David Kelley: Design Disrupter

First Person: A conversation with David Kelley, founder, IDEO and Stanford d.School

by Lisa Van Dusen / Palo Alto Weekly

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school talks with First Person host Lisa Van Dusen about his mission to help as many people as possible regain their creative confidence, the universal applicability of human-centered design and the importance of play. He reflects on his summers growing up in the Midwest; his friendship with Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass; and his very early desire to become a school bus driver.

 Billiard balls on display - drawing by Lisa Van Dusen

Billiard balls on display - drawing by Lisa Van Dusen

Sitting in his stunning Woodside house that he designed in collaboration with Sottsass, Kelley relishes the architect's unconventional approach to design--everything is designed to be human and emotional. Kelley reminisces about their longtime friendship, including Sottsass's annual birthday parties in France and "love of lunch." Kelley had the rare sense that he was in the presence of greatness.

Growing up in the Midwest, Kelley was long on what he calls "inventor heroes." The "design heroes came later" and Sottsass was clearly one of them. They knew about who invented what — from Alexander Graham Bell, who patented the first telephone, to the cotton gin man, Eli Whitney.

Kelley had to find his own way to human-centered design and was instrumental in creating Design Thinking as we know it. Kelley has seen design move from the "kids' table to the grown-up table" - becoming the first step rather than an afterthought in Silicon Valley over the past 30 years. Enter teaching.

Kelley teaches with passion as a Stanford professor, and more recently through a new online course via IDEO U. His consulting work with companies and other institutional IDEO clients also constitutes a form of teaching. Just ask him about the power of micro-successes.

Kelley shares one example of excavating the unexpected human need involving the San Francisco Unified School District's lunch program. It turned out that what they actually needed was "an extraordinary social experience" with a little food thrown in.

A lot of Kelley's work involves play. In fact, play is not the opposite of work, contends Kelley. "It allows permission for doing things differently," he said, adding it's an essential ingredient for creativity. Stanford will soon be offering a class on play and coincidentally and the Palo Alto Art Center will concurrently be featuring an exhibition on play.

Kelley, a purveyor of play, human-centered design and creative confidence, offers those who are trying to find their path in life some advice: "Don't take a job that looks good but feels bad."

He suggested people take a gap year or experiment.

"Don't try to pull it out of your big brain," he said.

This conversation was took place at David Kelley's home in Woodside, California on July 25, 2017.

Watch the video

To watch previous First Person video interviews, click here.

Host/interview, Lisa Van Dusen

Video, Veronica Weber

Production Managers, Lavanya Mahadevan & Alexis Weisend