Design Thinking

IDEO's Future of Automobility work included in Cooper Hewitt's "The Road Ahead: Reimagining Mobility" Exhibition

Visitors are prompted to capture their own hopes, needs and desires for future mobility on post-it notes and to place them upon a life-sized sketch of a vehicle designed to support shared mobility.

Visitors are prompted to capture their own hopes, needs and desires for future mobility on post-it notes and to place them upon a life-sized sketch of a vehicle designed to support shared mobility.

It is such a pleasure to see work from IDEO’s four part exploration of “The Future of Automobility included within the Cooper Hewitt’s “The Road Ahead: Reimagining Mobility Exhibit. On view at the New York’s Cooper Hewitt through March 31st, 2019, the exhibit explores how we might move people, things, spaces and information in the 21st Century and beyond. Innovative concepts, prototypes and simulation work exploring how future forms of mobility and new approaches to urban planning might emerge are featured from leading companies working in the mobility domain.

Concepts created for the Future of Automobility series exploring moving people, things, spaces and together are on view within the exhibit space.

Concepts created for the Future of Automobility series exploring moving people, things, spaces and together are on view within the exhibit space.

An Old Favorite: Danny Goodman's Macintosh Handbook

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Many fond memories of shaping early interaction design courses way back in 1993 persist here at the bivouac. I was fortunate to enter the field at a time when computing had matured just enough to become accessible to a wider range of creatives. I was also lucky to teach both introductory and advanced courses in computer visualization.

For the introductory course, I relied upon Danny Goodman’s excellent Macintosh Handbook Featuring System 7. Bringing together Danny Goodman and Richard Saul Wurman, this publication was and remains an exceptional example of accessible and visually delightful educational material. The illustrations are clear and inviting and they demystified the breakthrough technology on offer from Apple at the time.

The book is innovative in other ways as well. Information and terms are supplemented with hypertext-like cross-references to related content in other sections of the book. This is such a great reminder of the heady days of the dawn of the Macintosh and the promise of newly accessible computing for all creatives to enjoy.

For other inspirational publications check out the bivouac’s list of design related readings. Overall, Danny Goodman’s Macintosh Handbook remains an outstanding exemplar of clear and inspirational instructional reference material. It is one that passes the test of time in a fast moving technical context. For a first hand account of what went into creating the publication visit Nathan Shedroff’s site article.

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The publication visuals mimic the Macintosh operating system visuals including a “finder” menu along the top of many pages, to further demystify the new to world Apple technology.

Mobility Moment: CASE Brings New Hot and Cool Opportunities to the Road Ahead

Sharing the gig economy. A driver using a shared vehicle cuts the cost of their shared vehicle session by running an errand (in this case picking up fresh vegetables for the week and storing them in a cool vehicle storage area) for the vehicle owner.

With Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric vehicles on the horizon, the gig economy and the sharing economy may well intertwine in interesting new ways.

Imagine accessing a shared vehicle for a few hours and paying for that time by running an errand for the vehicle owner. By picking up their groceries and placing them in a cooled storage area, everyone benefits. Mobility is gained and money saved by the vehicle borrower and time is saved for the vehicle owner. Vehicle utilization goes up as well.

As envisioned in IDEO's Future of Automobility provocation series, accessible heated and cooled storage spaces could enable a range of new on-demand services.

For more see the Moving Together section of IDEO's Future of Automobility provocation.

Things Come Apart

Todd McLelllan's new book "Things Come Apart" sets itself apart with photos of classic objects which have been disassembled and photographed as masterful compositions. In the digital age, McLellan's work serves as a poetic reminder of all that goes into the objects that play a part...big or our every day lives.

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Book Alert: Things Come Apart - A Teardown Manual for Modern Living by Todd McLellan (Thames & Hudson)

The Future of Phones

"Comfort Zone" image from work done as part of a future technology forecasting project I contributed to in 2000 at IDEO.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of contributing some thoughts that informed Alexis Madrigal's Atlantic article "iPhone 5? Yawn. What Will the 'Phone' of 2022 Look Like?"

While so many are understandably appreciating the latest offering from Apple in the "phone-on-glass'" category, the article does a nice job of encouraging us to think beyond today's prevailing interaction paradigms and from factors toward a future with a greater variety of form factors as well as richer, more seamless interactions. Who knows, while displays are getting bigger this week, in 2022 the next big thing might be pretty small.

Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept: Small is the Next Big Thing in Luxury

Cadillac's Urban Luxury Concept which debuted this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show is just the kind of product that will continue to fuel General Motor's emergence from bankruptcy. For those that took part in a fairly strong IPO this week, this is another encouraging sign of solid design thinking taking place at GM these days. With room for four, estimated fuel economy ratings of 56 mpg city/65 mpg highway, and a number of innovative features in store beyond the scissor-style doors, the bivouac says bring this to market ASAP! This is "Art and Science" that's great for both the senses and the planet. See more photos via World Car Fans.

2010 College of Design Commencement Address at North Carolina State University

Last spring, I had the honor of giving the commencement address at the 2010 College of Design at North Carolina State University. Recently I visited the College of Design again, now as a member of the College of Design's Leader Council. It was a real pleasure to be back walking the halls, meeting with Dean Malecha and other council members and most importantly, having an opportunity to view student work.

Notable digital animations, examples of graphic design and textiles design, compelling architectural work and stories of students making a difference in rural settings through real-world projects that are improving the landscapes in which children learn and grow were all shared. All of this served yet again as a strong reminder that design thinking is truely alive and well at the College of Design. 

The commencement address I gave last can be viewed in the context of the College of Design's Design Influence publication or here after the break.

2010 College of Design Commencement Address

Danny Stillion, Master of Product Design with a concentration in Visual Design

Class of 1992

“Never waste a crisis.” You may well have heard leaders recently citing this phrase. It is my belief that this group, perhaps more than many others celebrating across campus today, has the power to lead the way through this time of crisis and to better days ahead. Since leaving this special place, I have had the privilege in my professional life of engaging in design thinking with a rich range of clients and colleagues. We have empowered others through collaborating across disciplines and have met some tough challenges together. I believe that by practicing design thinking and by empowering others to do so, that we can overcome the pervasive cynicism and obstructionist tendencies we deal with all to often in today’s society. More importantly, we can learn lessons from how we got here and apply them to reach meaningful solutions and move forward.

The College of Design prepared me well for carrying out design thinking long before the term was coined. And, as is indicated in the work of many of you, it is clear that design thinking continues to be actively explored at the College of Design today. Valuing open collaboration, interdisciplinary points of view and a deep sense of empathy are powerful things I gained from my time here. Each continues to bolster my work on a daily basis and undoubtedly will also serve you well as you move forward from this place.

Your accomplishments clearly indicate that you have the skills and passion to create. But it is my sincere hope that the path you shape for yourselves moving forward leads you to fertile places where creation is celebrated. I also hope that design thinking will help ensure that you are creating the kinds of meaningful systems, creative expressions, objects, experiences, and spaces that the world truly needs. To that end, I invite you to couple your creative energy with the spirit and approach of design thinking, so that you continually find yourselves in those fertile and meaningful places of creation.

Creations of Meaning

You may have noticed that I referred to you as “creators” rather than “creatives,” as is often the term used in fields such as advertising. For creativity exists in many domains…ranging from astronomy to zoology. Indeed, as we now perhaps are all too aware, within the fields of finance and politics, creativity also is alive and well. But as we have seen in recent times with things like mortgage-backed derivatives and divisive political strategies, being creative does not necessarily ensure that you will be creating something positive or meaningful. In order to bring more meaningful creations into the world, I encourage you to think about the opportunities before you through the powerful lens of design thinking. Design thinking encourages us to take a balanced view on problems and opportunity spaces by considering business viability, technical feasibility as well as human desirability.

The scope and scale of today’s challenges are such that channeling your creative endeavors through active design thinking may well be the best way to help shape our politics, our environment and the ways in which we live, stay connected, and inspire one another.Never before has the need for those who actually create positive things and systems been so great. In today’s world where the gulf between those who have unprecedented wealth and those who have nothing is ever widening, and the politics of fear make almost everything seem impossible in the eyes of the powerful, poor and pundits alike. You represent as a collection of designers and artists something the world sorely needs. You, in short, are creators.

You inspire others with your imagination and vision. And through practicing design thinking, you can help others with your creations. With the skills, perspectives and experiences gained here at the College of Design, you now have a valuable offering with which to go out into the world. It is one that couples both thinking and doing, allowing you to transform concepts into powerful, tangible creations.

The principles of design thinking are perhaps more clearly articulated today than they have even been. Many may be familiar to you. But I urge you to take them forward with you. I know I have benefitted from a wealth of connections, insights and experiences that have resulted from keeping the following five points in mind when I create with others.

1. Discover by listening

A colleague of mine, Diego Rodriguez, is keeping a list of innovation principles handy. The first of these is: “Experience the world instead of talking about experiencing the world.” In order to stay human-centered in our creative endeavors, we must spend time with those we are creating with and really hear their voices and needs. Notice I said with—not creating for—as it is often through true collaboration that the most appropriate and compelling innovations come to life.

2. Prototype and quickly make things

This is a powerfully liberating notion and one that may come easy to many in an academic context, but I urge you to hold on to this spirit of prototyping as you move onward in your creative endeavors. David Kelley, one of IDEO’s founders, speaks about the power of failing early to succeed sooner. If you keep this in mind, it will free you to try new things, to reinvent and liberate you from what Steve Jobs refers to as “the dogma of the past.” Seek to love what you do but embrace the value of prototyping and guard against things becoming too precious…especially early in the creative process. Embrace feedback and the ideas of others and your work will move to a new level of meaning. You will undoubtedly have setbacks in your projects and perhaps even in your careers, but my hope is that keeping this notion of prototyping with a purpose in mind will help guide you to the next level in your creative process. Regardless of what challenges arise, having a deep value for prototyping will ensure that you always maintain an attitude that allows you to learn from failure. This will serve you well throughout your careers.

David Kelley, one of IDEO’s founders, speaks about the power of failing early to succeed sooner. If you keep this in mind, it will free you to try new things, to reinvent and liberate you from what Steve Jobs refers to as “the dogma of the past.” Seek to love what you do but embrace the value of prototyping and guard against things becoming too precious…

3. Building in addition to ideation

Design thinking at IDEO certainly involves building in addition to ideation. You are now in a great position to leverage your technical skills to bring your ideas to fruition. Such a balanced approach of thinking and doing insures that the right things are built in the right way. As a complement to the value of early prototyping, we must also find the commitment as creators to see things through, thus bringing meaningful products, services or experiences into the world.

4. Craft stories, not just concepts

Storytelling is one of the most important tools we have to invite others to take part in the power of design thinking. Take time to tell stories. I used to value the notion that creative work could stand on its own. But to be inclusive and allow others to experience powerful creative journeys, it is often important to tell the stories that inspire your creative endeavors. By doing so, it may well help others grasp the power of empathy or the beauty of aesthetics in ways they never thought possible. If nothing else, it can help demystify the creative process for colleagues from other disciplines. The more we share our stories of creativity—what inspires us and how we maintain a human-centered design approach—the more our colleagues will come to respect what we do. And rather than working your way out of a job by empowering others to learn a bit more about how you do what you do, I think you will find more often than not, that they become better collaborators, bringing higher level challenges to you.

5. Nurturing a culture that is both inspired and inspirational

Somewhat tied to the first principle of discover by listening, this final point emphasizes the need to always be looking at the world around you for inspiration, and, when occasions present themselves, giving back by inspiring others. This means inspiring creators and non-creators alike. For in the world today, we cannot do all that is needed alone. We must inspire creating within others so that we can, through collaboration, reach higher goals together.

So, in closing, in addition to these thoughts regarding the value that design thinking might serve in your lives moving forward, I would like to just share a few additional thoughts. Find what you love to do. I am sure that your time here at the College of Design has served many of you well in that regard. Yet with many fields of creation being so diverse, embrace that spirit of prototyping to find your path. And stick to things long enough to bring meaningful things into the world along the way. Work hard at what you love. Seek out and surround yourself with good people—people open to collaboration and to the power of design thinking and doing.

Thank you, and best wishes.

The New Face of BMW Motorrad...Yes Please!

A recent study indicates that people love cars with angry faces. This finding has long been recognized by automotive designers. In fact, shaping the faces of vehicles to make a statement has been an important aspect of the design process for many car companies over the years. With the release of the K1600GT and K1600GTL, BMW is migrating some of the most recognizable "facial" elements from its automobile division to its motorcycle group.

Here's hoping that this new face of motorrad propegates throughout BMW's motorcycle lineup. Not only is it distinctive and instantly associated with the power the brand has had on offer for decades, but it also brings welcomed innovation to the motorcycle industry in the form of the world's first adaptive headlamp for motorycles. Critics might feel this new look is a bit too agressive but when you are moving down a dark and rainy pacific coast highway, one is hard pressed to think of a better way to ward of any potential threats lurking in the darkness.

Shown above is the new facia of the K1600GTL. Illuminating even in full daylight from a design perspective.

Looking Ahead and Defining the Designer of 2015


What skills and competencies will designers need to help bring about positive impact in the world moving forward? Take a look at the Designer for 2015 project and the helpful list of competencies put together by the Visionary Design Council in conjunction with the AIGA.

Below is the quick list but you can learn more here: AIGA Designer of 2015 Overview

1. Ability to create and develop visual response to communication problems, including understanding of hierarchy, typography, aesthetics, composition and construction of meaningful images

2. Ability to solve communication problems including identifying the problem, researching, analysis, solution generating, prototyping, user testing and outcome evaluation

3. Broad understanding of issues related to the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic contexts for design

4. Ability to respond to audience contexts recognizing physical, cognitive, cultural and social human factors that shape design decisions

5. Understanding of and ability to utilize tools and technology

6. Ability to be flexible, nimble and dynamic in practice

7. Management and communication skills necessary to function productively in large interdisciplinary teams and “flat” organizational structures

8. Understanding of how systems behave and aspects that contribute to sustainable products, strategies and practices

9. Ability to construct verbal arguments for solutions that address diverse users/audiences; lifespan issues; and business/organizational operations

10. Ability to work in a global environment with understanding of cultural preservation

11. Ability to collaborate productively in large interdisciplinary teams

12. Understanding of ethics in practice

13. Understanding of nested items including cause and effect; ability to develop project evaluation criteria that account for audience and context


A New Perspective

Sometimes the essential functionality of an object is best revealed from angles seldom seen. Take the redesigned 2010 R1200RT for example. Seen from the side, the bike appears familiar... a fine design iteration of the venerable long distance tourer.

However, the true genius and dynamics of the design are best revealed from a eagle's-eye view. From above, affordances for generous wind protection and ways to obtain comfort for miles on end really stand out. Undoubtedly this type of "form follows function" creativity is stirred up during long hours spent shaping the design in a wind tunnel. Regardless of how it came into being, the bivouac is once again blown away by the refinements taking place in motorrad land. Perhaps you too are thinking about your designs from all angles?

Painting a Richer Picture of a Brand Offering

Focus is a key factor in bringing compelling products to market. But when products deliver on functional and emotional levels, doors are opened to more powerful experiences.

Take the launch of the 2009 BMW Z4 for example. BMW once again couples the qualities of luxury and performance that have long been associated with the brand. But for this launch, they also tap into the company's rich history of merging art and vehicle design. this combination allows users to literally paint their own richer picture of the offering.

The "Expression of Joy" theme and event associated with the vehicle's launch elegantly compliments the Freude am Fahren or Sheer Driving Pleasure themes associated with BMW. The nature of the launch provides BMW with a broader canvas upon which to cast the value of their offering, avoiding tiresome comparisons of performance statistics alone. No mundane comparisons of 0-60 mph times here, and cornering capabilities are conveyed in a colorful new way to be sure.

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The impact of this launch approach becomes immediately apparent when one compares the BMW Z4 and Audi's A4 iPhone applications that accompanied the launch of each vehicle. Both do a nice job of allowing users to visualize the respective vehicles. The Audi iPhone application explores the "performance angle", allowing users to cleverly tilt the iPhone to navigate an A4 through a slalom course of traffic cones. Ironically, through stressing the performance angle in this way, one finds that the application, though novel to start, is a bit difficult to master. This is not necessarily an impression one wants to leave aspiring A4 drivers with.


By contrast, the BMW Z4 iPhone application allows users to instantly experience a bit of what it must have felt like to have one's hands at the controls of a "300 horse power paint brush". The joy and free form nature of the event translates well through the small device screen. One is unencumbered by the confines of the interface...given literally a blank canvas to work with and, delightfully, to save as well. There is nothing overly grandiose here but the experience does represent a nice instance of design thinking. The content and technical capabilities of the iPhone itself are clearly considered and aligned well with features of the application to maximize emotional impression. Rather than forcing users to master the application, it empowers and frees them to be creative, even if for a brief few moments. Now, that's an impression worth leaving, and downloading for that matter.

Audi's tagline for the A4 launch was "The category changing A4. Progress is beautiful." The A4 is a beautiful vehicle to be sure. But when you see a company like BMW balancing artful expression and design so well, not to mention creating a football field-sized canvas for expression, one is left with the feeling that they are categorically changing the way they dialog with potential customers. Progress is beautiful indeed.

Refinement in the Marketplace

In today's economy, many companies may not be in a position to introduce entirely new offerings. However, though holding to core principles and applying their passion toward incremental improvements, companies might well be shaping iconic product lines with lasting impact.

Companies that are passionate about their offerings can be found continually improving their products or services openly in the marketplace. Take the BMW GS line of motorcycles. BMW was clearly in a position a few years ago to just hold in place with the design of what was arguably the finest adventure touring motorcycle on the market. And yet, the company continued listening to riders and dealers. Each year they made some subtle and not-so-subtle ergonomic, stylistic and performance enhancements as they refined the GS line. To be sure, some years brought more refinements than others but overall the pace of refinement was notable. Despite all of the refinements, BMW actually managed to reduce the weight of the GS as well, evidence of another notable trait. The ability to balance principled design thinking with passion. In this case they enthusiastically introduced new refinements while holding themselves to what is undoubtedly one of their core principles of "rideability."

BMW R1150GS ADV  5 BMW R1150GS Adventure

Color_r1200gsa_02_1024x768 BMW R1200GS Adventure

This kind of subtle improvement year-over-year impresses and inspires. And the beauty of it is that companies stick to it, they can find themselves with loyal followers that are secure in the journey they are taking with the company. They know that changes in the product will be well thought out and align with their passions.

Once an offering reaches a certain level of success, it is often all too easy to hold off on further refinement due to either economic pressures or what sometimes proves to be a paralyzing fear of not wanting to "mess with success". The fact that companies like BMW remain committed to constant product improvement guided by underlying guiding principles of design that allow them to refine and stay on course, shows just how important a role that both passion for riding and design thinking has in their culture.

As they nurture an offering, they can take comfort in the fact that they will be able to look back at a series of world-class offerings that, taken together as a whole, leave a greater impression on the market place than many initially hot selling offerings that either are innovated past by their creators or fade into obscurity over time due to a lack of persistence in the marketplace.

One can see a similar balance of passion and principled design thinking with Apple's iPhone refinement. The experience of the original iPhone was largely translated seamlessly into the 3G unit while new features were introduced, including location awareness enhancements. One important factor here is that while new features are certainly marketed, the nuances are left to be discovered in the context of use. Prompts for the iPhone to use location services are initially encountered naturally within the maps application leaving users with a nice discovery at a moment of maximum emotional potential rather than burdening them with some extended step-by-step set up wizard sequence. Similar moments of delight are undoubtedly experienced by GS riders when they realize while at freeway riding speeds that they have a sixth deeper gear they can shift to.


In this era where innovation is constantly being touted as the way forward, we could do well to remember that incremental refinement also has its merits, especially when it comes to generating a loyal following and providing users with the confidence to come along on a rewarding ride.

Can you think of other products that show evidence of inspired refinement or companies that are doing a great job of prototyping and refining in the marketplace?