Creativity in Design and UX (Book Review)

Book CoverA review of
Creative Confidence
by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
Crown Business, 2013

In their new book, Tom Kelley, the author of The Art of Innovation and a partner at IDEO, and David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (also known as the “”) convey a central message about creativity and design that has a lot to do with User Experience. This is the “big UX” that is now sometimes called Customer Experience, and it encompasses far more than computer systems and software, far more than the web, and far more than any single interaction between a human and the world.

This book builds on David Kelley’s TED Talk from March 2011. He spoke about his earliest observations of the end of creativity, starting in third grade, and then went on to describe a process that has helped numerous individuals spread creative potential into situations and businesses throughout the world. It’s a discussion of the processes and training he’s made famous at IDEO and Stanford, but it is also more than an infomercial—it’s an outline for improvement. As UX practitioners, we can easily incorporate many of these techniques into our work and user-centered design activities.

Sections in the book are filled with excellent case studies. We learn how a developer of medical equipment took into account the fears and expectations of his young end-users, modifying a scary MRI diagnostic system into a fun trip into space or on a pirate ship, with rewards for a successful voyage (see We learn how Stanford students from a variety of backgrounds and areas of study set up companies around their insights in a course.

Tom and David Kelley describe results as varied as an innovative app for news reading, now available through LinkedIn (see, and the Embrace Infant Warmer that is used to save premature babies around the world (see There are other inspirational stories, more than can be listed here.

The book repeats a few messages from earlier IDEO books, especially some still-critical ideas on how to set up teams to succeed in innovation, and how to set up spaces to enable successful collaboration. But after reading all of them, I think this book has the best description of the joy that can be experienced by our clients, colleagues, and ourselves, and the joy our users can also experience, if we cultivate confidence in our own and our teams’ creativity.

Simply making the same old process look a little better or work a little better is no longer enough. Finding a way to solve our users’ problems creatively can truly help make the world better and improve our own working lives as well. In addition, this book brings in more evidence for observational and test-based improvement. By conducting research in distant corners of the world (like Nepal and India), the team contemplating how to save premature babies learned critical facts about the families and their lives, facts that redefined the problem. For example, in a family with multiple children in a village far from the hospital, the mother and new baby must be home soon, far away from the high-tech incubator.

The book has single-word chapter titles followed with a phrase to help orient the reader both to the gist of the topic, and for later reference:

  • FLIP from design Thinking to Creative Confidence
  • DARE from Fear to Courage
  • SPARK from Blank Page to Insight
  • LEAP from Planning to Action
  • SEEK from Duty to Passion
  • TEAM Creatively Confident Groups
  • MOVE Creative Confidence to Go
  • NEXT Embrace Creative Confidence

As a senior UX practitioner, I found that David Kelley’s energy, together with Tom Kelley’s flair for storytelling, have energized me. This book inspired me to spread the word about ways to bring more creativity into design, and I am excited that the rest of us have a chance to conduct this kind of outreach in our work.


Disclosure: The reviewer’s daughter has been employed at IDEO for almost 10 years, affording her a unique insider’s view of the company.

Preston, A. (2014). Creativity in Design and UX (Book Review). User Experience Magazine, 14(2).
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