talking about the time it takes to gain a promotion or new responsibility.

7. They'll readily try the newest "latest and greatest". They're not after status claims. They simply want to try whatever hits the market that's most innovative (app, device, gadget, etc.).

8. Did you read that article about... It's not just a funny exaggeration on Portlandia, they consume information from the web when making decisions because they trust the voice of fellow consumers. (Side note: Another reason why we should all stand strong against SOPA and PIPA, which would take away the transparency and freedom of speech online. Had to throw that in there ;-P)

9. Having a cause is just part of life. Since their value system is not based on money or greed, they will freely volunteer and donate to good causes. They support companies that stand for great causes and will happily influence others on your behalf in support of such. They'll talk about it online.

10. Um, you're trying too hard. They enjoy a good laugh but hard-edge sarcasm is not cool, anywhere. Limit them by boxing them in and you'll completely miss the mark. Try to impress them with technology and you'll just look like a fool. Be open, transparent and give them tools to use however they choose. Empower them and let them run with it. You will be surprised how well this fluid (non-rigid) and natural approach works.

What's your take on Gen Y? I'd love to hear about your personal experience being a Millennial or working with them.

Here's a sweet little song to set you in the Y state of mind ;-P

Responsive Design - The Basics

Responsive Design - The Basics



With Apple's latest release of the MacBook Pro with Retina display, it's more than apparent that responsive design is in full throttle. Very soon Windows-based laptops, ultrabooks, and tablets will also follow suit with the help of Intel's Ivy Bridge. Therefore, responsive design is no longer a bonus design skill set, it's a necessity for any designer who wants to remain current and design device-independent layouts.

A pixel is simply no longer a pixel

On any device with Retina display, a pixel is no longer a pixel, not one-to-one. Retina displays translate pixels or points to whatever the device dpi demands, usually something over 300dpi. 

On iPhone 4, a point is two pixels; draw a one-point line, and it shows up two pixels wide. So: just specify your measurements in points for all devices, and iOS automatically draws everything to the right proportion on the screen. Text and images remain the same physical size on both old and new phones. That goes for bitmap images in legacy apps, too; iOS 4 blows ‘em up, automatically pixel-doubling them to adapt to the new phone’s resolution.

Of course, pixel-doubled images don’t take advantage of the gloriously crisp display on the new phone. That’s where your extra legwork comes in: to add high-resolution images to your app, you have to include a second set of all your graphic files. For every image in your app, add a second version that’s twice the size, adding @2x to the name. For a low-resolution image named image.png, for example, you would add a second file named image@2x.png. The new image will be picked up automatically by iPhone 4. Everywhere your code requests image.png (or even just plain old image), image@2x.png will be used instead.

All of this leads us to consider yet another part of your responsive strategy, progressive enhancement or graceful degradation. A topic for another post.

Practical Design Suggestions

There are a few things you can do to optimize for retina displays, avoid the pixelated images and even make your layouts responsive-friendly.

  • Adobe Illustrator
     Do yourself a favor and setup your mobile and web layouts in Illustrator
    Export your image at 200% and use code to resize and display them at 50% of your image's proposed dimensions
  • Javascript
    You can pinpoint an image and half the height and width
  • SVG
    This is what I believe will become a standard in the new future so embrace it


Service Design Thinking

Service Design Thinking

Service design strategy for the new Westfield Food Ordering Service.