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Think Like a Designer, Act Like a Visionary

From growing up as a boy who would sketch endlessly in his exercise books to a young adult visualising where all the furniture would go in his first property while traveling into town on the underground, I’ve always been interested and fascinated by the world of design.

I’m that sort of guy that raves about MUJI products, carefully considers the composition of an image before taking a photo, and appreciates the amount of thought that went into making the universally popular Changi Airport an amazing experience for travellers.

But what if instead of being just consumers of good design, we could harness the thought principles behind good design to better our lives. Our business. Our future?

These were the exact thoughts I had after hearing Jocelyn Bailey’s ‘Revolution By Design’ talk at the TEDxOxbridge event back in June.

Three ideas in particular resonated with me:

  1. That the essence of design is founded in a belief that existing situations can be transformed into preferred ones.
  2. That thinking of yourself as a designer is an empowering notion, as it puts you in the position to design the solution.
  3. That the most innovative designers consciously reject what most would consider the standard route and instead, cultivate and foster a culture for thinking different.

‘Think Different.’

Now where have we heard that before? That’s right, Apple!

Armed with a cup of green tea and some Pierre Hermé macaroons (a must-try if you’re as much a foodie as me) sitting next to my MacBook, I began to dive into the design philosophy Steve Jobs had ingrained into Apple’s culture.

It became clear that there are some useful lessons we can draw upon in helping to design a philosophy for living our best life. While I’ve chosen the angle of applying this to our life, as you read, you’ll notice you can just as easily apply a lot of these to your business.

Drawing on the key pillars of his philosophy, I’ve outlined some of my thoughts on what we can take away from these and begin to easily apply in our daily lives:

  • Craft, Above All. Under Jobs, Apple was known for its ridiculously high attention to detail and immersion in its craft. For example, on the firm’s “Sunflower” Macintosh, there was an exquisitely fine, laser-etched Apple logo. While you might only see this detail once a year when moving the computer, it mattered. It mattered because it made an impression. Even the insides of their products were designed to be clean.

Lesson? No matter how small the steps you must take in life are, make each and every one of them count. Have a set of standards and make sure that the actions you take are congruent with them. Do the small things well enough, and the big things will take care of themselves. As they say, you don’t have a strong house without a solid foundation.

  • Empathy. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. These revolutionary products were a demonstration of Jobs’ ability to build intimate connections with the feelings of the consumer to understand their needs. He designed features that so many of us now take for granted today. You remember what a ‘smartphone’ was like before the birth of the iPhone? They all had fixed, QWERTY keyboards with basic Internet functionality. How times have changed!

Lesson? How do you want to feel? What can you begin to change inside of you that will help to address where you want to get to in life? Spend time connecting with your inner self and focusing on what makes you truly happy. Promote items clogging up your ‘should’ list to your ‘must’ list. When will you take action on these? Time is finite and it’s the one commodity we can’t buy more of.

  • Focus. To have done an incredible job with the products and services that Apple have created over the years, has demanded of them, a laser-like focus on what was most important in the respective projects. They’ve had to eliminate all the opportunities that were unimportant to what they wanted to establish.

Lesson? Commit to hacking away at the essential so that your energy is driven into concentrating on the key activities that will move you forward. Focus on what’s most important for you to accomplish each day, week and month. Remind yourself that procrastination is the biggest thief of time!

  • Impute. As much as we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, the fact is we do. And it’s something Jobs was fully aware of. A company may have the best product, the most aesthetically-pleasing design and highest build quality. But if they present it to you in a careless fashion, they will be perceived as careless. The event of buying, opening the packaging and starting up an Apple product is itself an experience that imputes the desired qualities they have sought to create.

Lesson? How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to inspire others? By focusing on who you want to become and what you believe in, it won’t take long for people to buy into your dream and perceive you in exactly the way you desire. As Stephen Covey would say, “Begin with the End in mind.”

  • Friendliness. Design became a focal point for everything Apple did under Jobs’ leadership and making things friendly for their users was a top consideration. Making things friendly was an innovative way to appeal to the most novice of users and anyone overwhelmed by the complexities of a computer. It allowed anyone to pick up their devices and use them almost immediately without having to read through pages and pages of instructions.

Lesson? Learn, then educate. Accumulate, then share. Earn, then give back. By understanding how we can help and empower others, not only do we create more opportunities but we also inspire people towards realising what’s possible.

  • Simplicity. What Jobs wanted to do in each of his products, was to make things intuitively obvious. His passion was to turn the complex into the simple, and ensure products were based on things people already understood. In the words of Braun’s Dieter Rams, “less is better.” The belief was that the final design had to be a reflection of the product’s soul – its purpose, how it functions and how it would be used.

Lesson? Do things that you are insanely passionate about. We all have greatness within us. However, it’s only by doing things that make us jump out of bed each morning filled with excitement, that will allow us to realise this. You will begin to find your purpose and find the energy to accomplish things you never thought possible.

In the comments below, I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt and whether adopting some of these have had a positive impact in your life.

Perhaps, you’ve come away learning something I haven’t mentioned after reading the above? If so, it would be awesome to hear about it.

Have your say


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