Today is a Prototype for Tomorrow


Look around you. Seriously; stop reading for a minute, and look around you. Everything you see — literally every thing — was designed by someone. The chair you’re sitting on, the clothes you are wearing, the walls and ceiling and floor, the screen and device on which you are reading these words... everything. And not only tangible things: the sites you visit, the services you use, the restaurants you frequent, notice that all of them are the result of design.

This eye-opening exercise is based on a comment made by David Kelley in the now-classic 1999 Nightline profile of the design and innovation company he founded, IDEO. David made this point to emphasize the role of design in our world, and to highlight how transparent design had become to most people. Since everything is designed, we’ve stopped thinking about it; much like we don’t walk around with constant awe that there is air everywhere for us to breathe. 

This observation calls attention to a key element of the designer’s mindset: realizing that everything was — and can be — designed by someone creates produces a relentless quest for creative expression, a fiery drive for innovation. Designers look around and say, “If it was designed by someone, it can be redesigned!” It can be shaped and modeled to be better in some way: more useful, more user-friendly, more desirable, less wasteful. The list of potential improvements is endless, limited only by the imagination.

When Steve Jobs stood on stage holding the first iPhone on that auspicious day in 2007, he knew that he was holding the prototype on which the next iPhone — the iPhone 3G — was already being designed and built. Jobs was the ultimate designer: for him, the whole world was a playground, a prototype for him to study and observe, poke and test, and continuously introduce new ideas into.

You, too, are a designer. Whether you’re designing a toy, writing code, defining a new business strategy, treating a patient, or delivering a speech: your actions and what you deliver have an impact on the world around you by changing the experience of people.

Looking at the world around you and everything you do as a prototype will make you see opportunities for innovation everywhere. When seen through this lens, the world is filled with prototypes that were placed out there for you to learn from, build on, and improve. Your work, your colleague’s work, your competitor’s work — it’s all open for enhancement, change, and transformation.

So now once again, take a pause in reading, and look around. This time, focus on some specific object. Study it. Think of it as a prototype for something better, and ask yourself, “If I were in charge of redesigning this, what would I do? How might I make this better, more useful, more friendly, more beautiful, more effective, or less harmful to the environment?”

Today is a prototype for tomorrow. What you observe and do today can serve you to reflect, learn, and design our tomorrow in a new way.