Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis
Jon Kolko
Publication Date
January 2011
Oxford University Press, USA
Just ploughed through this and must say I am impressed with the clarity and rigor of Kolko's work. The book offers a compelling set of arguments for why design synthesis is important, both from a creative and business side of things — and goes on to describe a number of methods — both standard and a few that are not so common in the typical design thinkers arsenal — that I have been experimenting with since.
My only "fault" with the book (as a service designer) is that it is implicitly written for product design rather than service design. Applying the methods in the book to large complex service problems is doable and certainly helpful, but requires a bit of tweaking. Nevertheless I have found it insightful and valuable as I try to trudge through the murk of complex problems in my day to day. Recommended.

FROM AMAZON.COM: As the world deals with increasing complexity — in issues of sustainability, finance, culture and technology — business and governments are searching for a form of problem solving that can deal with the unprecedented levels of ambiguity and chaos. Traditional "linear thinking" has been disparaged by the popular media as being inadequate for dealing with the global economic crisis. Standard forms of marketing and product development have been rejected by businesses who need to find a way to stay competitive in a global economy. Yet little has been offered as an alternative. It is not enough to demand that someone "be more innovative" without giving him the tools to succeed.

Design synthesis is a way of thinking about complicated, multifaceted problems of this scale with a repeatable degree of success. Design synthesis methods can be applied in business, with the goal of producing new and compelling products and services, and they can be applied in government, with the goal of changing culture and bettering society. In both contexts, however, there is a need for speed and for aggressive action. This text is immediately relevant, and is more relevant than ever, as we acknowledge and continually reference a feeling of an impending and massive change. Simply, this text is intended to act as a practitioner's guide to exposing the magic of design.

Exposing the Magic of Design Filed under: synthesis, method, complexity, theory, product, design, abductive reasoning, service design.
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Two Comments
Jeff Howard on April 5, 2011 1:54am
I haven't read Kolko's newest book but he released the PDF of his previous work Thoughts on Interaction Design a while back. It gives a sense of his writing style. Also check out his 2009 piece On Hiring Design Graduates from Frog with six bits of wisdom for students. Both PDFs are heavy on the interaction design, so fair warning.
Andy Polaine on April 7, 2011 4:47pm
I read through this recently too and it was a fantastic eye-opener for me. Not because I didn't know the methods Kolko describes, but because he explicitly articulates what is going on as designers move from their research data to ideas through synthesis. It's the part I have always had difficulty teaching students--they tend to get it only when they do it--so this book is a valuable addition to the field. Most importantly, it makes a case for designers to place value (and sell that value) on this key part of the design process.
Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis
By Jon Kolko
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