This issue is dedicated to a quote from a book.

It comes from a chapter "The Designer's Stance", where Bradley Hartfield interviews David Kelley.

The opening comment (p151) is:

The designer has a passion for doing something that fits somebody's needs, but that is not just a simple fix. The designer has a dream that goes beyond what exists, rather than fixing what exists.

Hey... that's me!

Here is the main excerpt - details about the book are at the end:

DK: [...] Design has three activities: understand, observe, and visualize. Remember, design is messy; designers try to understand the mess. They observe how their products will be used; design is about users and use. They visualize, which is the act of deciding what it is.

BH: What you mean by "deciding what it is?"

DK: If I'm trying to design a tape recorder, I can create one that's yellow that you can dunk in water; I can create one that's highly precise; I can create one that has 27 heads or scads of features-that's what I mean by "deciding what it is." When we think of software designers, we picture them in tront of the screen. When we think of product designers, we think of them making prototypes. When we think of fashion designers, we picture them cutting out the fabric and making a dress. The key point of design takes place before any of those activities occur, and it requires making an uncomfortable leap-uncomfortable even for the most fluid and flexible people. This leap is the act that needs to come before implementation.

BH: Why is this leap so uncomfortable?

DK: A good problem in design is one for which you aren't sure that there is a right answer. In engineering, you might set out to make a tape recorder that meets certain performance or cost specifications. You can feel comfortable about making that tape recorder; you might be able to meet those specs, or you might not, but you're not taking a big risk. The risk is a technical risk, which is not the same as a design risk. When you're doing design, you're making a decision to create a thing, and you don't know who might say "That's the wrong thing." It could be a marketing person, it could be the user. You have to make the leap first, and you can't feel comfortable about the leap because it's too uncertain.

BH: What does it take to leap well?

DK: Who's good at leaping? People who have confidence. It's not that they are comfortable with it; they have just somehow been anointed with the ability to make this leap, and nobody is arguing. Look at a Steve Jobs; look at how he started Apple. Somehow, during his life, nobody ever successfully discouraged him from having grandiose ideas about what was possible. I've been with him many times when he made a huge list specifying what a product was going to be, and the list wasn't based on anything that was actually possible. He would say, "Oh, a disk drive, that'll cost about six bucks, so I'll put six down for that." Disk drives don't cost six bucks! But nobody ever discourages him from thinking he can do it.

BH: It's kind of a bravado that to another person could border on lunacy.

DK: Well, think about inventors. All my heroes are inventors, starting with da Vinci. If I had to pick one person who was an extreme, who could make the creative leap to what it ought to be, who could dream up things that didn't exist, he would be my choice. People who are good inventors-good designers-don't mind saying, "How about following this path, which doesn't yet exist?" Most people have trouble doing that; they preface everything they say in a brainstorm with "This idea may be stupid, but here it is." They are afraid that someone else will think that their leap is stupid. Successful designers just send out their vision to the world; and then, when somebody else builds on it, that's okay. They're not protective of their ideas because they're so used to having ideas. A creative designer has an idea a minute. Publicizing an idea is a way to improve on the idea-someone else can build on it, expand it. If you're fluent with ideas, as most design people are, you don't have to be fearful. You don't protect your one good idea because you're afraid you'll never have another good one. The other point about making the leap is being able to keep seeing a problem trom new perspectives. Anybody who has a strong filter on the world forces everything to fit that filter. In our product-design courses, we assign exercises where you take an object and look at it backward, or you draw it from an ant's point of view, or see it as material. For example, think about a computer monitor. It is just plastic with a piece of glass. Maybe I could do something completely different with it.


David Kelley is one of the most visible product designers in the world, he founded & heads IDEO.

"Bringing Design to Software" by Terry Winograd, 1996. ISBN 0-201-85491-0, page 156-157.