Design Thinking in Stereo:
Brown and Martin
[ 1] IIT Institute
Conference Video, May
17, 2006; http://trex.id.iit.
[ 2] Thornton, Paula.
June 14, 2006. “Service
When the topic of “design thinking” had gained
enough momentum for BusinessWeek to devote an
entire issue to design in 2004, it was a siren song
to me. Newly converted, I digested everything I
could find. Design thinking seemed to cover most
of the experiential clues I’d been collecting as the
means to improve business potential.
By 2006 an IIT Institute of Design interview
with Roger Martin, titled “Designing Decisions,”
told of his conversion to the concept when noting
the language and behaviors of designer friends [ 1].
That same year, Tim Brown presented fundamental thoughts on design thinking that also caught
my attention [ 2].
But none of it was enough to satisfy me, so I
convinced colleagues to help host a 2007 Design
Thinking conference in Dallas, just to talk about
it. We extended that conversation via a LinkedIn
group that has grown to more than 2,500 members worldwide.
Discussions on LinkedIn paid increasing attention to design thinking, particularly in 2009.
Martin was either speaking or hosting conversations with other members, while Brown issued a
challenge to “move from design to design thinking”
via a 2009 TED presentation [ 3]. By the end of the
year both Martin and Brown had released books
on the topic.
on this duality throughout his book, in the context of specific business examples.
Martin’s thesis for business: “Design-thinking
firms stand apart in their willingness to engage
in the task of continuously redesigning their
business. They do so with an eye to creating
advances in both innovation and efficiency—the
combination that produces the most powerful
Brown’s book, Change by Design, struck a chord
similar to that of his 2006 presentation, which
highlighted principles necessary for the prac-
tice of design thinking. He notes why business
interests have turned to design: “Innovation has
become nothing less than a survival strategy.”
Later in the book he adds this emphasis: “Design
thinking may be one of the most profitable prac-
tices a corporation can adopt during a recession.”
Change by Design builds upon a theme that both
Brown and Martin embrace: “The natural evolution from design doing to design thinking reflects
the growing recognition on the part of today’s
business leaders that design has become too
important to be left to designers.”
[ 3] Brown, Tim. “A Call
for Design Thinking.”
Lecture, July 2009;
March + April 2010
[ 4] Martin, Roger. “The
Design of Business.”
Same Song, Different Verses
Both texts are extensions of each author’s continuous and evolving messages. Each approaches the
same subject from a different perspective.
In The Design of Business, Martin expands on
what I’ve labeled the “design continuum,” (see
Figure 1) which he described in the winter 2003
issue of Rotman Magazine, under the same title [ 4].
Martin took this continuum to a new level in a
2007 IIT-ID presentation when he talked about the
significance of shifting from a focus on reliability
to viability [ http://twurl.nl/u6kma4]. He expands
The books indeed complement the other. Brown
covers more of the practical elements of applying
design thinking (some of the binary code), and
Martin focuses on the models to frame the activities (the algorithms and heuristics).
In select passages from Brown’s repertoire, he
illustrates how design thinking moves design into
a more strategic role to unleash “its disruptive,
Empathy. “Perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design
thinking… The mission of design thinking is to
translate observations into insights and insights
into products and services that will improve