In a 1969 interview, the legendary designer Charles Eames was asked, “What are the boundaries of design?” Without skipping a beat, he turned the question around and asked, “What are the boundaries of problems?”
It would be decades before design would become widely understood as a practice beyond decorative arts. In fact, the interviewer asked, “How would you define yourself with respect to a decorator?” And Eames replied succinctly: “I wouldn’t.”
It’s rare to find such a concise encapsulation of design’s power and potential, but Eames summed it up with admirable simplicity. There are no boundaries to the problems we face, of course; but there’s also no end to the ingenuity we can bring to bear in our pursuit of solutions.
Framed this way, it’s easy to see why design—as a creative approach to solving problems—is such an effective tool for business. In a highly interconnected world transforming at unparalleled speed, business leaders must attend to an ever widening set of concerns. Threats and opportunities come from unexpected places, and it can be hard to see through the fog. Design helps us navigate that ambiguity. It provides a framework for making decisions, identifying needs, devising solutions, and articulating values.
At IDEO, we know the magic that can result from combining design thinking, business acumen, and the possibilities of new technologies. We see it every day with our clients and teams, and we hear stories from our network of partners and collaborators.
Now, we have a place to share those stories: The IDEO Journal, a new digital publication featuring insights, inspiration, provocations, and lessons from the world of design-led business.
Today we are thrilled to launch this publication on IDEO.com and through a biweekly email newsletter. We begin with four perspectives: Lawrence Abrahamson, Senior Design Director at IDEO New York, shares an insight he had while chatting with a facilities manager for a large real estate corporation—recognizing new ways to unlock value in the work space of the future. Deborah de Vries, Senior Portfolio Director at IDEO San Francisco, shares the four key pillars to building an innovation lab that successfully shepherds its parent organization into the next era of its business. Senior Portfolio Director Hailey Brewer presents a thought exercise on the language we use when we talk about business—and how changing our words might change our outcomes. And Owen Sanderson, a business designer, alongside Maura Cass, a design research lead in our Cambridge studio, share an example of how looking outside your own industry can be the best way to inspire change within it.
Forthcoming stories will include a case for embracing friction when starting a new corporate venture; and an interview with Dawn Laguens, the former Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood who now sits with us as expert-in-residence at IDEO. We’ll have explorations of creative leadership, digital transformation, entrepreneurship, and much more.
The convergence of design and business has followed a long trajectory from the early business consulting work of Charles and Ray Eames. It would have been hard to imagine in 1969 just how widely design could be applied. Even IDEO co-founder David Kelley, looking back on our firm’s 40 years, remarked: “And to think, when we started I thought we were going to forever be designing plastic parts for Silicon Valley computers and that would be enough to be fulfilled.”
Computers themselves once seemed like one of the most complex and interesting problems design could tackle. Now, of course, the physical components are just an interface for whole realms of experience nobody foresaw. While we can never predict the future, we can equip ourselves to respond to it with creativity and intelligence. By applying design and business—together—to the problems of our time, we expand the boundaries of possible solutions.