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101 Ways to the Institute of Design: How One Book Opened a New Chapter for an ID Student

By Thaddeus Mast

July 18, 2023

Headshot of Brayan Pabon Gomez
Brayan Pabón Gomez was stuck in an industrial design rut before remembering a book he read in college that would bring him to Chicago.

From designing a tractor lift system to designing display furniture for retailers, Brayan Pabón Gomez (MDes 2023) was in the depths of a successful industrial design career. But there was a problem: he wasn’t happy.

Pabón became disillusioned soon after starting his job in Colombia, saying that he “realized how repetitive my job was, and it was focused on the production side of design.”

“It wasn’t fulfilling for me, and I was tired of doing that part of design, partially because my thesis was about the impact of design on a larger scale. That’s when I started to learn about the circular economy,” Pabón says.

While Pabón was an undergraduate student of industrial and product design at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a professor introduced him to a book that would define his future: 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization, authored by ID Professor Emeritus Vijay Kumar.

I started to use [101 Design Methods] for my research. It is fascinating and useful and a great example of deep thinking in terms of design.
—Brayan Pabón Gomez

In his free time, Pabón pondered the relationship between design and the economy. Termed the circular economy, it is a way of connecting different systems to make energy and material flow efficiently while reducing waste from transactions between users and companies, Pabón explains.

After realizing that other professionals are interested in the same lines of thought, he created the circular.designers Instagram account where he would issue challenges to followers, such as designing a reusable container for drinks, but with a twist: focus on integrating reduce, reuse, and remanufacture ideals in the design process.

The circular economy aims to reframe a giant system. You need to think in terms of systems to understand, think, and adopt these ways of doing things. After earning my undergraduate degree, I realized that I need to gain skills in systems thinking.
—Brayan Pabón Gomez

“At that moment, I remembered 101 Design Methods and how the concepts, processes and methods in it related to systems of human and cultural behavior,” he continues. “I did some research on ID and discovered it was the perfect place for me. It offered the perfect combination of systems thinking and human-centered design.”

Pabón has since focused on service design, which involves discussing the inner workings of an organization and understanding how it can better serve the customer.

“In service design we look at an organization and how to align their operations and touchpoints to offer a unified experience that makes sense to the customers. Sales, operations, marketing—each can see things differently. We need to breach that wall and help them see the same picture,” Pabón says.

Pabón adds that the skills he picked up during his two years at ID have opened the door to these new opportunities.

“This experience, these four semesters, taught me a broader picture of how design can impact business and society in general. I now have the tools to properly conduct user research, facilitate ideation sessions and decision-making workshops, and navigate the ambiguity of the innovation process.”