As 2017 draws to an end, I had resolved from the beginning to make this a productive year, and more than anything, it turned to be a remarkable one as far as my reading goes! At the onset, there was sufficient appetite to read academic books on design and venture on a learning spree with the sole aim to pick new stuff and refresh my knowledge, challenge some preconceived notions, and change some of my perspectives and help me to go beyond the typical ‘design’ paradigm. In my search of knowledge, I also didn’t realize that I was unknowingly being influenced by the experience and writings from IDEO’s brilliant books and I was lucky to have found some lying on my shelves (that I would refer once in a while) but never got myself around to reading them completely. Now was a good opportunity then!
This is my short review of the magnificent and insightful books on design thinking and innovation this year!
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace / Publisher: Random House) [Book Website]
In this fascinating essay, Ed Catmull charts his career graph alongside the founding and management of Pixar. From his childhood dream of working for Disney to becoming the current President of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, Catmull recounts his love for animation, leadership, and creativity. In all that, he became instrumental in developing the technology which enabled a newly co-founded animation studio ‘Pixar’ in the 90s to create award-winning movies and disrupt the animation industry forever. In general, this book explores various perspectives in successfully leading initiatives that range from collaboration to communication, and in trying out new ideas fearlessly even if they’re destined to fail. I particularly cherished the chapter, ‘Afterword: The Steve We Knew’ that is dedicated to Steve Jobs – he bought the niche Graphics Group from Lucas Films and spun it into Pixar. My impression about Pixar from reading the book was reinforced, not just as a path-breaking studio but for spearheading the use of technology and collaborative efforts in bringing the finer details of the movie characters on the big screen. And that’s not all, it was most humbling to read about Catmull’s humane qualities as an inspiring leader and an entrepreneur in leading Pixar/Disney’s teams on the large movie projects. It’s an exceptional book and a must read for innovators.
Why Should You Pick This Book?
Having read extensively about Pixar and Steve Jobs’ contribution I was already convinced on getting an ‘insider’s look’ into the processes of the studio. So, just like me, if you are curious about Pixar’s legendary mechanism of making their animation movies that create box-office history over and over again then this book is for you. It’s also inspiring to discover Ed Catmull and his humble beginnings as a computer scientist and leading up to his current standing at Disney. There are some valuable insights to have here. Besides, if you have read the several books on Steve Jobs, you will enjoy reading more about the legendary entrepreneur from a newer perspective.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (by Tom Kelley and David Kelley / Publisher: Crown Business) [Book Website]
In particular, I loved this book for its honest and straightforward content laced with actual examples, unlike some other books that may strain your brain with onerous terminology. I’m certain this would resonate with not just regular design enthusiasts who are keenly surfing for creative inspiration but also experienced design thinkers and innovation experts who are addressing the drive for change and innovation. The book debunked several myths in convincing that creativity isn’t a domain for a privileged class of people through the story of Stanford University students Ankit Gupta and Akshay Kothari who built the ’Pulse’ app as part of their program at Stanford’s d.school. That the app was later mentioned by Steve Jobs at WWDC 2010 and bought by LinkedIn speaks volumes about the overall quality of the interaction design, it was a prime example of young entrepreneurs with no background whatsoever in design managing design priorities with design-thinking. Through their book, David and Tom Kelley outline a unique but simple methodology for observing your users performing in their environment in order to uncover innovative themes. Following that approach strongly, David Kelley founded IDEO and the Stanford d.school; while Tom a former management consultant joined David in his and became a partner at IDEO. Together with a team at IDEO, the Kelley brothers have considerable project experience by implementing the design-thinking approach in the innovation corridor. This book is a masterpiece for designers and innovators who are creatively driven to building the next generation app or a solution for the social economy, or if you are someone who’s simply waiting to take their ‘big’ first step in learning how to draw.
In the words of David and Tom Kelley, this is how the book came into existence:
“Why a book about creative confidence? Because we have noticed from thirty years at IDEO that innovation can be both fun and rewarding. But as you look at the sweep of your life and start to think of a legacy that survives beyond it, giving others the opportunity to live up to their creative capacity seems like a worthy purpose. In the midst of David’s battle with cancer in 2007, the recurring question was ‘What was I put on Earth to do?’ This book is part of the answer: to reach out to as many people as possible. To give future innovators the opportunity to follow their passions. To help individuals and organizations unleash their full potential – and build their own creative confidence.”
Why Should You Pick This Book?
After reading this book, I realized, the primary focus of the publications from IDEO was on the projects that it had accomplished, whether it was the approach or enlightening the reader with their tools, etc. Although ‘Creative Confidence’ is all about the creative projects too but it also connects with the virtues of design-thinking as a common design enthusiast’s tool and also connects that with the outcomes. The last few chapters towards the end are the most riveting that explore the tools of the design-thinking methodology in depth which would be of greater interest to any curious mind.
Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation (by Tim Brown / Publisher: Harper Business) [Book Website]
I have associated myself with the core values of IDEO’s ‘human-centered design’ (popularly known as ‘design-thinking’) methodology through their books in my consulting engagements. Then over a period, I began to ponder about the extent and the influence of the design-thinking process where the use of technology is either limited or absent, for instance, social causes where human problems are at the forefront. I am glad I came across ‘Change by Design’ which gave me a well-documented perspective of the influence of design as a strategic tool on the socio-economic sector as well. To be honest, this book explores the depth of design-thinking and its impact on business innovation using real-world examples in every respect and it is authored by IDEO’s CEO and President, Tim Brown. Some of the concepts from ‘Change By Design’ that I personally reviewed and admired in depth include the ‘divergent vs convergent thinking’ for ideation, in that, observing user-behaviour in the real world and asking “why?” instead of “what?” to gain more insights is highlighted; using multiple perspectives and weird backgrounds for fresh ideas and views, making it visual (sketching) to explain ideas and building on the ideas of others (brainstorming), moving from consumption to participation and the need to design participatory systems, and finally, understanding that design-thinking is an exploratory process which should lead to surprises & unexpected discoveries. In all of this, I consider ‘Change By Design’ a detailed textbook on design-thinking and recommend it to professionals in the strategic innovation area who do not want to limit their creative strides to technology.
Why Should You Pick This Book?
From the basics of design-thinking outlined in this insightful publication, this book measures the influence of design on social parameters with projects undertaken by IDEO through case-studies. Brilliant text.
The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from Ideo, America’s Leading Design Firm (by Jonathan Littman and Tom Kelley / Publisher: Crown Business) [Book Website]
I left the review of the best book for the end, and actually, took the longest time to also finish this book after I received it as a gift back in 2007 at a marketing seminar. I began reading the book from scratch again, and along the way, I discovered some more details. In the book ‘Creative Confidence’ there’s information about working on “side projects”, ‘The Art of Innovation’ (TAOI) started as one such side project for Tom Kelley. As with some other publications, TAOI delves deeper into IDEO’s now famed culture of innovation using design-thinking starting with the shopping cart redesigning project for the ABC’s ‘Nightlife’ program. Not just the design projects, but the book is a definite collection of other such case studies and tools for designers with the aim to provide clues about the thought process. There were some vital takeaways for me which includes bearing a playful mindset, there’s no alternative to innovation (innovate or die), one needs to foster a culture of creativity and accept that everyone is creative, make trade-offs that the world would accept, and last but definitely not the least the concept of ‘cross-pollination’ in reading a variety of literature and sharing the knowledge to gain more insights. Apart from this, there are several examples from the 90s and early 2000s on the failures and successes of products (such as the Palm). It’s the narration of the case-studies which is timeless and which does not fail to catch your imagination even as you complete the book and begin thinking about the design process in earnest.
Why Should You Pick This Book?
You should read this book before reading the rest. It’s an older publication no doubt but you will enjoy gathering insights from the design projects which are still relevant today, particularly the collaborative nature of designing for clients. This book has more to offer than just the discussion around design and design-thinking, what you would get is also the tools and the practices, and the inspiring stories about how everything came together in creating value.
The perspectives I have gained from my reading of these books has definitely fuelled my interest in strategic innovation and design, and I’m in the process of lining up some more titles to read in 2018. I am hoping to do better than 4 books next year!