Change By Design

by Tim Brown

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 12, 2024
Change By Design
Change By Design

What are the big ideas? 1. Design Thinking as a Human-Centered Approach: This book emphasizes the importance of design thinking as a human-centered approach to inno

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Design Thinking as a Human-Centered Approach: This book emphasizes the importance of design thinking as a human-centered approach to innovation that balances technical, commercial, and human considerations. It goes beyond creating new products and applies to a wide range of organizations and challenges. The focus is on understanding people's needs, behaviors, and motivations through empathy and collaboration.
  2. Design Thinking as a Problem-Solving Approach: The book presents design thinking as a problem-solving approach that involves understanding user needs, ideating multiple solutions, prototyping, testing, and iterating. It's a process that requires a balance between exploration and efficiency, collaboration, empathy, and a willingness to learn from failure.
  3. Design Thinking and Prototyping: The book emphasizes the importance of prototyping in design thinking as an essential part of the innovation process. Prototypes help teams develop and refine ideas, test assumptions, avoid costly mistakes, and create authentic customer experiences.
  4. Design Thinking for Social Issues: The book discusses how design thinking can be applied to social issues both globally and locally by focusing on individual motivations and behaviors as well as larger societal structures. Organizations are using design thinking to tackle complex problems in education, healthcare, and other fields.
  5. Design Thinking and Sustainability: The book highlights the role of design thinking in creating sustainable solutions for businesses and individuals. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the true costs of choices, finding ways to do more with less, and encouraging individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors through authentic customer experiences.




  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a design thinker who balanced technical, commercial, and human considerations in his projects.
  • Industrialization has brought about significant changes but also poses challenges such as climate change, excess consumption, and vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters.
  • We need new choices for innovation that balance individual and societal needs and tackle global challenges.
  • Design thinking is an approach to innovation that integrates human-centered design with technical and economic feasibility.
  • Design thinking relies on intuition, pattern recognition, emotional meaning, and expression in various media.
  • Designers can be the hub of a problem-solving wheel instead of just a link in a chain.
  • Design thinking is applicable to a wide range of organizations and challenges beyond just creating new products.
  • Design thinking has become essential for survival and innovation as economic activity shifts from industrial manufacturing to knowledge creation and service delivery.


“Nobody wants to run a business based on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an overreliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as dangerous.”

“Linear thinking is about sequences; mind maps are about connections.”

CHAPTER ONE: Design Thinking Upstream


  • Design thinking is a human-centered approach to solving complex problems and creating innovative solutions.
  • Design thinking involves three stages: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.
  • Inspiration involves empathizing with users and understanding their needs and motivations.
  • Ideation involves generating and evaluating ideas through brainstorming, prototyping, and testing.
  • Implementation involves bringing the solution to market and continually refining it based on user feedback.
  • Design thinking is not just for designers, but for anyone who wants to create innovative solutions to complex problems.
  • Companies can incorporate design thinking into their organizational DNA by creating cross-functional teams, providing space for experimentation, and fostering a culture of innovation.
  • To be effective in a rapidly changing world, individuals need to develop the skills of design thinking: collaboration, focus, flexibility, and a human-centered perspective.


“inspiration, the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation, the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation, the path that leads from the project room to the market.”

“Fail early to succeed sooner.”

“The willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of competing constraints is the foundation of design thinking.”

“There is a popular saying around IDEO that “all of us are smarter than any of us,” and this is the key to unlocking the creative power of any organization.”

“three spaces of innovation”: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.”

CHAPTER TWO: converting need into demand, or putting people first


  • Design thinking starts with empathy for the user, observing their needs and motivations in context.
  • Insights come from a deep understanding of people's behaviors, emotions, and cultures.
  • Collaboration between designers and consumers can lead to innovative solutions.
  • Techniques such as ethnographic research, cultural probes, and unfocus groups help gather insights.
  • Design thinking is about creating with people, not just for them.
  • Understanding group dynamics and cultural differences is essential in today's interconnected world.
  • The role of the designer is evolving from creator to collaborator, facilitator, and enabler.
  • Designers must be open to new ideas, embrace the unknown, and adapt to changing contexts.


“The software engineers who labored over the interface would have probably resorted to the standard lament: “RTFM”—“Read the (ahem) Manual.” For design thinkers, however, behaviors are never right or wrong, but they are always meaningful.”

“The job of the designer, to borrow a marvelous phrase from Peter Drucker, is “converting need into demand.”

“The evolution from design to design thinking is the story of the evolution from the creation of products to the analysis of the relationship between people and products, and from there to the relationship between people and people.”

“Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations.”

CHAPTER THREE: a mental matrix or "these people have no process!"


  • Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathy, creativity, and rationality to find practical, innovative solutions.
  • Empathy is understanding people's needs, desires, and emotions by observing their behaviors, experiences, and motivations.
  • Brainstorming is a group activity for generating ideas through free thinking and open-mindedness, often guided by a facilitator or a structured process.
  • Visual thinking involves communicating and exploring ideas through images, diagrams, sketches, charts, and other visual aids to enhance understanding and creativity.
  • Storytelling is sharing experiences in a way that conveys meaning, emotions, and lessons learned through narrative structures.
  • Prototyping is creating early versions of ideas, concepts, or solutions to test, evaluate, and iterate upon.
  • Divergent thinking involves generating many ideas or possibilities, while convergent thinking involves selecting the best idea from among them.
  • Design thinking requires a balance between divergence (exploration, experimentation) and convergence (decision-making, implementation), with tools like brainstorming, Post-its, and storytelling helping to move projects forward.
  • Integrative thinking is the ability to hold multiple ideas in tension and find solutions that accommodate seemingly opposing viewpoints or requirements.


“In chapter 1, I introduced the idea that a design team should expect to move through three overlapping spaces over the course of a project: an inspiration space, in which insights are gathered from every possible source; an ideation space, in which those insights are translated into ideas; and an implementation space, in which the best ideas are developed into a concrete, fully conceived plan of action.”

“To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism.”

“Optimism requires confidence, and confidence is built on trust. And trust, as we know, flows in both directions.”

“Other case studies demonstrate that brainstorming is as essential to creativity as exercise is to a healthy heart.”

“Brainstorming, ironically, is a structured way of breaking out of structure. It takes practice.”

“Without rules there is no framework for a group to collaborate within, and a brainstorming session is more likely to degenerate into either an orderly meeting or an unproductive free-for-all with a lot of talking and not much listening. Every organization has its own variations on the rules of brainstorming (just as every family seems to have its own version of Scrabble or Monopoly). At IDEO we have dedicated rooms for our brainstorming sessions, and the rules are literally written on the walls: Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. The most important of them, I would argue, is “Build on the ideas of others.”

“All project work is bound by limits: limits of technology, limits of skill, limits of knowledge. But the calendar is probably the most insistent limit of them all because it brings us back to the bottom line.”

“As long as there is no algorithm that will tell us how to bring divergent possibilities into a convergent reality or analytical detail into a synthetic whole, this talent will guarantee that accomplished design thinkers have a place in the world.”

Building to Think: The Power of Prototyping


  • Prototyping is an essential part of design thinking, allowing teams to develop and refine ideas in a tangible way that encourages learning and iteration.
  • Prototypes can be used in all three spaces of innovation: inspirational (early ideation), ideation (developing and refining concepts), and implementation (bringing ideas to market).
  • Prototyping helps teams avoid costly mistakes, such as becoming too complex too early or sticking with a weak idea for too long.
  • Prototypes can be built quickly and cheaply using in-house resources or more precise and expensive versions can be created with outside experts as the project progresses.
  • McDonald's is an example of a company that effectively uses prototyping throughout each space of innovation to test new ideas, refine concepts, and bring them to market.


“Asked by a curious admirer whether the iconic Eames lounge chair came to him in a flash, Charles replied, “Yes, sort of a thirty-year flash.”

“The faster we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and zero in on the best solution.”

“Anything tangible that lets us explore an idea, evaluate it, and push it forward is a prototype.”

“Prototyping at work is giving form to an idea, allowing us to learn from it, evaluate it against others, and improve upon it.”

“One successful example is the Starwood hotel chain, which launched a 3-D, computer-generated prototype of its planned Aloft brand inside the virtual world of Second Life in October 2006.”

“I don’t know if IDEO could have saved the American auto industry, but we would have started with foam core and a hot glue gun.”

“There are many approaches to prototyping, but they share a single, paradoxical feature: They slow us down to speed us up. By taking the time to prototype our ideas, we avoid costly mistakes such as becoming too complex too early and sticking with a weak idea for too long. I”

CHAPTER FIVE: returning to the surface, or the design of experiences


  • Experiences are more complex than inert objects, they vary from place to place, change over time, and are hard to get right.
  • Successful experiences require active consumer participation.
  • Authentic, genuine, and compelling customer experiences are likely to be delivered by employees operating within an experience culture themselves.
  • Every touchpoint must be executed with thoughtfulness and precision.


“With the emergence of digital music and the Internet, however, many more of us are once again making music instead of merely consuming it.”

“the experience blueprint takes the form of a physical document that guides the building of an experience. Unlike a prepared script or an operations manual, it connects the customer experience and the business opportunity.”

CHAPTER SIX: spreading the message, or the importance of storytelling


  • Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that involves empathy, collaboration, and experimentation.
  • Effective storytelling is an important aspect of design thinking as it helps to communicate ideas in a compelling way and engage audiences.
  • Design challenges can be used to mobilize collective intelligence and creativity to solve complex problems.
  • Storytelling should begin early in the innovation process and continue throughout, involving customers and stakeholders in sharing and propagating the story.
  • The success of design thinking lies in its ability to shift from a discrete stylistic gesture to an ongoing, open-ended narrative that engages people and encourages them to carry it forward and write their own conclusions.


“the paradox of choice.” Most people don’t want more options; they just want what they want. When overwhelmed by choice, we tend to fall into behavioral patterns used by those whom Schwartz calls “optimizers”—people paralyzed by the fear that if they only waited a little while longer or searched a little harder, they could find what they think they want at the best possible price.”

“Design can help to improve our lives in the present. Design thinking can help us chart a path into the future.”

CHAPTER SEVEN: design thinking meets the corporation or teaching to fish


  • Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on understanding user needs and creating innovative solutions through empathy, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
  • Design thinking can be applied in various industries, including healthcare, education, and business.
  • The process of design thinking involves several stages: observing users, defining the problem, ideating potential solutions, prototyping, testing, and iterating.
  • Companies that integrate design thinking into their culture can achieve innovation, improved user experiences, and increased customer satisfaction.
  • Design thinking requires a supportive organizational environment, including leadership buy-in, resources, and a focus on collaboration and experimentation.
  • Design thinking is not a magic bullet for solving all business challenges, but it provides a valuable framework for approaching complex problems and creating innovative solutions.
  • Design thinking can be practiced by individuals as well as organizations, and there are various resources available to help people get started, such as books, workshops, and online courses.


“The real innovation, however, was not just the hybrid electric motor but the large, colorful information display that gives drivers a minute-by-minute indication of fuel economy, constantly challenging them to improve the fuel efficiency of their driving.”

“The transformation of a business-as-usual culture into one focused on innovation and driven by design involves activities, decisions, and attitudes. Workshops help expose people to design thinking as a new approach. Pilot projects help market the benefits of design thinking within the organization. Leadership focuses the program of change and gives people permission to learn and experiment. Assembling interdisciplinary teams ensures that the effort is broadly based. Dedicated spaces such as the P&G Innovation Gym provide a resource for longer-term thinking and ensure that the effort will be sustained. Measurement of impacts, both quantitative and qualitative, helps make the business case and ensures that resources are appropriately allocated. It may make sense to establish incentives for business units to collaborate in new ways so that younger talent sees innovation as a path to success rather than as a career risk.”

CHAPTER EIGHT: the new social contract, or we’re all in this together


  • Design thinking can contribute to massive change by informing ourselves about the true costs of our choices, reassessing systems and processes for creating new things, and encouraging individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors.
  • Visual artists, such as Chris Jordan and Edward Burtynsky, use imagery to make the impact of human activities on the environment visible and emotionally resonant.
  • Design thinking can help businesses grow without compromising environmental values by finding ways to do more with less and creating closed-loop systems.
  • The automobile industry is exploring design solutions that increase fuel economy, improve performance, safety, affordability, and sustainability through advanced composites, hybrid electric drive, and efficient accessories.
  • People do not inherently care about energy efficiency; they value comfort, style, and community. Design thinking can help engage people in making more sustainable choices by focusing on their actual values and needs at meaningful points in their lives.


“Whether we find ourselves in the role of customer or client, patient or passenger, we are no longer content to be passive consumers at the far end of the industrial economy.”

“Much has been written about complex nonhierarchical systems in which the behavior of the system is the result not of centralized command and control but of a set of individual behaviors that, when repeated thousands of times, achieve predictable results.”

Design activism: inspiring solutions with global potential


  • Design thinking can be applied to social issues, both globally and locally, by focusing on individual motivations and behaviors as well as larger societal structures.
  • Organizations such as the British Council for Industrial Design and Participle have used design thinking to tackle social problems in the UK and around the world.
  • Design thinking can also be applied to education to foster creativity and innovation in students, rather than eradicating it through traditional analytical methods.
  • Institutions like Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design are experimenting with design thinking-based educational programs for graduate students across various fields.
  • The key is to redirect professional careers towards addressing social issues, rather than viewing it as a temporary detour or charitable act.


“I wrote early on about the benefits that come from seeking out extreme users and why the most compelling insights often come from looking outward, to the edges of the market. The objective is not so much to design for these marginal, outlying populations as to gain inspiration from their passion, their knowledge, or simply the extremity of their circumstances.”

“I argued that exploring the world with our hands, testing out ideas by building them, role playing, and countless other activities are all natural characteristics of children at play. By the time we enter the adult world, however, we have lost most of these precious talents. The first place this begins to happen is at school. The focus on analytical and convergent thinking in education is so dominant that most students leave school with the belief either that creativity is unimportant or that it is the privilege of a few talented oddballs.”

“The school’s staff had become convinced that “in order to produce 21st century learners, we could not use 18th century methods.”

CHAPTER TEN: Designing a Creative Life


  • Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathy for users, ideation of multiple solutions, and prototyping and testing of those solutions.
  • Design thinking can be applied to any field or industry, and it is not limited to traditional design professionals.
  • Empathy is an essential component of design thinking, as it allows us to understand the needs and perspectives of users.
  • Ideation involves generating a wide range of potential solutions, rather than focusing on the first good idea that comes to mind.
  • Prototyping and testing allow us to learn from our assumptions and refine our ideas based on real-world feedback.
  • Design thinking requires a willingness to collaborate with others and be open to new perspectives.
  • Design thinking involves a balance between the pursuit of novelty and the need for efficiency and feasibility.
  • Design thinking can help individuals and organizations innovate and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Design thinking emphasizes the importance of learning from failure and iterating on ideas.
  • Design thinking values the process of creation as much as the final product, and encourages active participation in shaping our world.


“design thinking requires bridging the “knowing-doing gap.” The tools of the design thinker—getting out into the world to be inspired by people, using prototyping to learn with our hands, creating stories to share our ideas, joining forces with people from other disciplines—are ways of deepening what we know and widening the impact of what we do.”

“Leaders should encourage experimentation and accept that there is nothing wrong with failure as long as it happens early and becomes a source of learning.”

“Prototypes need to be testable, but they do not need to be physical. Storyboards, scenarios, movies, and even improvised acting can produce highly successful prototypes—the more the better.”

“There is nothing more frustrating than coming up with the right answer to the wrong question.”

“Good design thinkers observe. Great design thinkers observe the ordinary. Make it a rule that at least once a day you will stop and think about an ordinary situation.”

“If an idea becomes a piece of private property, it is likely to grow stale and brittle over time. If it migrates throughout an organization, undergoing continual permutations, combinations, and mutations, it is likely to flourish.”

“Curse deadlines all you want, but remember that time can be our most creative constraint.”

“What they all shared was optimism, openness to experimentation, a love of storytelling, a need to collaborate, and an instinct to think with their hands—to build, to prototype, and to communicate complex ideas with masterful simplicity. They did not just do design, they lived design.”


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