CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People

For my first book review, I thought I’d start off with something I recently finished, and probably should have read sooner.

CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How It Can Spark Creativity and Innovation, by Warren Berger, had been sitting on the floor at the foot of my bookshelves – I’ve run out of room on the shelves so new books get put into prioritized piles on the floor – for a good six months before I finally got around to reading it. Despite its sometimes obvious advice, I’m sad that I didn’t pick it up sooner. The book is full of anecdotes from famous designers utilizing various techniques from a simplified list of strategies, which Berger calls “Glimmer Principles,” aimed at introducing design thinking – creative problem-solving – as a means to overcoming some of society’s greatest challenges.

Berger starts off listing the major groupings of the principles: Universal, Business, Social, and Personal. Some of the principles are head-smackingly simple, yet manage to produce the all-too-familiar, “Wow. Why didn’t I think of that?” A perfect example of this is Ask stupid questions. Of course, he doesn’t mean ask questions that are stupid, but questions that might be perceived as stupid by someone who is very familiar with the field in question. So, for instance, asking why we make the things we make or what makes us happy, would qualify as “stupid” questions given that they challenge the very foundations of the problems that we’re trying to overcome. It’s all about asking why things are the way they are. Comically, the approach of the three-year-old asking why after every answer an adult provides reflects this nicely. Other principles, however, are patently obvious and don’t really provide much to the genre of enlightened thinking, such as the principle of Facing consequences. I understand the necessity of its inclusion in the strategy for creating innovative thinking, but I’m not sure it deserved an entire chapter in the book. A few pages and a nice anecdote could have covered it sufficiently.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in getting a basic understanding of the important considerations made in coming up with creative solutions to a variety of problems. The book’s greatest strength, I think, is its clarification of what design really is. The word generally connotes ideas of fashion, interior decorating, and general beautification of products and people. However, Berger makes a strong case that design – especially good design thinking – is integral to finding real solutions to society’s most difficult problems, not to mention the personal problems we, as individuals, face every day.

A perspective-altering quote that sums things up rather nicely, courtesy of Warren Berger: “I design, therefore I am.”