Imagine for a moment that a business needs a radically innovative approach to a vexing problem. Designers and managers start with an intense focus on the human aspect–the real problems their customers face in daily life. Somebody gives the obligatory talk about out-of-the-box thinking. Then they step back–way back–and let creativity, not the cold exigencies of logic, reframe the problem. When it works, this process can lead to startling new solutions. In the parlance of the moment, this is called “design thinking.”
In this fix-the-world Obama moment, when all is up for review, design thinking is applied to everything from new auto showrooms to health care.
Can it also refine your personal life? Warren Berger (above) thinks so. In his new book, Glimmer, Berger argues that basic design strategies can be adapted to everyday issues, such as how to get along with colleagues, how to balance work and life, and how to ease gracefully into old age. Berger says the book’s title expresses that moment when a new solution to an old problem comes into view. “The designer’s job is to solve problems every day and create alternative solutions,” Berger says. “What can the rest of us learn from that?”
To find out, Berger interviewed 100 designers and 100 other innovators and creative types about their methodologies, though most of the book focuses on Bruce Mau (above), the Canadian graphic designer who made his studio’s inner workings available to Berger. In a recent interview, Berger sketched out three ways that design thinking can be applied to your life:
1.Designers are good at asking stupid questions. “Step back and reassess everything. Ask fundamental questions: Why are we living in this city? Why am I in this job? There are all sorts of assumptions in your life to reconsider.”
2.Designers put problems into visual form. “Bruce Mau never thought he’d apply design principles to his own life, but when he was overwhelmed by travel and work he created a graphic representation of how he spent his time. Designers know that when you see everything in front of you, connections and patterns become more understandable.”
3.Designers think laterally. “They force their brains to go sideways and consider solutions that are off the path. For example, a bank can transform into boutique hotel or a community center. Most of what Dean Kamen does is apply technology to new areas. The trick is to avoid problems in a straightforward manner so that you’re open to left-field possibilities. It’s all about getting away from heuristic bias.”
Lurking behind this discussion is a fundamental question: Can design thinking promote happiness? “You can design your life so that it’s stimulating,” Berger said. “Richard Saul Wurman, creator of the Ted Conference, is always learning about a new field. When he’s done with the project or book he moves on. I think that’s a good model for designing one’s life so that it has flow. We tend to be happiest when we’re challenged. But not over challenged.”