Paul Bennett on Design – MBA Learnings

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, the famous design firm, was at school yesterday. He delivered an engaging 50 minute talk on his perspectives on love, beauty, religion, and death. I am not going to attempt a perfect summary of the talk. But, I thought I’d attempt what I took away..

– We are all designers. Businessmen design businesses, teachers design classes, etc. This was the all important base line we started with. Now that we understand we are designers, let us learn to think like one and understand the sorts of barriers design is breaking through in today’s world.

– Design transcends agenda. This was a profound line from a conversation with a princess from the royal family in the UAE. Paul had conducted a brainstorming session in Dubai where he’d asked designers for their dreams for Dubai. The women designers had written some really powerful thoughts along the lines of “we want to matter.” Paul had shared these in his TEDx talk the next day as a way of thinking about designing Dubai in the future. As a designer, sharing these wasn’t about judgment. It was about transcending the agenda and meeting purpose.

– Remember to answer the question. He spoke of the moment when he had been diagnosed with diabetes. He was listening to the doctor throw all sorts of medical terms when he had just one question in mind – “will I be able to eat during thanksgiving?” Sometimes, all we’re looking for is answers to the simple questions – e.g. “will I be okay?,” “do I have a real shot at this opportunity?,” or “will you give me a hug?” Let’s design for those.

Death and religion. Paul spoke about how IDEO is designing for taboo topics like death and religion. These topics are entering the mainstream and they make for great design opportunities. And, while topics like “designing for death” remains somewhat morbid, the fact is that most human beings share common misconceptions and irrational fears around death. Can we make the experience better? (We don’t know yet but we’re certainly going to try!)

Conversation is design. This was the most powerful insight I walked away with. In the vein of us being designers, I think we can extend the “we are all designers” insight into the idea that we all design lives, moments and experiences. And, maybe, we could make more of an effort to design conversations that matter? It isn’t easy to have these conversations around topics like religion, fear, death, and all the other difficult issues that we face in society. But, if we don’t, who will? And, how will we inform our responses to these topics if we aren’t exposed to viewpoints different from ours?

I loved Paul’s talk. He was warm, vulnerable and humorous. It definitely made me think.

And, I think I’ve walked away with ideas for a couple of my projects as well as for my lives. I can think of 2 that I’m going to work hard to implement –

1. Consciously design experiences when designing products, services and events. Apple just sold its one billionth iOS device in what was a quarter described as “monstrous.” They get this idea. Buying an iPhone is designed as an experience. Unwrapping it is part of the experience and using it is definitely another. In the final analysis, it is because we don’t remember what we did.. we do remember how we felt.

2. Have more tough conversations. The inner geek in me loves this idea. In some ways, the talk reminded me of why I am in school – to get exposed, to think, to reflect. There are so many great conversations to be had. And, it is up to me to make them happen.

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