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Change by Design - Book Review

1 January 2018
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation" was written by Tim Brown in 2009. Despite a decade since its publication, the book continues articulating relevant ideas, and the recommended changes are still applicable. Tim Brown, who currently serves as the President and CEO of IDEO, a firm consistently ranked among the world's top ten most innovative companies, expounds upon his professional philosophy in this work related to their design consultancy.


The book explores the following key subjects:
  1. Design concepts

  2. The design development process

  3. Design tools

  4. Mental frameworks

  5. Prototyping

  6. Scenario planning

  7. Collaborative partnerships

  8. Integration of design within organizations

  9. Customer-centric approaches

  10. Contributions to society


The author of this book is deeply immersed in the world of design. Even if one does not fully embrace his ideas, such as incorporating a designer into an organization's management, his guidance is undeniably valuable for any organization seeking to innovate, drive change, and enhance its current practices. Steve Jobs has taught us about the profound impact of aesthetics on quality, and Tim Brown provides a practical guide on how to apply this principle.


Design concepts

The essence of design revolves around the creation of meaningful experiences. It serves as a bridge, connecting sensations with solutions, emotions with rationality, and thoughts with reality. Design addresses need beyond the basics, encompassing elements of great importance in shaping a comprehensive response. It plays a vital role in planning, delivery, change management, and the facilitation of implementation. Its relevance extends beyond physical products, encompassing processes, services, forms, interfaces, and event planning. Design, in its essence, becomes a pivotal component in the art of storytelling.


The foundational principles that underlie the concept of design in this book are as follows:

  1. Customer-Centricity: Placing the customer at the heart of every endeavor, shaping design, planning, and actions from the customer's perspective. This point is intentionally positioned first and presented in the second person because it would undoubtedly be the customer if one central focus were chosen.

  2. Design Thinking: Viewing design as an all-encompassing process that accompanies organizational development at every stage, guided by principles rather than actions. It involves infusing this mindset into all forms of innovation, spanning conceptual realms, and expanding the customer base.

  3. Embracing Emotions: Recognizing that design evokes emotions must be handled carefully, especially when crafting experiences rather than just physical products.

  4. Project-Based Approach: Advocating the consideration of needs within the framework of a project rather than treating them as isolated problems. This approach enhances clarity and direction simultaneously.

  5. Embracing Constraints: Acknowledging that every design arises from a set of constraints, which originate from three partly overlapping domains: feasibility, alignment with a business model, and alignment with the desires of target customers. One selects the most relevant of these constraints to initiate the creative process.

  6. Business Context: Addressing design within the context of business, emphasizing seriousness, goal orientation, and a profound understanding of constraints to bolster the capabilities of the design team.

  7. Collaboration and Sharing: Highlighting the critical importance of examining ideas from the customer's perspective and sharing ideas rather than solitary contemplation. Internally, involving diverse organizational stakeholders is a crucial determinant of successful outcomes, a theme further explored later in this summary.

  8. Cultivating an Experimental Culture: Encouraging an experimental approach in idea development, allowing room for mistakes and learning, and recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe or definitive path to success, but rather, the need to assimilate and adapt these principles and ideas as sources of inspiration, continually tailoring them to the context. Furthermore, it emphasizes that group and individual adjustments are essential for creating meaningful experiences. In essence, good design holds profound significance.


The design development process

  1. Briefing: The development process initiates the creation of a briefing, which defines goals, constraints, and metrics to measure progress.

  2. Seeking Inspiration: Inspiration can take on various forms, including observing daily life, analyzing people's actions and inactions, empathetic observations of others, learning from the extremes of the population, collaborative brainstorming involving design professionals, engineers, and marketers, the amalgamation of academic insights with practical knowledge, and a cognitive understanding of behaviors.

  3. Transitioning from Inspiration to Ideas: This phase involves a cognitive process that transforms inspirational thoughts into tangible ideas. This transition includes two sub-stages: generating alternatives (encouraging open thinking as much as possible) and selecting choices (a more structured synthesis activity).

  4. Implementation: This stage involves the creation of a concrete action plan. These stages partly overlap, and typically, designers navigate a journey from uncertainty and aspiration to confidence and optimism by the conclusion.

Design tools

Mental frameworks

Numerous mental design tools can enhance inspiration and idea generation. These tools include:

  • Brainstorming sessions

  • Visual thinking, utilizing drawing to express ideas

  • The use of notes, such as Post-it notes, on boards


Matrix thinking explores diverse possibilities, including some that may seem contradictory. It operates on the principle of "and" rather than "or," serving as the cornerstone for systematically crafting feasible and successful alternatives.



Prototypes serve as an exceptional tool for visualizing ideas. The iterative process of transitioning between an abstract concept and a tangible product (or software interface) and back again is a fundamental process that allows us to explore the realms of imagination, break down barriers, and unlock new possibilities.


Here are recommendations for effectively employing prototype tools:

  • Utilize prototypes at all stages, from initial inspiration to idea development and eventual realization.

  • Create prototypes in various directions to explore a range of possibilities.

  • Aim for "rough" solutions; avoid excessive investment in overly refined prototypes.

  • Prioritize rapid prototyping to expedite the development process.

  • Stay aware of how the prototype process can lead to the emergence of novel ideas, not necessarily adhering strictly to the initial concept.

  • Utilize various tools for prototype development, including design software, laser cutting machines, 3D printers, and more.

  • Craft prototypes that are dynamic and can effectively illustrate the customer journey, often referred to as the "fourth dimension—the time dimension."

  • Integrate the prototype concept when addressing managerial concerns, such as activity strategy.

  • Evaluate the prototype about the real world, assessing its ability to withstand and adapt to reality.

  • Focus not only on achieving success with a prototype but also on learning from both its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Recognize when it's time to cease further investment in a prototype and instead make decisions and progress toward implementation.


Always remember: While prototypes may seem to slow us down, they do so to accelerate progress and innovation.


Scenario planning

Scenarios depict customer journeys, introducing the dimension of time to new products, services, or even management concepts. They clarify the inspiration, ideas, and implementation methods, making them relevant design tools applicable throughout development. Designers can create customer narratives or, in cases involving data, bring them to life, making them more tangible, testable, and harmonious with the final product.



Collaborative partnerships

Integration of design within organizations

In contrast to the past, when design was confined to a single department with a supporting role, modern organizations increasingly recognize that achieving success requires cross-organizational collaboration on multiple fronts:

  • Organizational Structure: Design now permeates all aspects beyond a dedicated department.

  • Recognition: Design professionals are integrated into management teams and meetings, promoting a strategic and inclusive approach to the design domain.

  • Engagement of Stakeholders: Collaborative efforts involve input from various stakeholders, including marketers, engineers, and designers, ensuring the participation of all relevant individuals within the company. This collaborative approach gains even more significance when design expands from product creation to shaping experiences.

  • Teamwork: To facilitate multi-partner collaboration, sub-teams can be formed to aggregate thought processes, with the principle of equality ensuring that ideas are valued, regardless of their source.


Change is achievable. Engaging doctors, nurses, clerks, and supermarket workers in design thinking and broadening their perspectives is possible through implementing these strategies. Moving away from isolated design departments and distributing responsibility across all organizational units is a prerequisite for success.


To realize these changes, a balance must be struck between the inherent creativity of the design process and the stability necessary for CEOs to guide the organization toward secure and prosperous progress effectively. This balance is attainable!


Customer-centric approaches

It remains unclear whether involving colleagues within the organization who are not designers (as discussed in the previous section) or customers is more challenging. In reality, both are essential components of the equation.


One key factor in reshaping customer relationships involves shifting the focus from products to services. While products revolve around machines, the realm of services is inherently people-oriented. This perspective marks the initial step towards collaborative design with customers rather than merely designing for them.


However, it's worth noting that this perspective can pose a potential obstacle. Service-oriented companies often prioritize stability over innovation. They may introduce new service platforms but frequently hesitate to make substantial changes to the services themselves. Despite this challenge, it's not insurmountable. Since products alone do not guarantee an enhanced customer experience, the design remains significant and feasible in this context. Engaging the customer in such a process is undoubtedly achievable.


Furthermore, involving customers serves an additional purpose beyond product improvement. Customer engagement fosters greater tolerance for product-related issues (as well as the introduction of new products, a natural part of the business). On a broader scale, it cultivates a sense of commitment and loyalty among customers.


Contributions to society

So, where does all of this lead us?


Tim Brown goes beyond merely introducing design thinking to his readers; he places expectations on those engaged in design.


At its core, this approach requires considering how to achieve more and how to accomplish more with less, ultimately benefiting organizations and society.


Taking it further, it underscores the importance of giving back to the community. This involves applying design concepts among those who are less fortunate, whether in the underserved neighborhoods of the city (such as through educational initiatives in public schools) or by temporarily stepping away from one's daily life to contribute to design thinking and implementation in developing countries, be it in Africa or elsewhere. The book's examples depict Brown as assertive and generous, a "demanding implementer."


And if these ideas seem daunting, Brown suggests that the process can start right at home: helping children avoid unhealthy eating habits or improving communication. In short, there are no excuses. Everyone can make a contribution to society through design thinking.


The journey must begin, and the sooner, the better.

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