Danny Schuman is another local Chicago treasure—he’s been doing work with many of the brands you’ve known and loved all of your life and like Dr. Steve Julius, he’s also spent a number of years working with Michael Jordan! Danny is not a designer, yet he’s managed to successfully work with great ones over the years and shares some of his best tips for working with them.
We hope you enjoy Danny’s presentation, “5 Tips for Designers from a Terrible Designer” and don’t forget to get your tickets for Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th and 12th!
Danny Schuman is a writer, thinker, and idea creator. He spent over 20 years writing memorable marketing campaigns that built iconic brands like Coors Light, Life Cereal, and Gatorade. He and Michael Jordan started working on Gatorade on the same day and they happily made many commercials together for many years.
Danny founded innovation and marketing consultancy Twist in January 2009, reflecting his boundless sense of optimism and a healthy amount of bIissful ignorance. Twist helps brands like Pepsi, Discover, Wrigley, and MillerCoors solve creative and strategic challenges.
The Joy of Solving, the problem-solving framework that Danny created, helps people come up with brilliant ideas to solve tough challenges. It’s been featured in FastCompany and at Chicago Ideas Week. He’s also spoken, taught and mentored at Techweek and 1871.
5 Tips for Designers from a Terrible Designer
I’ve been in the position to lead designers toward best-in-class, top-notch design for some of the most well-known brands in the world. Funny thing about that: I’m not a designer! I am, however a writer who knows how to unearth a creative solution, and who knows who to help others solve problems for themselves.
I’ve come up with 5 problem-solving tips for designers that will help them think through and create designs more effectively and guide them to ridiculous fame and fortune, all from a person who is smart enough to know when to hire someone far better than me to do this kind of stuff.
Can you hear me? Let me know if this thing is working. Okay, good. Hi everybody. I am Danny Schuman. I’m kind of like your — before the afternoon meal continues. I have 15 minutes to talk to you about design from a non‑designer’s perspective. I am not designer. I did this all by myself!
It’s horrible! You can see the shadow behind my head. But it’s written pretty well. The writing is pretty good. I’m a writer by trade. I used to work in the world of advertising. I worked a lot with Michael Jordan, too. I worked on the Gatorade account. Now I’m a writer on the strategy and marketing and innovation side, as well. Not enough time to talk about me at all. I want to talk about design.
So like I said, I’m a writer and so what some writers do at this stage of their lives is write about what they know. I’m a curious guy. I’ve always been interested in how people come up with ideas. I’ve spent my entire life helping people come up with ideas. I started to talk about how people did it. What it led me to was a book. The book is called The Joy of Solving. I did not design this by the way. It was a result of many, many, many, many interviews with many people with different skill sets and solvers. A woman who makes wine, and a theoretical physicist at MIT, and at the cook county jail, and lots of interesting people in between. And where it led was a book called “the Joy of Solving” a lot of workshops in between. I did not design this either. It was designed by someone who was a really good designer, who I trust implicitly with my thoughts. At least I can collaborate with someone to come up with good design. I know enough about it to get to something like this.
What I want to do today is relate these pathways. The book is based on these five paths of problem solving. I want to relate these path to what I think helps people design well. And again, these are not, I’ll get to that in a second.
So the important thing to think about here is it’s not about the what. The what are the ideas. You can come up with ideas. Right? I don’t know how consciously you think about how you solve problems. I was talking in the lobby before about a couple people. When you solve the problem, what do you do? You check the box, you go to the next meeting, and you move on. You don’t consciously think about how you solve problems.
Steve Julius had a quote before. The difficulty lies not in finding new ideas, but escaping old ones. I want to talk to you about a few way to come up with new ideas in new ways.
First: Design generously. What does that mean? Design generously? For me that means designing for the greater good. What does that mean? It means teaching other people what you know. It’s an amazingly powerful problem solving tool. It seems odd and counterintuitive, but when you teach others what you know, it helps them do something better and it frees you up potentially to do something that you’re really good at. Listening. Listening is an amazingly powerful problem solving and design tool.
Asking questions of somebody to find out what really at the root of what you’re trying to get to. I like to say that listening is a joyful problem solving technique, because people are going to love your solutions that much better when they really know that you understand their problem.
I’m going to go through these fairly quickly, because I don’t have a ton of time. If you have any questions, I’ll hopefully reserve a couple minutes at the end. But I want to show you images of people that I think best reflect the paths that I’m describing. It seems like a strange connection to show a picture of Gandhi. He was an amazing teacher, an amazing listener, and he was really a solver on behalf of the greater good. And I think there’s a lot to learn about someone like that when it comes to design. I really do. I think the idea of solving for the greater good and putting others in front of yourself when you’re designing can actually benefit you as much as anybody else.
Design pragmatically. So J before was talking about pattern matching and the benefits and the pitfalls of pattern matching. To me, there’s a lot of good reasons to think pragmatically when you’re designing. Making a plan. Your plan might look a lot different than someone else’s plan. Someone may have a chart and a daily calendar.
And another person will have a start and a finish and we’re going to do something in the middle that will get us there. But a plan is so important. But I like to talk about planning in terms of adaptive planning. Not just in making a plan. You’re going to hit hurdles and bumps in the road and be ready to adapt when the situation calls for it.
One interesting story about pattern matching from one of the guys that I interviewed is he was a doctor in the E.R. And he talked about how they teach medical students a very processed way of practicing medicine. Here are the questions that you ask. Here are the orders that you ask them in. Here’s the way that you ask them. So when the shit hits the fan in the emergency room, everyone knows what they need to be doing. That said, he talks about the dog that did bark in the night. The thing that you didn’t know right off.
He talks about a patient, everything pointed to his kidneys, but before they let him go they noticed his pinky nail was discolored and it started them on a whole different path. Sure pattern playing. But be able to adapt. Do you know who that is? The coach. If you’re down by two touch downs, you need to adapt. I love what he says about making peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He says there’s a correct way. He says you have to put peanut butter on both sides of the bread so the jelly doesn’t go through.
Design nakedly. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid you don’t know something. I love stupid questions. They’re the best questions in the world. Stupid questions get you to brilliant answers. You may be sitting in a room and thinking to yourself, shouldn’t ask this question. Someone asked it already. Someone else will think I don’t know what I’m doing. (Making buzzer noise)
When that question gets asked, people think I should have asked that question. It almost takes you to a place that’s different and interesting and gets you to a fresh idea. Naked design is around embracing fear and embracing fear and failure. Steve was talking about that before today. It’s a great motivational tool.
Colin Powell is one of my favorite naked designers. He said the principle that tells a great designer, if there’s a yes man in the room then one of us is redundant.
The grade ad guy said “Wake up stupid every day.” I love that. Clean slate. That’s about designing nakedly.
Design spiritually. This isn’t necessarily religious, although it could be embraced as such. But this is about belief. This is about being open to possibility. This is about reception. Answers being in front of you and instead of pushing them away, I’m sure this has happened to you. For some reason you push it away. Someone won’t like it. It’s fraught with peril, whatever. Give it a shot.
The other aspect of naked design is fun! Have fun! It’s design! I know it’s work. But it should be fun. It’s amazing when I talk to people who kind of solve and design spiritually. They inject fun. Cubs fans? Me too. Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure. She’s amazing and she is to me the epitome of a spiritual solver and designer. The best way to discover what you love and find a way to give it to others and working hard and allowing the spirit of the world to lead you.
Oprah did not have it easy in her youth. She learned to read through reading scripture. This is not necessarily about religion, but it’s about belief. And receptivity. And — oh! I forgot the slide! You get a car, you get a car, remember you get a car? She had fun! It’s awesome! I love Oprah. You get a car! And lastly design blissfully ignorantly. Blissfully ignorantly. This is something that I think lot of you probably experience in your daily lives. I was talking to James. James? There you are. He was talking to me about a project he was assigned to where basically he had this one skill set and they gave him this other thing to do and I mean I’ll figure it out. That’s what the blissfully ignorantly way of designing and solving is. It’s about figuring it out. I’m sure all of you need to be flexible and persistent and optimistic. But it’s not always easy. And so the blissfully ignorantly‑ly school of design is never, ever giving up. I talked to some solvers who were so unbelievably doggedly determined not to be defeated, which is one way to interpret blissfully ignorantly‑ly designing and solving, and the other way is optimism and believing you’ll get there.
This guy is a nut ball. But he has create an unbelievably diverse array of successful things. He’s failed a million times too. Virgin cosmetics, virgin Jeans. And the reason they named the company called Virgin Records is because none of them had ever opened a business before. The first virgin hotel in the world? Is it cool. Thumbs up. If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you’re not sure you can do it, say yes and learn how to do it later. Anybody relate to that in the work that they do?
[Laughing] Not so much.
I think my time is about up. I just want to remind you again, not a lot of time to process, but think about how you solve because you’re going to get to ideas and the question is how will you get there? What process will you use? What tools will you employ? Or will you just wing it every time? Nothing wrong with that really. But I suggest to you, and I encourage you, and I challenge you to think about the next time you solve a problem to pause and to kind of write down or talk to someone else about how you solved it. And take note of it. And consciously kind of slip that in your pocket so that when the next challenge comes along you are maybe a little more prepared. And you may help someone like me, a total design idiot design something like this, which I really like.
So thanks very much. I appreciate your time.