Fred Dust: Open your eyes, be brave, and believe

Fred Dust believes we can all be designers.

The IDEO partner laid out his deceptively simple philosophy in his opening address at C2-MTL 2013, breaking it down into three principles.

1. Look, really look

“That seems easy,” Dust says, “but the reality is it’s actually hard.” When you ask people for their perspective, he points out, “people default to their best selves, what they want to be.” So instead of asking, observe them closely to see how they really behave.

2. Interpret, translate and steal.

Interpreting is a way of rethinking simple things. Dust was inspired by his young niece, who turned a teapot into a human face with two dots of soy sauce. “I look at not the 50-year-old, but the five-year-old, as a point of contact,” he says. “We’re highly creative as children, and at some point we start to distrust our creativeness.”

Translating means talking to people in their own language. Dust illustrates this with the example of a wine store, whose owners rewrote the elitist language of wine into references their customers would understand. “Because something has always been done some way, don’t assume that it should be done that way going forward.”

And stealing? “Don’t be afraid to steal, that’s part of the work of designers.”

3. Practice bravery.

Dust tells the story of the mayor of Bogota, Colombia. He replaced traffic cops with mimes, who punished traffic violators by chasing them down and mocking them. “Traffic fatalities dropped by half,” Dust reports excitedly. “It was a simple thing that came from one brave hypothesis.”

In order to effectively practice all three principles, you have to embrace optimism, Dust says. Above all, you have to believe that change is possible.