This is a sample chapter from the new Two Waves book Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value of Business, by Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, and Sean Sauber. 2016 Rosenfeld Media.
Chapter 10: Design
At this point in your journey, it’s time to start making touchpoints. Let’s face it—this can be a little scary. All of the work you’ve done so far has been preparation for that big blank sheet of paper—or nowadays, more likely, a screen—that you’ll use to create ideas and concepts, and develop them into something new. Needless to say, many find this a disorienting and difficult moment. Many businesspeople treat this phase as just another check box on the to-do list.
Designing the offering is the most complex phase, the most critical, and although incredibly ambiguous and anxiety-producing for those who feel safe with a set recipe, the most fun.
However, this phase is often fraught with perils: everyone has an opinion on every detail. Whether they have professional experience to offer or not, most can’t see the finish line until it’s upon them—or even past them, in some cases—many aren’t patient enough to deal with the inevitable ambiguity required for the design process, and most can’t suspend their disbelief in order for new, better solutions to arise.
This phase can also be the most contentious because, finally, there will be tangible solutions to judge. Until now, the research, reports, and decisions were real, but abstract. Now, they become concrete, and everyone will have an opinion, now that they can see results that may or may not match their expectations. In a real sense, this process is its own waveline, a story of the development journey your peers and superiors go through in visualizing and accepting new solutions that represent a new way of approaching business. It is not without its own trials, and it can just as certainly be designed to flow better or worse.
Luckily, you’ve laid a good foundation. Your research has revealed who your customers are and what they really want and need. You’ve prepared your organization for new solutions and framed your approach to build relationships and premium value. And you know the outcomes you seek. As a result, you have a great roadmap for making touchpoints—a roadmap for design.
That said, design is easily the most critical, creative, and unfortunately ambiguous phase of relationship innovation. This chapter looks at the tools and requirements for great design and offers a rough process for moving forward. The one thing this book can’t do? Make magic happen. That has to come from you.
Designing Is a Team Sport
Throughout your first few phases of becoming by doing—explained in Chapter 5, “Becoming by Doing”—you’ve relied on a large innovation team. You’ve had representatives from all impacted parts of the company—including marketing, PR, and customer service—on board. Now it’s time to break off the core group of people who will actually create the new and improved touchpoints for your company.
Designing always takes a team. Even though you may hear about lone inventors, they really don’t exist anymore—and maybe never have. Developing all but the most simple of products and services requires multiple skills and expertise that you rarely find in one person. Instead, you bring together a talented group with expertise in the relevant areas of creating a product or service, including, at the very least, designers and engineers.
With multiple disciplines working together, a design team also needs a strong leader who can keep all of those skills, egos, and perspectives together. This person, of course, need not be the best designer, but rather someone who is able to keep everyone on track with the same understanding of priorities and possibilities. Often, this person is the one with the most compelling vision for the solution.
The team leader needs to be able to make tough, practical decisions while maintaining an atmosphere of respect, openness, and adherence to the vision; the ability to listen is critical. The best ideas could come from anyone, regardless of whether that person fully understands the technical or financial implications of the solution. A team member may have fresh perspectives that lead to important ideas about the design, even though creative thinking may not be his or her strength or focus. Whatever the case, the leader must keep those ideas developing. The team has to keep flowing, decision to decision, and making progress, or you may need to reassess your leadership.
Ideas Can Come from Anywhere
Whenever discussing where ideas can come from, we like to talk about a bridge, whose builders found their inspiration in an unlikely source: a sewing machine.
That bridge is known as the Millau Viaduct, and it solves a massive traffic problem by passing a chokepoint in the north/south traffic between Spain and France. For years, every car and truck on the route had to pass through a small, medieval town called Millau. Settled more than 3,000 years ago, it is situated in a deep valley, the Tarn, where two rivers join together. The town boasts a 12th century belfry and nearby caves where Roquefort cheese is made. Needless to say, it wasn’t designed for the needs of modern transportation. In particular, during the vacation month of August, it became clogged with traffic jams.
It was obvious to everyone that a bypass was needed, but that posed a big problem. The Tarn Valley was quite deep and featured strong winds—both of which made construction of a bridge difficult and dangerous. Nonetheless, in 1991, the French government began design work on what would eventually become the world’s tallest bridge, shown in Figures 10-1 and 10-2, rising 1,125 feet above the valley floor.
Building the supports for the bridge was a difficult, but solvable problem using traditional construction methods. Laying the road bed was another matter altogether. Not only was it at a considerable elevation, but the winds also made the work hazardous. As a result, traditional construction techniques were either too costly or too risky to consider.
Luckily, the overall project leader Marc Buonomo had once worked in a very different context: a clothing factory. Thinking about the problem, he realized that laying the steel deck of a bridge might not be all that different from how you stitch together the legs on a pair of pants. Rather than building in place, you could build it on one end, and slide it across the supports, much like a piece of cloth being fed into a sewing machine. He enlisted the help of American multinational Enerpac to get the job done. Essentially, they built the world’s largest spool feed, complete with hydraulic lifts that gently lifted and placed the road bed onto the supports as it was eased across them. Amazingly enough, the solution worked, and the project was completed both on time and for far less money than anticipated.
The key, of course, was that Buonomo was able to bring a completely different point of view to the problem at hand. Almost no one who works in construction knows about industrial sewing machines, but the principles from one field applied to another, translated through his experience and perception. Put simply, you can find inspiration anywhere and everywhere—even in the most unlikely places.
The Design Process
When it comes to a design process, you have many to choose from. The good news is that although they differ in some ways, most share fundamental similarities, and almost all can work well with the relationship insights described in this book. Instead of going through these processes in detail, we will simply outline the major elements of a good process and encourage you to find more detailed descriptions elsewhere.
Generally speaking, design consists of four activities: concept generation, prototyping, testing, and iteration. You have many options for accomplishing each one, but overall they are relatively simple to understand.
Note—Most books on the design process also include preparation and research phases that are similar to the Discovering phase. Because of the holistic nature of relationship innovation and its impact on entire organizations, use a more inclusive team for the research and decision phases than is common.
This is exactly what it sounds like. The Discovering phase has uncovered challenges and opportunities to improve your customers’ experience of your company. Now you have to generate new ways to solve those challenges using either structured exercises, like brainstorming, or unstructured processes that rely more on designers’ intuition.
If you’re looking for ways to come up with new ideas, there’s a great free resource called the Human Centered Design Toolkit, shown in Figures 10-3 and 10-4. It was developed by IDEO for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although it was intended to help nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devise innovative solutions to the world’s problems, it provides a wealth of information and techniques for devising new ideas. These techniques can work for any business or organization.
Of course, sometimes design teams get stuck and are unable to come up with anything. In that case, move away from what’s not working. Instead, switch up your ideation process and try a new tool.
When you generate your ideas, it’s time to start building a solution. Designers often call this phase thinking by doing. In other words, you’re not entirely certain what the eventual solution will be, but simply by working on it and building things, you often discover new and better ways to get the job done. That’s why you should begin building a prototype—or a preliminary model—as soon as you can. You can talk, analyze, and strategize all day, but you’ll never actually make something until you start to build.
Building an initial prototype is the scariest part of the innovation process. It’s not uncommon to face a blank screen, piece of paper, or lump of clay and wonder if you’ll ever be able to make something wonderful out of it.
First, note that it’s okay to be scared. Even designers with fantastic track records often feel pangs of doubt at this moment. You can reduce the fear by having low expectations of the initial prototype. You can purposely create rough builds of ideas so that you can start solving problems rather than trying to create beautiful end solutions. You can always improve a prototype as you go along, and it’s immensely easier to perfect an existing thing than it is to build something perfect from scratch. This is the real secret of design: you begin by making something—anything really—that you know will need to be improved over time. Then you work to improve it.
Of course, like much of what we suggest in this book, prototyping is not always an easy thing to pitch to a business. To many managers, it may look like busywork or wasted time. Or they may not understand the purpose of an early prototype; they may want to cancel the project and jettison the team because they don’t like what they see. The truth is that design is a messy process, and designers typically hide the chaos to ensure autonomy while working. A business may believe it is paying for a single logo, when, in fact, it’s paying for dozens of prototype logos that are tested and don’t work as well as one that does.
Unfortunately, becoming by doing doesn’t always make it easy to hide the prototype. Ideally, you have contact with a larger team that’s plugged into the organization. It’s best if everyone understands the need to play around with ideas up front and has their expectations appropriately set for the process, the timeline, and the nature of each deliverable along the way. Your team needs space to experiment—sometimes wildly. In enterprises, finding this space can be the riskiest and most critical part of the design process.
After you have a prototype that feels like it’s going somewhere, you should test it. In most situations, we advise small tests, conducted in informal settings. This not only saves money, but it also helps you learn how successful your designs are in producing the right experiences for customers. You can’t test everything at once, of course—especially with early prototypes that are minimally functional. And you can’t wait to test until the prototype represents all of the functions, either. Start with important, major features, test those, and then move on to other ones. You can fold together these prototypes along the way, but don’t try to build—and test—everything at once.
What do you look for in your tests? Traditionally, designers have always tested functions like usability and whether their audience wants the product. You still need to test those things, but you should also look at the concepts we’ve been talking about in this book: how emotions and meanings rise, fall, and evolve over time; whether the rhythm of change is right for customers; and how you’ve adequately—or wonderfully—transitioned them into and out of the experiences you’ve built for them. You also need to test whether your customers understand the value of what you’ve designed for them. You need to know whether you’ve actually made their lives easier, improved their experiences, shifted their emotions, and engaged them on a deeper level. You need to test the choices that trigger responses in your customers so that they react to the design with the kind of impact you envision. If you merely assess whether you’ve met their functional needs, you’ll miss the whole point of the premium value and relationship you’re trying to develop.
However, testing does require some investment, and you may wonder whether you should skip it or reduce it to a minimum so that you can concentrate on creation. This is a mistake. Testing brings a number of important advantages to any innovation effort:
It checks assumptions. No matter how much you distance yourself and accept the results of discovery, design still involves making many decisions about what will evoke the experiences and relationships your customers want. The only way to be sure you’re right is by testing those decisions with customers.
It saves money overall. The earlier you find a problem, the less expensive it is to fix. It’s better to find out early if your form factor is puzzling in a Chinese context, or if an interface concept is too complicated. You also want to know if what you’re creating is tedious and frustrating, even though your intentions were otherwise.
It uncovers solutions. Tests not only reveal problems, but sometimes they actually point to touchpoints working better than you think. That can provide important insight that drives further decisions down the line.
Simply put, testing is something you should do early and often.
A final point about user testing is that sometimes it will result in failure. It will tell you that your users don’t like what you’ve created. In that case, you have to be honest and not try to rationalize away the results of a test. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Nathan once met with engineers at a large software firm to discuss the latest version of their product. As he detailed its shortcomings, one of them got exasperated and said, “You just don’t understand the user model!” Nathan replied, “I’m the user. It’s my model.”
If a test fails, don’t get frustrated. Instead, go back to your waveline diagrams and personas and remind yourself who you were designing for in the first place.
In the iteration phase, you go back to your prototype, respond to the results of your testing, and make improvements. Then test again, improve, and so on until you reach a working solution.
On the surface, iteration is a fairly straightforward process, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. For complex solutions, do not rely on a single prototype. There are many simultaneous prototypes for different parts of the experience in different media and channels. In that case, as is probably obvious, you should test parts of the solution when they’re ready and combine them as they near completion.
Also, the iteration phase can extend past your ship date. You should look at a released product as simply another prototype. You can see how it does in the marketplace, get feedback from users, and iterate again with a newer version. In this sense, you never stop iterating—a fact that can sometimes free you from seeking perfection that never comes—and a product that, therefore, never ships.
Services and Design
Services offer a special case for prototyping. Because they are always on, they can constantly and continuously evolve. You may not even be able to replace a service with a new version—or your customers may not want one. Instead, you can tweak and improve your offerings based on their performance and needs. After all, there is no perfect design and no perfect answer to a customer’s concerns. Solutions must be continuously upgraded, as much as you can.
The MVP Problem
It’s become popular these days, especially with digital solutions, to see a start-up release, sometimes called a minimum viable product, or MVP. The idea is that you scrape together something that has the most important functionality of a service—and often little else. Such offerings are acknowledged to be incomplete, but are understood to have enough functionality to get the job done and into the market ASAP. A startup’s investment may be tied to releasing the MVP, which is, in turn, usually limited by the amount of funds and time available. The team then continues to add more features as they have time and resources, and hopefully, watch customer use to improve the product.
The idea of an MVP is a good one—it’s usually not possible to build-out everything you intend from the start—but it’s a very misunderstood concept and has a significant drawback for relationship innovation: it only works if you intend to deliver functional value. This is the biggest blind spot in the technology industry. Thousands of startups in Silicon Valley—and more all over the world—die not because what they produced was poorly made, but because of two reasons: it didn’t really do anything that anyone outside of the development needed or wanted, and it didn’t compare to the total experience customers could get from competing offerings. By trying to keep teams and companies focused—a good thing—MVPs more often keep them focused only on functional value.
A better way to think about this and label it is MVE, or minimal viable experience. Or, maybe MVR, or minimal viable relationship—since that’s really what you’re trying to build. In these terms, function is only part of what’s delivered and often not the most important part. There’s a famous diagram circling the start-up world now that illustrates this point.
Microsoft created an MVP when it launched the Zune—a failed competitor to the iPod—but it paled in comparison to the experience and relationship available from Apple’s iPod at the time. It was actually a worthy rival to the iPod itself, but that’s not all there was to the relationship. The iPod, combined with iTunes, the iTunes Store, audiobooks, videos, and many other services created an entire ecosystem around the iPod that offered a much more enhanced relationship. It was a world of delight, not just a product. What Microsoft had to do to compete was to offer at least as good an experience to build a relationship upon, if not a better one.
The same is true of most startups. Delivering functionality at a comparable price won’t create lasting, valuable customer relationships. If they already have experiences with competitors that are richer, more engaging, and more valuable relationships, you must up your game dramatically. Of course, for a startup, it’s often not possible to fully compete with what already exists. But merely offering more function, instead of value on more premium levels, can’t be successful because it engages people in shallower, not deeper, ways.
We can explain this by using a movie as an analogy. Movies, done right, produce an experiential journey with their viewers. But imagine if you screened a prototype of an action movie that had all of the strictly necessary plot components, but left out all of the character development scenes. You’d know what happened, but you wouldn’t care about the people it happened to. You wouldn’t have a series of experiences with it; you’d merely be looking at a dry, uninteresting recounting of events.
You can’t fake premium value. You can’t fake a relationship. If you want to build one, you have to engage your customers’ emotions, values, identity, and core meanings. Most people don’t live in an MVP world and don’t want minimum value products, so an MVP isn’t going to satisfy them. Your customers want to be provided with product functionality, but they also want to be engaged in qualitative ways. If you hope to compete with Apple, you can’t expect to win by having a more feature-rich product or a lower price. That’s not the game Apple is playing. Instead, it offers a rich, complex set of offerings that engage people on multiple, deep levels.
In other words, if you set your design sights too low or frame the challenge in terms that are too narrow, you’ll miss the mark by a mile. Many innovators have this blind spot. Although they have every reason to focus, minimize risk, and get to market quickly, getting there with too little never works. You don’t need to have the first solution in the market; you need to have the right one.
Design as Curation
Design is not synonymous with originality. To succeed, you don’t need to be wildly unique, create entirely new products, or set bold new trends. Sometimes this happens, but more often, a good designer builds things that reflect trends and incorporate elements already established by the culture.
That’s why a thorough understanding of your customer’s reactions to various design elements is so important. You uncover not only the relationships people want, but also the triggers—such as colors, materials, flavors, aromas, typography, and imagery—that would affect them in the way they want. Use those triggers as design elements to evoke the feelings and experiences you want your customers to have.
Their choices, of course, aren’t necessarily the ones you’d make for yourself. If you’re a visually sophisticated designer creating a watch for yourself, you’d probably make very different choices about form, color, and materials than your customers would. A bamboo watch may seem cool, new, and eco-conscious to you, but it may trigger entirely different reactions in people who lack your aesthetic sensibilities. In that case, you need to put aside those personal preferences and stick to what discovering tells you. Ultimately, design is not about what managers, designers, or developers like, it’s about how every decision creates and reinforces the experiences that you know will be successful with your customers.
Designers need to be curators of these triggers. You can’t rely on your customers to tell you what to do because they almost never know the possibilities or have a vision for enhanced solutions. But you aren’t designing for statistics either. You’re also not designing for yourself. It makes the process more challenging, but you need to make design choices that reflect how your customers react and what they understand. Doing this well and still being original is what separates the best designers.
Data and Design
The designer-as-curator approach doesn’t reduce design simply to the process of parroting back research findings. Designers still need to use their considerable experience, preferences, and inspiration to make decisions about triggers and integrate them into a meaningful, pleasing whole for others. Data and research only get you so far before intuition has to take over.
This point was amusingly proved by the artists Komar and Melamid in a fascinating project called Paint by Numbers. In it, they polled ordinary people in several countries about what they felt great art was. The polls were quite scientific, using over 100 questions and a rigorous statistical methodology. When the data came back, the artists analyzed it and came to two major conclusions. First, everyone hated contemporary art. Second, they all thought they wanted blue landscapes, green fields, overhanging trees, and a nice expanse of seawater.
Based on this data, they then created most-wanted paintings for the countries. If a certain preference was strong, such as wanting cows in the field before the water, cows it would be. If everyone wanted a deciduous tree with summer foliage, in one went. In the end, the paintings for the different countries looked surprisingly similar: landscapes with an expanse of ultra-green grass to the left, usually with a promontory overlooking a stretch of water to the right.
The two artists then toured the respective countries with these paintings and asked people for their reactions. The result? Nobody liked them very much. Neither critics nor rural grandmothers. The art didn’t work at all. The data was right, but the solution it suggested, without interpretation, was clichéd and boring.
Another example from the commercial world is the now-infamous story about Google testing 41 different shades of blue to determine the best one for the color of a button. The problem is that this is too reductive. Design challenges are much more complicated. If you test colors for a corporate logo, you may find one that the vast majority of people like. But that color may also be too close to one of your competitors, which would make it impossible for you to stand out.
The one point you can take away from this is to not follow data and research slavishly. Merely because you’ve gathered a lot of information does not mean you can’t deviate from it. Rather, any good solution is going to require significant creative interpretation.
The creative people at YouTube capture the idea perfectly when they talk about data informing design, not prescribing it. You want to make sure anything you make reflects qualitative and quantitative research in the Discovering phase, but you still need to leave the field open for how you get there.
Design and Variable Time
In most customer relationships, the time it takes individual customers to react to your products and services can vary greatly. If your dentist tells you that you have a cavity, you’ll go through roughly the same sequence of events as anyone else in a similar situation. But the spaces between the steps could be longer or shorter than those of another person. You could have the cavity fixed right away or make an appointment in a week or so, or even put it off for months if you don’t have dental insurance. The conditions underlying your experience could change greatly due to the delay—it could even result in complications that lead to even worse problems.
Naturally, it’s more difficult to design something whose completion can vary. However, you can find ways to provide good customer experiences no matter how people move through an offering. For example, early online service applications typically required you to fill out an entire form before submitting it. Many people would get distracted halfway through or need to leave before completing it. Then they’d have to repeat the whole process again, from the beginning, when they could return to the task.
A lot of progress has been made since then. Some forms save your work on every page, allowing you to pick up where you left off, if you have to stop before you’re finished. Others autofill items based on preferences stored in your browser. A few even borrow login and profile information from social media sites to do the same. Similar principles can apply to everything from a retail store that supports its customers with product search kiosks to hospitals that send prescriptions automatically to the on-site pharmacy, making it easy to move quickly from your doctor’s office out the door.
Likewise, this time variability can flow through multiple media and touchpoints. You can see this in brands that allow you to start a purchase on your home phone, continue it on your mobile phone, modify it on a Web site, and complete it when you pick the product up in a store. If the system governing and enabling the experience isn’t designed to flow across time, media, and touchpoints gracefully, it will frustrate customers. If it works seamlessly, the opposite will occur. The key is that each touchpoint needs to continue the experience while behaving in ways that are appropriate to its particular platform.
What Design Needs from the Rest of the Organization
Although you’ve isolated an innovation team, design never happens in a vacuum—and shouldn’t. But there are ways an organization can support creative innovation and ways it can greatly impede it. Even if management is not directly involved in the innovation process, it does need to recognize a few things:
Everyone will have an opinion. Everyone is a design critic. It comes naturally because we all use products and services ourselves. The important point is to manage these opinions. Early on, those outside the design group may not be able to see with the vision of those inside. They may identify problems that seem intractable, but for which the team already has good solutions. For the most part, outside interference, especially early on, should be kept to a minimum.
Don’t worry about early prototypes. Designers have a big secret: the first version of something is invariably bad. You have to either look through to the finish line yourself, or failing that, trust that the process will yield something great.
Time matters. Good design emerges over time as prototypes are built, tested, and iterated. One of the biggest mistakes organizations can make is to evaluate innovation efforts too early and hold them to unrealistic standards and expectations.
The process is ambiguous and cacophonous. Design does not proceed in an easy, straightforward fashion. It cannot be plotted and ordered in the sense that accounting and manufacturing can. It sometimes moves in fits and starts, with long periods where you bang your heads against the wall or can’t see the finished solution clearly before breakthroughs are made.
In other words, patience is the order of the day. If you give the design process time to wind its way through its usual torturous path, you’ll usually be rewarded with good results.
This chapter offered an overview of one of the most critical phases of relationship innovation: design. Although it did not go into exhaustive detail about the process, you saw that design consists of four major, interrelated activities: concept development, prototyping, testing, and iteration. You first devise potential solutions; then build rough-and-ready models of what the solution looks like; and finally test them. You then use that information to make improvements and continue the cycle of building and testing until you get a product or service that’s customer-ready.
You also saw that designers should not design for themselves, but should primarily draw on the triggers uncovered in the Discovering phase. They should take these insights as guidance and feel free to interpret and find creative solutions within them. Finally, you saw that the rest of the company needs to remain patient, especially early on, as prototypes will not necessarily work very well, and it will be hard to visualize the end result.
Some questions to help your company start talking:
What kinds of expertise does your company need on its design team? Who needs to be involved and how often?
Do you have a preferred process, or should you look into alternative ones to jump-start your innovation efforts?
How well would your management respond to a rough prototype that didn’t work very well?
Is there a way you could create space for innovators to work through a messy process?
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Associate Professor, MBA in Design Strategy, California College of the Arts
San Francisco, California, USA
Steve leads Scansion, a firm that identifies, shapes, and builds experiences and relationships that transform markets and businesses. As an experience strategist, Steve uses his unique perspective to optimize offerings in an era of rapid technological and social change. His clients have ranged from Fortune-100 companies to startups, including Yahoo, Autodesk, Chrysler, Logitech, Intel, Gannett, The Washington Post, P&G, The Economist Group, Carhartt, DirecTV, GM, Electrolux, Microsoft, and AAA. Prior to forming Scansion, Steve was Senior VP of Brand Strategy at Added Value. Previously, he was a Partner and Director of Innovation at Cheskin. Before entering the field of strategy, he owned a film production company and produced and directed several feature films. Steve is a founding faculty member for California College of the Arts’ MBA in Design Strategy program, teaching Market Insights and Social Ventures. He is a co-author of the Two Waves book Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value of Business. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago, a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Carleton College, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Film from Columbia College.
Associate Professor, MBA in Design Strategy, California College of the Arts
Experience Strategist, Independent Consultant
San Francisco, California, USA
A seasoned, professional strategist and serial entrepreneur, Nathan speaks and teaches internationally. His many books include Experience Design 1.1, Making Meaning, Design Is the Problem, Design Strategy in Action, and Make It So. He is also a co-author of the Two Waves book Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value of Business. Nathan is the chair of the groundbreaking MBA program in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts, in San Francisco. This program prepares next-generation innovation leaders for a world that is profitable, sustainable, ethical, and truly meaningful; and unites systems thinking, design and integrative thinking, business models, sustainability, and generative leadership into a holistic strategic framework. After working with Richard Saul Wurman at The Understanding Business, he co-founded vivid studios, a pioneering interactive-media company that focused on Web services and information architecture. Nathan holds an MBA in sustainable management from Presidio Graduate School and a Bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Art Center College of Design. He is on the board of directors for Teague and the AIGA.
Faculty, Design Thinking Program at The New School of Architecture and Design
San Diego, California, USA
The common threads uniting the disciplines in which Sean has worked over the last 25 years are understanding the relationships between individuals and group dynamics and leveraging insights to drive innovation. Previously, he was Founder and Principal at Extending Minds, a consulting firm that specialized in design sessions and team cultures that spur breakthrough innovation. His clients included GE Healthcare, Target, Pfizer, Mayo Clinic, and the University of Cincinnati Office of the President. In addition to his current position teaching in the Design Thinking Program at The New School of Architecture and Design, he has taught in the Department of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Schools of Business and Design at the University of Cincinnati. Earlier in his career, Sean was a founding member of the Clay Street project at P&G—which AG Lafley described in The Game-Changer as “a place where innovation teams are built from scratch, connecting behaviors are the norm, and the culture is courageous.” Sean created and facilitated over 50 of P&G’s Human Potential Workshops, on the development of creative cultures in organization. He is a co-author of the Two Waves book Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value of Business. Sean holds an MBA, in Information Technology, from the Red McCombs School of Business, at the University of Texas at Austin.