Bill Moggridge is one of the most interesting personalities in the international design scene.
A designer, communicator, entrepreneur, teacher and theorist, he passed away on September 8th 2012, leaving behind a legacy that only an eclectic and constantly evolving character like him could have left us. He was an enlightening person with great desire to learn.
The Grid Compass that he has created is believed to be the first laptop in the world. Designed in 1979, it was adopted by NASA and set the standard for laptops from then on, with its book closure, flat display and reduced keyboard. A standard that is still in use today.
In 1991, together with David Kelley and Mike Nuttall, he founded the award-winning design firm IDEO, based on the Interaction Design, a principle theorized by the same Moggridge in the eighties. IDEO is an entirely new design practice that helped define how users interacted with the computer’s software. An innovative approach, entirely human-centered.
IDEO is based on Design Thinking, a process used by IDEO designers which helps to address the most complex situations. It is a method of thinking that belongs to everyone and that we can all use.
In the following interview, Bill Moggridge shared further information about his creative process. Despite being an interview from 2008*, the points highlighted are still contemporary and a source of inspiration for many people.
Question: Where do the ideas come from?
Answer: Ideas start life in the intuitive part of the brain, created in the subconscious mind. Perhaps the mind is like an iceberg, with just a small proportion of the overall amount protruding above the water, into consciousness. If we operate above the water line, we only have a small volume to use, but if we allow ourselves to use the whole submerged mass, we have a lot more to work with. If a problem has a large number of constraints, the conscious mind starts to get confused, but the subconscious mind has a much larger capacity. Designers have the ability and the training to harness the tacit knowledge of the unconscious mind, rather than being limited to working with explicit knowledge. This makes them good at synthesizing solutions to problems with large numbers of constraints.
Complex design problems, such as systems or services, will be better tackled by a team of people from varied backgrounds, still harnessing intuitive processes, but collaborating so that the output from the “shared mind” is more productive than the sum of individual contributions.
Q: What can you tell us about your own creative process? Do you have any “rite” that helps you find new sources of inspiration?
A: I only work alone on easy tasks, like designing a graphic layout, or editing a video. If the task is complex or challenging, I work with a team of creative people from diverse disciplines and varied viewpoints. At IDEO we have a slogan, saying, “Forget your discipline when you go into the project room – just work together with the rest of the team!”. Perhaps this is a rite.
Q: During the creative process, where do the most significant inspirations come from?
A: I expect to just work through the design process until a good idea emerges. I don’t know where the most significant inspirations come from, because the process is subconscious. I only realize that a particular solution is successful intuitively.
Q: Once you said: “Every time I do something for the first time, I like to do it myself. If you’re working with other people it helps if you’ve been through the process, because then, you know something about the pain, as well as the pleasure”. When working in teams, do you feel more like a director, leading others to unexpected results, or rather a spectator who observes the creative process of others?
A: I just feel a part of the team. When the “shared mind” is working at its most powerful, people are taking turns in being the movie director without noticing the change; there is no hierarchy.
A: At some point you are likely to experience that wonderful “Ah ha!” feeling that comes with a creative leap, but that is only an indication that you have moved forward in the detail of the aspect of the design that you are focusing on right then. You will only know that the design is good when you have tried it out with the people who will use it and found that they are pleased, excited, motivated, and satisfied with the result.
Q: What exactly is Design Thinking and how is it different from other kinds of design?
A: Here is how I see Design Thinking in relation to other kinds of design:
- Design Thinking ~ What to do
- Specialist Design Skills ~ How to do it
- General Design Awareness ~ How to choose
When someone decides what to wear, how to decorate their home or layout their garden, they are exercising skills of general design awareness. These skills are most visible in countries like Italy that have a strong aesthetic culture and tradition but are improving fast in places where design is a subject offered as a major option in high schools.
Professional designers operate at a more sophisticated level, having mastered specialist design skills. They are expert at deciding how to do it, how to create an elegant solution to the problem posed by the constraints, but they expect the context that they operate in to be decided by someone else, probably the boss or the client. This expectation limits the economic value the contribution made by designers.
Interdisciplinary design thinking can be applied to deciding what to do in the first place, so that the power of intuitive creative processes can be harnessed to stimulate innovation and make a contribution to solving all types of problems and developing new opportunities. Design thinking can help with the messy and challenging problems posed by the complexity of design contexts in the world of digital technology and global connectivity, in order to decide what to do.
Q: It seems this process might be applied to other areas apart from design. Tell us about the skills needed in a decision process.
A: Here are five core skills of design taken from an informal talk by Chris Conley, the head of curricula development, IIT Institute of Design faculty, in 2002:
1. To synthesize a solution from all of the relevant constraints, understanding everything that will make a difference to the result
2. To frame, or reframe, the problem and objective
3. To create and envision alternatives
4. To select from those alternatives, knowing intuitively how to choose the best approach
5. To visualize and prototype the intended solution
Q: You went through three phrases along your career: You have been a designer, a manager and a communicator, working as a graphic designer and a video-maker. How would you define yourself now?
A: A storyteller.
* This interview was made possible by Meet the Media Guru, who invited Bill Moggridge to Milan for a public lecture (available at meetcenter.it).
In 1980, Steve Jobs asked IDEO to develop a mouse for a radical new computer, the Lisa. The design team abandoned the expensive mechanism found in the earlier mouse and replaced it with a more easily manufacturable component that’s still used in virtually all mechanical mice produced today.
In 2004, the Bank of America hoped to bring a human-centred angle to an industry which is hardly known for innovation and assigned IDEO to boost their enrolment numbers. The creative team held 20 sessions and generated 80 product concepts. They favoured one idea: the Keep the Change program. Keep the Change is a service that automatically rounds up all purchases made with a debit card. These rounded-up cents are transferred to a savings account.
IDEO has always been involved in social projects related to environmental sustainability and public health, such as Aquaduct, developed in 2008 for the Innovate or Die competition organised by the bicycle manufacturers Specialized, winning the first prize. Aquaduct is a pedal powered concept vehicle that transports, filters, and stores water for the developing world.
In 2011, IDEO incubated IDEO.org — a registered non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.