Photos by Bekka Palmer
By Chris Beatty
On Friday, May 16, Joel Towers, Dean of Parsons the New School for Design, and Tina Roth Eisenberg, the 'Swiss Miss' behind Creative Mornings, welcomed David Kelley to speak at the New School's newly opened Tishman Auditorium. Despite the early wakeup call, over 600 guests showed up for the largest Creative Morning ever.
Hailing (somewhat unsurprisingly) from California, Kelley is a founder of IDEO and the creator of the d.school at Stanford University. He began his talk by comfortably declaring that he was not going to present using any slides and that he enforces a no-slide rule for student presentations at the d.school.
Kelley is a natural storyteller who came to industrial design with a background in electrical engineering. At first Kelley was mesmerized by the magical, "as if out of nowhere" process of design; however, in reality, he spent many of his early days toiling over beige computer enclosures for Silicon Valley tech firms. It was then that he realized that design was pigeonholed as an object-centric process that routinely neglected the needs of its users.
Through his design practice, Kelley began to address this by carefully mapping the experience of a person using the product. By stepping back and thinking holistically about the product, the problem could be reframed, contextualized, and ultimately simplified. At the core, it was this thinking that allowed IDEO to nurture a human-centered design process that put the user, not the product at the center of the design process.
Kelley with Tina Roth Eisenberg
Kelley proceeded by asking the rhetorical questions, "How do we routinely come up with ideas new to the world? How do we continue to routinely innovate?"
His second major realization was that everybody, even the CEO, can and should contribute creatively to the design process. Kelley fights for the creative confidence of all participants by discouraging the fear of being judged for a bad idea. In this collaborative process, the designer's role shifts from a technical problem solver to a "confident process leader" able to guide the team through the ambiguity of the design process. [Ed. Note: See our interview with Kelley on the occasion of the launch of Creative Confidence here.]
Oftentimes this formula yields strikingly straightforward solutions to complex problems. Kelley walked us through two anecdotes, or "bird walks," as he calls them.
The first was IDEO's rethinking of the lunch program at San Francisco's Unified School District. By examining the experience of lunch, the design team noticed that universally lunch was about socializing more than it was about food. As such, they offered solutions that were tailored to match the development stages of childhood. Whether dining family style in elementary school, at a co-designed lunchroom in middle school or from a grab-n-go cart in high school, IDEO recognized that children as with adults need more than just food to enjoy a meal.
The second, Embrace, is a non-profit that found its footing in Kelley's Extreme Affordability class at the d.school and aims to reduce neonatal hypothermia with an affordable alternative to a traditional incubator. His students realized that the reason behind high infant mortality in developing countries wasn't the lack of incubators but their concentration in the urban centers. In response, his students developed a portable incubator that could be manufactured at a fraction of the cost and distributed to the neediest rural areas.
In closing, Kelley emphasized that "more than ever, designers are driving the bus, and we must ask ourselves what problems are worth working on and how we want to contribute." At IDEO, it took starting a "brushfire" here and there before arriving at a culture, and now those lessons are catching on for design and non-design companies alike.