Episode 4 — Design Thinking

In this episode, we discuss “design thinking,” a problem-solving approach that is now applied in business and education, as well as in the creation of new products and services. We talk with Jim Tappel, a professor at the University of Cincinnati and former IDEO employee, about how engineers might best coexist with, or even embrace, this approach to discovering new solutions.

  • Jeff once used the intro and outro music of a Dire Straits song, Industrial Disease, in the background of a video featuring a robotic gripper he had designed.
  • Jim is currently involved with Cooperative Education at the University of Cincinnati. At a previous point in his career, Jim worked for the well-known design firm, IDEO.
  • An article that tells designers to excite engineers with performance issues is The Key to Sustainable Product Creation: The Marriage of Engineering and Design.
  • Tracy Kidder’s book, The Soul of a New Machine is referenced by Jim as documenting one corporation’s willingness to fail.
  • A series of increasingly capable robots from the movie, “The Incredibles,” is noted by Chris; he is probably thinking of the Omnidroids?
  • Swiss watch manufacturers thought outside the box in creating Swatch watches.
  • “Design Thinking” covers a broad swath of ideas, as evidenced by its entry in Wikipedia.
  • Eddie Obeng has written about “foggy” projects in his book New Rules for the New World: Cautionary Tales for the New World Manager. Such efforts lack a clear objective, and the existence of any workable solution is uncertain.
  • Jeff mentions a book by the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown: Change by Design.
  • We learn about the importance of “kiss off” and “suck back” in making toothpaste enticing to consumers.
  • Jim estimates that when coming up with new ideas, the success rate is about 2%; it takes the courage to generate a lot of mediocre and bad concepts to find a winning solution.
  • In reference to a Dan Saffer video about design thinking, Jim notes that there is more to the methodology than putting a whole bunch of post-it notes up on the wall.

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Thanks to Dawn D for the photograph from Design 2020.

One thought on “Episode 4 — Design Thinking”

  1. I liked the “improvisational jazz” analogy to the iterative/consultative activites that go on during design. Each watching other players for ques and trying something out and checking for approval. nice.

    I really enjoyed listening to the audio book of Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman’s Ten Faces of Innovation. I was particularly influenced by their ideas on “paper thin protoypes” and their notions of anthropology and design. I think its useful to bring props to hardware design meetings. Sometimes I’ll use a bit of cardboard and blutac (moldable putty?) some components to it to foster ideas of what form some PCB might take. IDEO sounds like an interesting place to work.

    I was an in-house, phone and field service technician for a time before I did any engineering work. I do think that has given me a different perspective. For some products there can be several stages of “users”. Taking something like hotel door locks (‘cos i like using them as an example). I suppose the hotel guest is the ultimate end user but the design might also need to take into consideration the staff/management of the hotel, the onsite installer and commissioner of the units. You might also consider production and Q/A staff and service techinicians “users”. You’d give some thought as to how your design will affect their tasks.

    I also liked Simon Sinek’s ideas from “Start with Why” although I’m not convinced by all of his arguments. And I also like Dan Ariely’s books. I’m kind of picking and choosing notions and concepts from these and other sources and forming a composite philosophy of what humans want and why they would buy a thing.

    Finally, on constant dialog during a project, this cartoon which was posted on one of our engineers walls sums it up well for me: http://www.projectcartoon.com/cartoon/2851


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