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Let Ideo’s Top Brass Show You How To Solve Problems Like A Designer

Ideo.org’s new Design Kit aims to teach everyone, from CEOs to activists to ministers, the principles of human-centered design.

Last month, Ideo.org–the nonprofit spinoff of global design and innovation firm Ideo–launched an online guide to the practice of human-centered design. A creative approach to problem-solving, human-centered design focuses on the needs and interests of users, and emphasizes designing with users, not for them. With Design Kit, a free web platform cataloging an array of mindsets, methods, and case studies, Ideo.org wants to make human-centered design available to everyone, from corporate leaders to community organizers to ministers to designers themselves. And it has tapped Ideo’s top brass, including CEO Tim Brown and cofounder David Kelley, to help.

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Design Kit arrives at a time of unprecedented interest in design. Big companies, like 3M and IBM, now have design divisions, as do venture capital firms such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures. Meanwhile, education programs, ranging from popular ones at the Stanford d.school to Ideo.org’s +Acumen course on “Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation,” are drawing huge numbers of participants–12,000-plus registrants from 148 countries in the most recent offering of the latter. Nonprofits, like MASS Design Group, which builds health facilities in rural Rwanda, Haiti, and elsewhere around the world, are pushing the limits of design. Ideo.org has created a resource for all of them to use, point to, and contribute to.

“I can see myself in this,” says Michael Brennan, a 30-year veteran of United Way. “I think others will as well.” From his office in Detroit, where he serves as president and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Michigan, a social services provider, Brennan is the kind of non-designer that Design Kit was created for. Launched September 19, Design Kit replaces Ideo.org’s two-year old HCD Connect website, which attracted more than 50,000 registered users, a great many of whom were social sector leaders without formal training in design, according to Ideo.org. The original site, made possible by the support of the Gates Foundation, welcomed users to register their interests, contribute stories about human-centered design, and engage in dialogue with other users around the world. With thousands of active users and hundreds of user-generated stories, what it lacked was careful curation; the most compelling ideas and models got lost in the crowd.

“When you’re trying to bring human-centered design and design thinking into your organization, you’re talking fundamentally about culture change,” Brennan says. “One the barriers you run into are language and examples.”

Users, Ideo.org discovered, were hungry for deeper insights, prompting the organization to shift away from user-generated stories in favor of more carefully curated instructional content. “We relaunched HCD Connect as Design Kit to make it into a more robust teaching tool,” says Ideo.org co-lead and creative director Patrice Martin, who has overseen the project. “HCD Connect community members told us they wanted to hear more of an expert’s point of view on the practice of human-centered design.”

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They now have plenty of experts. Leading off a series of short videos that represent seven crucial “mindsets” for the practice of human-centered design, Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, talks about learning from failure. Ideo cofounder David Kelley describes creative confidence as “the notion that you have big ideas, and that you have the ability to act on them.” Addressing human-centered designers as “doers, tinkerers, crafters, and builders,” Krista Donaldson, CEO of nonprofit technology company D-Rev, speaks to the value of prototyping. Taken together, the seven mindsets illustrate how to show up in the world and “be a creative problem solver,” Ideo’s Martin says.

The site is not meant to replace real-world training. “We believe that everyone can practice aspects of design and use creative problem-solving,” Martin says. “However, it’s not one of those things that you do once and know suddenly how to do. It’s a muscle that people continue to refine and work on.”

About the author

John Cary is the author of The Power of Pro Bono, founding editor of PublicInterestDesign.org, and a strategist for the $1,000,000 TED Prize.

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