The Designful Company: A book review by Bob Morris

The Designful Company: How to build a culture of nonstop innovation
Marty Neumeier
Peachpit Press/New Riders (2008)

Neumeier addresses the challenge of organizing a company for agility by developing a “designful mind”: that is, a perspective that enables decision-makers to invent the widest range of solutions for the “wicked problems” now facing their company, their industry, and their world. He is president of Neutron, a San Francisco-based firm, that designs and facilitates culture-change programs that spur innovation. In co-sponsorship with Stanford University, his firm conducted a survey to identify “wicked problems”—problems so persistent, pervasive, or slippery that they seem insoluble. Ten are listed on Page 2 and range from “balancing long-term goals with short-term demands” to “aligning strategy with customer experience.” In this book, Neumeier explains how to establish and then sustain a culture of nonstop innovation, one that is guided and informed by a discipline of design so that it generates nonstop solutions to whatever wicked problems it may encounter. (Note: The solution process must be nonstop in response to constant changes of the nature and/or extent of each problem to be solved.)

According to Neumeier, a designful company inserts “making” between “knowing” and “doing”. Its designers don’t actually solve problems. They “work through” them. They use non-logical processes that are difficult to express in words but easier to express in action. They use models, mockups, sketches, and stories as their vocabulary. They operate in the space between “knowing” and “doing,” prototyping new solutions that arise from their four strengths of empathy [i.e. understanding the motivations of stakeholders to forge stronger bonds], intuition [a shortcut to understanding situations], imagination [new ideas are generated by divergent thinking, not convergent thinking], and idealism [an obsession with getting it right, obtaining what is missing, making whatever changes may be necessary, etc.]. One of Neumeier’s most important points is that any organization (regardless of its size or nature) needs designers at all levels and in all areas of its operations. “To build an innovative culture, a company must keep itself in a perpetual state of reinvention. Radical ideas must be the norm, not the exception…Companies don’t fail because they choose the wrong course—they fail because they can’t imagine a better one.”

As these brief remarks indicate, I think this is Neumeier’s most important—indeed his most valuable—book thus far because he addresses issues that are relevant to an organization’s entire culture whereas, previously, he focused on a specific organizational imperative such as bridging the distance between business strategy and customer experience with five interconnected disciplines or using the first and most strategic of those disciplines to achieve radical differentiation.

Note: Peachpit Press/New Riders has just released Marty Neumeier’s first video, Innovation Workshop. This video presents concepts from his three best-selling books – The Brand Gap, Zag, and The Designful Company (especially) – and includes downloadable exercises to help work through crucial brand and innovation questions. Usually Neumeier charges $800 for one of his workshops but this 45-minute video aims to fill that gap with these concepts and exercises.

You can check out the promotion page below for more info:


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