A learn-by-doing community for creative professionals.


August, 2012

Practice Noticing

The truth of the matter is that the Examine and Understand Phases are going on all the time for creative people…and it starts with Noticing. Noticing a problem that no one has solved, noticing a solution for one type of problem that might be great in another situation. Noticing something unusual.

You can practice noticing. Take a look at this article by Steve Portigal & Dan Soltzberg:


This process of noticing once and then noticing again is how you start finding patterns and uncovering themes. For example, in the throbbing Shibuya skyline we noticed enormous video billboards for a new album by Ayumi Hamasaki (who we’d obviously never heard of). Then we saw trucks driving through the streets with billboards on the side promoting the same album. A few days later we passed the stadium and there was a huge crowd going to see her in concert. And along the street were dozens of vans that Ayumi Hamasaki fans had customized with pictures of her face. It’s not that we wouldn’t have walked past all these things, but that the activity of noticing the first one, and documenting it, meant that I was ready to notice and document the second, and beyond. So when we saw the concert crowd and the vans, we were able to connect it: “Oh, this is the performer that we’ve been seeing all the ads for.” This process of trying to figure out what’s going on in a new place, of finding and understanding patterns and themes, is exactly what we do in our user research.

In Design Gym language, you’re iteratively doing an Examine and Understand Phase, as you refine your “buckets” of information and experience. What you’ve seen before becomes a lens for what you see next…in fact, can *enable* you to see what is next. To go a bit deeper, take a look at this summary post from Steve Portigal. Once your noticing muscles are strong,you never know what you’ll start noticing.

Some companies playing at the intersection of innovation, design & strategy

This is a post I did on my personal blog earlier this year. In an effort to help people become more exposed to this type of work and some different applications it shows up in, I pulled together a list of some of the companies playing in this space, including Jump Associates, the rad company I’m at now. These companies cover a wide variety of specialties and focuses, but most all of them are doing something cool. Some focus more on designing super sexy products. Some are focusing more on strategy, going head to head with the McKinsey’s and BCG’s of the world. Some are focused completely on doing social research and understanding the people around us. Hope you find some inspiration!

Designer’s Poison (by Frank Chimero)

In this personal blog post, designer Frank Chimero debriefs a Twitter event hosted by AIGA called One Day For Design. His post revolves around what he calls the ten designer’s poisons – “the dispositions and mistakes of the field that I saw both addressed as problems and manifested in behavior in One Day for Design’s live stream.” He raises some awesome points about liberalizing design, inviting more people (especially our clients!) to the table, and societal understanding of design as a noun, not a verb. Great read with some links to other good articles.

Frank Chimero is an accomplished designer based in Brooklyn, NY. He is a frequent speaker at design conferences, has taught at various schools including SVA, and has a long list of big clients including Nike and The New York Times.

Tim Brown of IDEO on ‘Design Thinking’ (Interview, by Iliyas Ong)

This is a short interview on Design Taxi with Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO. It provides a flash insight into many founding values at IDEO’s core, discussing design thinking, the role of design in society, the challenges facing design right now, and the difference of design and innovation. Brown even admits at one point he hasn’t quite nailed down a good definition of what design thinking is, but that attitude is what will allow it to continue evolving as a very important tool and thinking process.

“There are only two potential futures for any organization: either you innovate and grow, or you get commoditized and ultimately die.”

Innovation At Risk (By Lara Lee)

In this BusinessWeek article Lara Lee, who has spent time with Harley Davidson and Jump Associates, talks about what happens at the intersection of innovation, design thinking, and a down economy. She discusses how design and business practices cannot oppose eachother within corporate environments, and how design thinking can not be used as the world saving solution. Often times the power of design thinking is overpromised and consequently under delivered, leaving many corporate structures with a bad taste in their mouth. In the article she covers examples from GE, Motorola, Harley Davidson, Whirlpool, Dell, and more.

“Giving design a seat at the leadership table can and should deliver real business benefits. Applying the tools and techniques of design practice to large, complex business challenges can yield interesting insights and novel solutions. But promising more than design thinking can deliver risks a real backlash that could not only discredit design, but also accelerate the rejection of innovative growth as a goal.”

Reports Of Design Thinking’s Death Were An Exaggeration (By Sam Ford)

This FastCompany article from Sam Ford is a response to Bruce Nussbaum’s claims around the death of design thinking. This article is particularly good because it links to multiple other reference points and points of view. Ultimately what Sam is saying is that there are many, many instances of how design thinking has been used wrong and applied sloppily. He also fears that it has reached a point where people are trying to put too distinct of a definition around it, which will not allow it to grow and adapt in all the application it could be useful for. He arrives at the point, through several stories and case studies that we need design thinking more than ever right now, and it’s presence as a strategic tool has really just begun.