What Designers can learn from the OODA Loop

Our team at CHOi Design found the topic of conversation at the last IxDA Chicago meetup to be very interesting and we wanted to share it with our followers! The topic, A Designer’s Guide to Thinking like a Fighter Pilot, was researched and presented by Daniel Orbach, a designer at Mckinsey & Company.

Just as Daniel began in his presentation, I will mention now that I am not a fighter pilot nor do I know how to fly any type of plane. The talk was the result of Daniel’s interest in fighter pilots and his observations of the parallels between a fighter pilot’s and a designer’s processes.

So why should a designer be interested in the thought process of a fighter pilot? Well, we have many common themes to our work, including frequently working with incomplete information and using structured thinking to solve problems. The key difference between our professions, as it pertains to this topic, is the fact that fighter pilots have to think about problem solving in seconds… SECONDS!

The evolution of fighter pilot strategy is owed to the genius of John Boyd (Top Gun, anyone?). A United States Air Force Colonel and military strategist, John Boyd is known as the “Fighter Pilot who changed the Art of War”. In the 1950’s, Boyd developed the O.O.D.A. loop, a model for explaining how we go through the process of reacting to stimulus, or our human reaction time. Becoming skilled at using the OODA loop allows for efficient internal analysis and synthesis, which was instrumental for Boyd to gain the advantage against his opponents. Daniel highlighted the likeness of the OODA loop to the design process; besides the time of the cycles, they are strikingly similar.

OODA Loop and Design Process

The likeness between the 2 processes above shows that there is always time for structured thinking. Our team is always working to bring thoughtful, innovative attention to each phase of the design process, while also providing our clients with the best experience. Thinking about the OODA loop has inspired us to seek more opportunities for strategic thinking and to incorporate rapid iterative loops earlier in our design process.

If you want to learn more about the product design process, give us a call! We would love to talk with you!

Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.