It is a concept that had its genesis in 1978, when Kelley and some Stanford pals took the notion of mixing human behavior and design and started the company that would eventually become IDEO. One of their first clients was the owner of a fast-growing personal computer manufacturer by the name of Steve Jobs.
David Kelley: He made IDEO. Because he was such a good client. We did our best work for him. We became friends and he'd call me at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Charlie Rose: At 3 a.m.?
David Kelley: Yeah, we were both bachelors so he knew he could call me, right? So he'd call me at 3 o'clock and he'd just like, with no preamble, say, "Hey, it's Steve." First, I knew if it was 3 o'clock in the morning, it was him. There was no preamble. And he'd just start-- and he said, "You know those screws that we're using to hold the two things on the inside?" I mean, he was deep into every aspect of things.
Kelley's company helped design dozens of products for Apple, including Apple III and Lisa and the very first Apple mouse, a descendant of which is still in use today.
David Kelley: He said to us, "You know, for $17 make- I want you to-" He gave us that number $17. "I want you to make a mouse we're gonna use in all our computers." So what happened here was we're trying to figure out how to make - so you move your hand and how you make the thing move on the screen. So at first, we thought we gotta make it really accurate, you know? Like when we move the mouse an inch, it's gotta move exactly an inch on the screen. And then after we prototyped it, we realized that doesn't matter at all. Your brain's in the loop! The whole thing was make it intuitive for the human.
But even after they solved that monumental problem, Jobs still wasn't satisfied.
David Kelley: So he didn't like the way the ball sounded on the table. So we had to rubber coat the ball. Well rubber coating the ball was a huge technical problem because you can't have any seams. You gotta get it just right. And so, you know, it would be just one thing -- like that.
Charlie Rose: And suppose Steve had said to you "I'd like to have a ball that's not steel but rubber coated" and you said "No, you can't do that Steve." What would he say?
David Kelley: Well the expletives that I would have- are probably are not good on camera, but it was basically, "I thought you were good," you know? Like, "I thought I hired you because you were smart," you know? Like, "You're letting me down."
Since then, design thinking has led to thousands of breakthroughs from redesigning Zyliss kitchen tools so they're easier to use, to coming up with a heart defibrillator that talks to you during an emergency. And they came up with TiVo's thumbs up, thumbs down button.
David Kelley: It makes your TV smarter because you give it thumbs up or thumbs down and the TV learns what you like and what you don't like.
It's why Steelcase, a company that has been building furniture for 100 years, turned to IDEO to reinvent the classroom chair.
David Kelley: This is one of my favorite things. I want you to sit in this chair.
Charlie Rose: Oh I love this.
David Kelley: This is for kids, right?
Charlie Rose: Well, I'm a kid so there you go.
David Kelley: That's right. You're perfect. So when we looked at that old wooden thing with the dog leg kind of stuff and if you just watch kids and see what they need. What do they need? Well the main thing they need is a place to put their backpack.
Charlie Rose: Yeah right.
David Kelley: So you got a place to put your backpack.
Charlie Rose: Right there.
David Kelley: And then they need-- They're fidgety. They want to move around. So you put in wheels, right? And then you- getting in and out of it, you know, you need to do this--