Empathy is the Core of Design Thinking

David Kelley is the founder and chairman of IDEO, probably the world’s best-known design innovation consultancy. Though not quite a household name, Kelley has arguably made as much of an impact on the field of design as the late Steve Jobs — in fact, it was under Kelley’s leadership that IDEO designed the first mouse for Apple in 1981.

But more than the products his company has helped to invent, it is Kelley’s approach to design that will be his legacy. “Design thinking” is a term that was coined in the ’80s at Stanford, but it was Kelley who can be credited for bringing it into the business world.

As a style of thinking, design thinking is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.


In a segment on 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose last month, Kelley discussed his relationship with Jobs, the value of design thinking, and what he believes is at the core of IDEO’s success: empathy.

“To really build empathy, try to understand people through observing them.”

Charlie Rose: “It’s not rocket science, it’s…”
David Kelley: “It’s empathetic. Try to understand what they really value.”

If you can’t see the video embedded above, please go to 60 Minutes on CBSnews.com.

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  1. says

    I cannot believe this is the first time I have come across your blog. I had a friend that once told me that God put all my character points into Empahy (D&D folks will understand). Honestly, I know that trait is the number one reason why I and my clients are succeeding in social.


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