Why businesses need to think like designers

tim brown leans on a table

Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO, spoke at the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) about the changing economy and how people, businesses and societies as a whole need to think more like designers to keep ahead of the curve.

Ask a room of people what the word design means to them, and you will likely hear a lot about how things look, what they are made of and what colours you can buy it in.  In reality, design encompasses so much more than aesthetics; it is the creative mindset needed to innovate.  Too much effort, recently, has been spent designing things to be as beautiful as possible.  Apple are partly to blame for this, continually releasing new products with hardware thinner and software simpler, at the cost of a huge sacrifice to usability.  Aesthetics are an important part of our interaction with a product, but they should not conflict with the basic Interaction Design principles of discoverability, recovery, consistency and feedback.  Worst of all, these products will simply stop functioning after a few years.

Tim wants the value of the designer to be recognised for what it is.  Design philosophies and techniques are valuable tools at every level of business, and are in fact essentials in order to not stagnate. This idea is not new to Tim; his book Change by Design, published in 2009, outlines how design thinking can allow companies to problem solve from a human-centred approach.  This innovation is vital to ensure businesses don’t fall into the dangerous trap of continually ‘giving customers what they want’.  Products and services that don’t evolve will quickly become mediocre, mundane and undesirable.

This movement is not just coming from the bottom, however, there are big companies pushing for design to give them a competitive advantage.  Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, said in a 2004 interview that “The fracturing of trust is based on the fact that the consumer has been let down”.  Our current economic model is approaching the point of failure.  For widespread change to take place, this action can’t just be sole businesses adopting change.  A total transformation of culture is required.

Apple Watch owners: look away now. Your shiny £600 watch is a danger to us all

The Apple Watch has been on shelves, wrists and bedside tables for 6 months, but has the landscape-changing product we were promised really come to life? I don’t think so, in fact I think the watch could represent a scary change in society – one that we need to keep a close eye on.

I’ll start by saying that I am by no means an Apple critic.  It is far too easy to slam their latest products online, and people have been doing it for years.  The Apple Watch got its fair share of unfounded scrutiny on launch, so here I will be as fair as I can.  I am, however, wary of buying into the hysteria that often surrounds Apple product launches.

Walk into any small design studio, tech startup or boutique coffee shop and you can guarantee there’ll be a beard-wearing creative tapping away at their MacBook, glancing down at their wrist between sips of black coffee.  Ask them about their watch and they’ll excitedly tell you how this £600 device has greatly improved their lives.  They’re drinking more water, running more miles and – according to Apple’s ad ‘Date’ – having more sex.

The benefits portrayed by Apple’s marketing appeal to our fundamental human needs.  Through the beautifully crafted adverts, we convince ourselves that we need an Apple Watch to fulfil our dreams and take a meaningful step towards our life goals.  At this point, the product that arrives really doesn’t matter at all.  The oath has been sworn: we are devotees.  Like the people of Kickstarter who believe an IoT-connected water bottle (yes, that is actually a thing) will improve their lives, Apple Watch users have bought into the idea that every element of our lives needs to be tracked, traced and analysed. And all it takes is a nice video.

Apple product launches are reliably polarising.  There is always a crowd that adore them and a crowd that despise them.  As Apple’s market share grows it is clear that the home team has far more fans, yet the away team still manage to make more noise.  Whether you are attacking or defending Apple’s products, it is time to set these differences aside.

Information mined from smartwatches gives companies like Apple and Google a level of access to the personal intricacies of our lives never before possible.  The power held in this big data is terrifying, yet we are queueing up to give it away.  Not only can targeted advertising now appeal to our (previously) deepest kept secrets, but government departments can wirelessly track us and sell that information internationally.

If the smartwatch is accepted as an integral part of our lives, we are saying “I’m okay with this”.  This lack of privacy is a hairs width away from becoming the precedent, but if we reject it now, it is not too late.