How to design breakthrough inventions

Global firm IDEO incorporates human behavior into product design -- an innovative approach being taught at Stanford

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The following script is from "Design Thinking" which aired on Jan. 6, 2012. Charlie Rose is the correspondent. Katherine Davis, producer.

Tonight we're going to introduce you to one of the most innovative thinkers of our time. He is a man who has had an enormous impact on our everyday lives.

David Kelley is the founder of the Silicon Valley global design firm IDEO. His company has created thousands of breakthrough inventions including the first computer mouse for Apple, the stand-up toothpaste tube, and a better Pringle for Procter & Gamble. IDEO may be the most influential product design company in the world.

Kelley was a longtime friend and colleague of Steve Jobs and he is a pioneer in something known as "design thinking" -- an innovative approach that incorporates human behavior into design.

David Kelley: The big thing about design thinking is it allows people to build on the ideas of others. Instead of just having that one thread, you think about it, I come up with an idea, and then somebody from somewhere else says, "Oh that makes me think we should do this and then we could do that." And then you get to a place that you just can't get to in one mind.

If you follow David Kelley around IDEO, you can see how he has infused that thinking into the legendary Palo Alto firm he founded more than 20 years ago. Breakthrough ideas happen every day here.

The key to unlocking creativity at IDEO may be their unorthodox approach to problem-solving.

They throw a bunch of people with different backgrounds together in a room.

[Charlie Rose: So you're in the business end?

Man: Yes.

Woman: My background is in software engineering.

Woman. Journalism.

Man: Aerospace engineer.]

Doctors, opera singers and anthropologists for example, and get them to brainstorm.

Charlie Rose: But you gotta have a certain culture. You gotta have collaboration, you gotta have diversity, you gotta have an anthropologist, and a business person and an engineer and a computer scientist. All of those kinds of--

David Kelley: You got it. You got it. That's the hard part is the cultural thing of having a diverse group of people and having them be good at building on each other's ideas.

They encourage wild ideas and visualize solutions by making actual prototypes. But the main tenet is empathy for the consumer, figuring out what humans really want by watching them.

David Kelley: If you want to improve a piece of software, all's you have to do is watch people using it and see where they grimace and then correlate that to where they are in the software. And you could fix that, right? And so the thing is to really build empathy, try to understand people through observing them.

Charlie Rose: In other words, their experience will communicate what you need to focus on.

David Kelley: Yeah, exactly.