Thursday, May 24, 2018

Design Like Walt Disney

Much of what is called Design Thinking has its roots in work done by John Arnold, Herbert Simon, Robert McKim and Rolf Faste, starting in the late 1950's. Today, Design Thinking is closely associated with methods taught in Stanford's Product Design Program, Joint Program in Design, at the, and applied by IBM, IDEO, SAP, GE, GE Healthcare and Procter and Gamble. Other schools, colleges and universities are also offering theoretical and practical courses in Design Thinking.

Alcoa first described its method of blending of imagination and engineering, asImagineering in the 1940's. Union Carbide's Richard F. Sailer wrote an article called BRAINSTORMING IS IMAGINation engINEERing in 1957. Disney filed for a copyright on the term in 1967, claiming first use in 1962. Walt Described it this way, possibly as early as 1952;

"We keep moving forward - opening new doors and doing new things - because we're curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We're always exploring and experimenting... we call it Imagineering - this blending of creative imagination and technical know-how."

Both processes are multi-phasic and include brainstorming and storytelling. They both utilize in-depth investigation and broad-scope information gathering (ie; IDEO's "Deep Dive") to thoroughly understand all aspects of the situation. Both processes are also highly collaborative and focus on the emotional and cognitive experience of the user.

What are the differences and similarities between the methods taught at Stanford, used by IDEO and Walt Disney Imagineering? Are there common traits between one organization famed for its feel-good family entertainment and another known for solving "wicked" problems?

First, a review of what the says are the key phases of Design Thinking:

Empathize - Define - Ideate - Prototype - Test
Brainstorming, Storytelling, Rapid Prototyping, Testing and Interviewing for Empathy stand out as key activities associated with the phases. These methods also create artifacts associated with each phase, like storyboards and models.

My approach was to gather as much information as I could from both on-line and print sources where persons with first hand knowledge of Imagineering and Design Thinking explained the key elements of their design processes. Next, I looked for any significant correlations and parallels between them, both in terms of vocabulary and method; I also relied on my own experience applying the principles of Design Thinking over the past 30 years.

Storytelling - Tim Brown (IDEO)

"Though its not always necessary to make your audience cry, a good story, well told should deliver a powerful emotional punch."

"...a new idea will have to tell a meaningful story in a compelling way if it is to make itself heard."

"...storytelling needs to be in the toolkit of the design thinker."

Storytelling - Walt Disney

"The story man must see clearly in his own mind how every piece of business in a story will be put."

"He should feel every expression, every reaction."

"He should get far enough away from his story to take a second look at it... to see whether there is any dead see whether the personalities are going to be interesting and appealing to the audience."

"The thing that makes us different is... Giving it "heart"... We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to "tap the heart." Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

Brainstorming - IDEO

IDEO is so big on brainstorming they've got their own seven rules on their web site;

1. Defer judgment
2. Encourage wild ideas
3. Build on the ideas of others
4. Stay focused on the topic
5. One conversation at a time
6. Be visual
7. Go for quantity

Brainstorming - Marty Sklar

"Everyone starts with a blank sheet of paper..." "Here, what if actually means why not?"

"No one's going to stomp on you because you came up with a strange, weird idea..."

"These ideas are then shared with a handful of Imagineers who gather to bounce them around. We call this brainstorming." Usually, when a session begins, there are no certainties. To us, that simply means anything is possible."

"A brainstorming may last hours, days, even weeks." "The only rule during this time: there are no rules." "Every aspect is questioned, admired, debated, and turned upside down and inside out until that first sketch can take a daring leap off the napkin and grow into larger, more refined drawings and paintings. The brainstorming subsides when the basic idea is defined, understood and agreed upon by all group members. It belongs to all of us, keeping a rich heritage left to us by Walt Disney. Teamwork is truly the heart of Imagineering.

Storyboarding - IDEO

A central way that IDEO fleshes out the details of a design is to develop detailed storyboards or scenarios of a person using the new device.

Storyboading - Marty Sklar

"Our next step involves a little more imagination - and a lot more blank paper - as we define the details of the idea, and determine how it can best emerge to tell its story in a three dimensional world. Sketches are pinned onto large storyboards. Dozens of them are added, taken away, switched around, re-drawn, crumpled up and tossed out, then fetched from the trash can, un-crumpled, and put back up."

Modeling - (Prototyping) @ Stanford
The is so committed to modeling and prototyping they have an entire class (MS&E 488) and Lab devoted to it. It's a key step in every iteration of the process.

Modeling - Marty Sklar

Clay is molded, foam is carved, and cardboard and plaster are cut and glued together to bring the idea into three dimensions. Several generations of study models are built and rebuilt. First draft scripts undergo second and third revisions.

Persistence - Walt Disney

"Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it and work at it until it's done, and done right."

“When we consider a new project, we really study it - not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right. And we work hard to do the best possible job.”
"New ideas are continuously nourished as long as they have a shot at reality. If the spark of an idea is strong, it will never fade away. Even if it travels only far enough to appear on that first piece of paper, there it will patiently remain until the time is right for it to re-ignite."

Persistence - IDEO

In The Little Book of IDEO, the very first slide which appears is "Be Optimistic," close behind is Take Ownership.

Some Preliminary Conclusions

I typically allow the reader to draw their own conclusions regarding my blog postings, but in this case, I'm going to say that I found a significant level of correlation between the two methods.

Some may say the similarities are co-incidental. That may be true, but if it is, I suspect it's because at their cores Design Thinking and Imagineering are both about the same thing; Creativity that connects with the user/guest at a deep emotional level.

In my blog posting Making Walt Cry, I quote Walt on this point.

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