Book Review: Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovation

By Tim Brown and Barry Katz

Brown, T. and Katz, B. (2009)  Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organisations and Inspires Innovation, Harper Business, New York

Guest Reviewer: Joanne Hutchinson

If you are attracted to design thinking, and wondering where to start, then let me introduce you to one of my favourite books in this area:  Change by Design – How design thinking transforms organisations and inspires innovation.
This book is a pleasure to read – practical, coherent and replete with interesting stories that bring the joys and challenges of design thinking to life.  It is one that I keep close to hand in my office for guidance and inspiration.  It is a great starting point into the broader design thinking literature and practice.
Tim Brown is the Chief Executive Officer and President at IDEO, a global design firm in the United States that designs products, services and experiences across public and private sectors tackling challenges as diverse as re-imagining the school day, re-designing the banking experience and re-engineering transport systems for clean water in India and Africa.
Change by Design reflects Brown’s professional evolution as a designer and his search for an inter-disciplinary, human-centred design approach.  If you are the sort of person who is open to new schools of thought, isn’t precious about professional boundaries, likes to make links between ideas and people and has a good feel for how people actually think and behave in real life, then design thinking may be for you.
At the heart of Brown’s design approach is ‘putting people first’.  While this of itself is hardly a revolutionary concept, it is the way Brown and his team think about how to understand the needs of others that is so encouraging.  For instance, in order to better understand the patient experience in a hospital one of his team acted as a patient and discretely recorded the admission and treatment process with a video camera hidden in his gown.  While the hospital saw the patient experience in terms of ‘insurance verification, medical prioritisation and bed allocation’ the video recording revealed that the actual experience was a lot more tedious and stressful for patients than previously understood, with blank walls and featureless ceilings dominating the recording.  This insight resulted in a new co-design process with the hospital to improve dimensions of the patient experience that had been previously little understood, and therefore, overlooked.
My favourite chapter in the book, and one I recommend for those days when you feel a little mental tune-up is needed, is chapter six – A mental matrix, or these people have no process! This chapter takes you through the various intellectual and creative steps that occur when thinking like a human-centred designer.  Brown argues that ‘to experience design thinking is to engage in a dance among four mental states’.  These are divergent and convergent thinking; and analysis and synthesis. It is the rhythmic exchange between the different phases that is the hallmark of the design thinker.
Finally, visualisation and visual communication is a large part of the fun and power of the design thinking process. Brown delivers on this for the reader by including an attention-grabbing illustration on the inside cover which shows, in both words and pictures, the ‘what’ and the ’how’ of design thinking.  Even if you read no further than the inside cover you will have a handy road map to guide your thoughts and actions.
But I recommend you dive in between the covers, it is well worth it.

Joanne Hutchinson runs Social Innovation Branch in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Her interest in design thinking stems from her work, early in her career, in using universal design principles to promote access and inclusion for people with disabilities.

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