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How to solve problems like a designer

IDEO’s Tim Brown explains design thinking.

When Tim Brown joined the design consulting firm IDEO in 1987, the company’s repertoire was pretty straightforward. They designed products: the first computer mouse for Apple, the first laptop computer for GRiD Systems, a personal digital assistant for Palm, and more.

But, somewhere between then and now, the company changed direction.

Now, they’re focused on solving design problems out in the real world, like figuring out how to improve systems for voting, blood donation, and education. In Peru, IDEO brought together a team of engineers, education experts, and architects to create a school system from scratch.

It was a significant pivot for a company that cut its teeth on early computer hardware, but it also reflected a bigger shift in the design community at the time. Back in the 1970s, writers like Victor Papanek pushed designers to use the same skills and workflows that created consumer goods to tackle global challenges in food supply, population growth, and the environment.

We sat down with IDEO CEO Tim Brown at this year’s TED conference and asked him to break down the steps of design thinking. Watch the video above to hear how he does it, and what it means for the future of design.