5 Questions

By Lori Johnston January 31, 2010

Designing Innovation


Best-selling author Marty Neumeier brings his strategies and insight on the power of design thinking to the 2010 Sarasota International Design Summit at Ringling College this month. Neumeier, author of Zag, The Designful Company and The Brand Gap, has assisted companies such as Apple, Adobe, Netscape, Kodak and Hewlett-Packard. He serves as director of transformation for San Jose, Calif.-based Liquid Agency, which merged in 2002 with Neutron, his design think tank focused on internal branding.

How is the business world evolving toward design thinking?

The biggest change is a change from spreadsheet thinking to design thinking. Spreadsheet thinking is backward looking. You’re looking at what is, not what could be. To compete in today’s superfast world, where everybody is leapfrogging with new innovations, you need to ask, “What could be?” Not what is.

How does the change to design thinking happen?

Today companies have a two-step process. They know something and then they do something. It’s sort of a know-do process. Knowing means we did some research and this is what we found. Design has a different way of working. It inserts a third step. It’s know-make-do. Making is about questioning what we know, asking, “Do we really know what we think we know, or is there something that we are not seeing?” It’s the difference between deciding and designing. Instead of deciding the answer, you design the answer and work through it. It is useful for solving wicked problems.

What are “wicked problems?” Problems that are so complex that you assume you can’t solve them. Design is a way to get at these.

How can companies start to use design-based solutions now?

It often doesn’t start at the top. It happens in the middle of the company, where a group of people conspire to change the company and make it more creative, make it more agile, make it more innovative. It tends to happen quickest in the ideas of design, branding and marketing. Branding is a bigger issue than just corporate identity and symbols and the surface of things. Branding is the effort to improve your reputation in a way that makes you more competitive. It has to start from the inside. It has to be authentic. You really have to ask yourself some very hard questions. Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter? If you can’t find a reason or a way to matter to the rest of the world, then you really have no company.

Can the power of design thinking work for small companies, too?

Even a one-person company can change. It’s a matter of changing your focus from completely driving your company from the numbers to driving it to build a customer base. How are you going to ensure you have a business in five years instead of just doing what you need to stay alive in this quarter?

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