5 Ways to Think Like a Designer, from an IDEO Partner

5 Ways to Think Like a Designer, from an IDEO Partner

What I've learned from teaching design
Leif Huff
Anuja Shukla
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For more than 10 years, I've taught design in places like the University of Lund in Sweden, the HfG Offenbach in Germany, and Parsons School of Design. Teaching inspires me, challenges me, helps me question my point of view on design, and keeps me connected to the next generation. My students often start out with a problem-solver mindset and want to rely on technology. I encourage them, instead, to start with a question, large or small, that puts humans at the center.

Here are the top 5 things I tell my students about nourishing creativity and thinking like a designer:

Be curious

Without curiosity we do not learn and we won't grow. The same holds true for organizations. An organization that is not curious and not willing to learn will not be able to grow in today's business environment.

Challenge assumptions

In 2015, a group of students at Lund university challenged the IKEA purpose “design for many” and added a new perspective to it. What if IKEA was not the provider of solutions (the assumption) but the provider of a framework to foster people's creativity (the challenge)? The IKEA Hacka modular kitchen design is a beautiful example of how new ideas can spring from challenging assumptions.

Get lost in dreams

I don't want to accept that we have lost a whole generation to screens and devices. Creativity happens when we stop and let go. When we don’t know where to go, when we daydream and let our thoughts flow.

And research limited to what you can find online won't cut it. Insight comes from observing real people in real life. Students should have that luxury, and we should provide permission and space for that in organizations.

Get into a question-framing mindset

Design students often start their creative process by translating insights into problem statements. But you can't identify a problem without asking a bigger question first. So how do we get there? When we find the right opportunity space for a team to tackle, creativity flows.


I believe that all of us are better together. We've reached a time when collaboration is not just about individual work patterns, but also about what happens across systems, organizations, and governments.

Unfortunately, too many leaders seem to fall back on trying to solve things themselves, then ask those around them to do their bidding—often with rather unfortunate results.

But today's students—the next generation of leaders—have grown up in a sharing economy where not just goods, but also values are exchanged. And that keeps me optimistic about the future.

Taking this approach, my students and I have produced hundreds of design concepts, many of which have been published and exhibited. Spectrum, a project I co-led with designer Stefan Diez, was recently shown at the Salone di Mobili in Milan. And a workshop at the University of Lund produced the IKEA concept kitchen. As the school year approaches, I look forward to watching young designers come up with more bright ideas.

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Leif Huff
Leif is passionate about finding the most impactful ways to bring human-centered brands, products, spaces, and experiences successfully to market. He is happiest when collaborating with clients and colleagues to integrate innovation and meaning into the design process.
Anuja Shukla
Anuja is a designer, photographer, and traveler who is inspired by the realm of social change. She is currently on a mission to hike the tallest of mountains and photograph people who inspire her.

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