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The MIT Design Lab Guidelines

I attended the presentation of the MIT Design Lab (MDL) Director, Yihyun Lim, in Bradesco’s new innovation space in São Paulo, InovaBra Habitat, where she shared the guidelines that guide the design process of the famous MIT Design Lab and some projects as specific examples.

MIT Design Lab´s Director Yihyun Lim

It began by exposing the seven design guides that the MDL uses for every project, yet explained that most of the projects were corporate and sponsored but with room for more experimental projects.

For her one of the reasons for the success of the MDL is its cultural diversity, students and teachers come from all over the world and this wealth allows a high degree of innovation and diverse creative possibilities.

The guidelines used in each project are:

  •   Make the problem solve

When the problem comes, do not solve it immediately, but “deconstruct” the problem, understand it by all its perspectives. Rephrase the problem, its meaning, understand its root, the contexts, motivations, interactions.

From there, start solving the new problem. For her, this point was the most important and perhaps the most difficult, since there is a tendency to go directly to the problem pointed out initially and not stop to think that it may be wrong.

  • Understand Human Values

One of the most interesting parts of the presentation was this perspective, since it is based on two pillars:

1) understand the human values ​​that exist within a project.

2) create new values ​​that materialize in products, innovative, experimental services.

By existing human values ​​was the example of safety, health in an industrial environment. What is safety and health for a worker? How to turn these values ​​into a product or service? For this, a project of “wearables” and IOT incorporated into the clothing and work routine of the worker was presented, where there were alerts, messages about his health, the external environment and safety procedures that were being carried out or not during the day.

As new values, an example of this was  “smoking”, what are the social, collective and individual values ​​around the act of smoking?

Their research has shown that a collective value of smoking is the interaction with other people, how to transform this collective value (interaction – socialization) into a material product? For this they made an interactive mug, where the person would lift the mug and record a message that could be heard later by another person recreating the socialization of smoking otherwise.

Interesting perspective of creating new values ​​from common everyday actions and habits and transform these values ​​into innovative and experimental products and services.

So any common habit like drinking water, walking, using social networks can turn into a value that was previously not expressed and be a trigger for experimentation.

For this they create a “map of values”, be individual, collective, social, etc. around an action, habit and from this, they begin to design products and services that materialize this specific value, thus creating something that did not exist before. For me, as a designer was one of the highlights of the presentation.

  •     Make values ​​tangible

One case presented was: “How to make a tangible insurance policy?”

How to create value and materialize this for the user? Let’s say as in their example, “Security values ​​and home monitoring”. For this, they created a totem assistant – a butler who monitors the daily life of the user and especially the house, warning if there is a fire danger, strangers in the house, monitoring keys and other personal belongings in the house; bringing more value and tangibility to something that was invisible and “worthless with no immediate action” in the person’s life. For the user of the policy, a new perception was now presented, as a company perhaps more proactive, human and empathetic, since now it pays for future services that may come to use the no, but there is already at present a value, action and immediate return of such employment; he already realizes a positive immediate benefit, there is no longer that perception that the policy will only be for something negative in the person’s future life. It has become a negative perception of the business into something attractive and positive, possibly more people will hire the policy for the present service than the future service.

  •     Design relationships, not transactions

Design is from people to people, personal relationships and interactions being one of the most important aspects to the failure or success of a product or service. As a matter of fact, they presented the proposal of “How to make a hotel more sociable?” In partnership with a hotel chain, MDL began working on the idea of ​​transforming the hotel into a place of interaction among guests with common interests, such as professional profile, city of birth, hobbies. This identification was possible through a match based on the information completed at the time of booking. The interaction between guests happened with a kind of cube that signaled a green color when there was something in common, for the two guests who were in the bar. Another interesting idea was to make interactive hotel objects, such as a table lamp, what they called “engaged object” and “emotional IOT.” The table lamp was next to a sofa, and through LEDs installed on her screen she interacted directly with the user, by her name, and inviting him to his favorite coffee at the bar, paid for by the hotel.

  • Bring differences to Design

The co-founder of MIT Media  Lab Nicolas Negroponte, already stated decades ago, that only differences and diversity bring new ideas and creativity to the projects. As Lim stated in his presentation, one of the strengths and justification for the success of the MDL was its diversity in the body of students and teachers, which always allowed different perspectives, fresh and innovative in any project addressed.

But not only in the personal aspect, but also in the sense of bringing other areas into the design and interacting with Biology, Robotics, Computing, creating new possibilities for sustainable design, generative design, products and services that materialize this applied interaction between design and other areas of human knowledge.

  •   Be the driver (Mission-value driven, not market driven)

She did not specify much in this topic, but mentioned that the designer with his experience and global vision should be the driver of the project, coming together with other professions and knowledge, but always being the driver.

A feature that still does not happen in many companies, where the designer has no voting power and decision at a board of directors, only in his area, and yet the company wants to be innovative.

Design is no longer a physical product, it is a business model, it is an ecosystem of products, services and experiences and only the designer has that perception and driving ability. See how Apple and Google are constantly evolving their ecosystem with new products, services and experiences. In the United States, little by little designers are sitting on the boards of large companies.

  • Be aware of the obsession to perfect everything – embrace inefficiency

In a world that is becoming highly technological and with every type of application, there is a tendency for a continuous improvement in everything, here she mentions something very interesting, “Stop, the human being is imperfect and inefficient! Focus on values, experiences and emotions and not on pure technological improvement. “

Good design is centered on the human being and technology is just a tool, technology is not “designing” and neither is design, it is a support for the project.

I realized that perhaps the most important guidelines are:

  • Value creation by design.
  • Process – project focused on value (value driven) and not market (market driven).
  • Centered on the human being.

Although it seems obvious, in the current technological wave that we live, many designers forget that the design has two fundamental and timeless objectives: innovation and the human being.

Finally, it was a very rich and interesting presentation, in knowing what guidelines the MDL uses in its design processes, and that can be incorporated into our creative processes and design, but for me, basically the message left by MDL´s Director Lim is

“Through design create values ​​centered on the human being”.


Follow Yihyun Lim on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yihyun-lim/

The MIT Design Lab at: https://design.mit.edu/

InovaBra Habitat is the new innovation hub of Bradesco, one of the largest banks in Brazil and is located in São Paulo with the aim of encouraging, sharing and fostering a culture of innovation in the national panorama and in other fields beyond the fintech area.

Visit InovaBra Habitat at https://www.inovabra.com.br/habitat/

InovaBra habitat is managed by WeWork Brasil


I believe that design is a powerful tool for transforming society by generating innovative products, services and experiences that recreate new values, perceptions about aspects such as sustainability, inclusion for building a more just, egalitarian and inclusive society.

Follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marciodupont/


Diseñador Industrial por la UAM-Azcapotzalco, México, Maestria en Diseño Sustentable por la Universidad de Bornemouth, Inglaterra. En Brasil actualmente como consultor de innovación de productos, servicios, modelos de negócios en los aspectos de sustentabilidad e inclusión.

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