IDEO Vacation pt. 1 : What makes IDEO so... IDEO?
Like many of you, I first found out about IDEO after watching "the shopping cart video" in an engineering class. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look. Originally shot for ABC's Nightline, it can be a little "Design = Magic" at times, but all in all, it does a good job of laying out the basics of the firm's modus operandi
At the time, the most exciting part about IDEO's process was the concept of a "deep dive" -- a sort of controlled brainstorm-a-thon where nothing was off limits, and every opportunity needed exploring.
This was one of the cornerstones of the idea generation process during my years as a toy designer. It seems like the best way to truly come up with something innovative, you need to force an almost obsessive exploration of available opportunities. That's what the Deep dive does, and doing this type of "Phase Zero" exploration and understanding of the user group is what allows IDEO to continually come up with products that surpass consumer's desires just enough to beat out current products.
Another big part of what makes IDEO so exciting is the culture of the organization and diversity of designers they have brought together over the years. Lucky for me, I had an in: Daniel Kushner, UARTS alum, and collaborator on Fibrid, the project that eventually lead Jaime Salm to found MioCulture. Daniel is a designer in IDEO SanFrancisco's "Environments" practice.
Daniel was awesome enough to talk with me about the office, his job, and what it was like going from Grad school to the big time.
One of the things that struck me most when we talked was how much his work seems almost exactly like our school projects. Lots of up front research gets done. In fact, Daniel has been doing mostly "phase zero" work, as they call it. A traditional product design track usually has three phases: Ideation, Development, Finalization. By defining an entirely separate phase of user understanding, they emphasize just how important that step is for the rest of their process. Daniel flies around the country a lot, conducting interviews with users, building profiles and scenarios of use. Currently, he's developing a medical device for women, and interviewing patients in the South, Chicago, and on the West Coast. Since he began working there a few years ago, he's had projects as widely separated as concepts for banking and identities for hotels.
Another reason that IDEO seems to be thriving is their commitment to allowing the brightest part of each of their workers to shine. If any of you have read Tom Kelley's latest book, you know that they are all about encouraging different types of innovators, from Cross Pollinators (We at IDFuel like to think we fall in here), to Collaborators, to Storytellers. By gathering a group of diverse individuals together into rough "practices" like Kid-Centric Design, Business Practices, or Electrical Engineering, then allowing the best combinations of those "practices" to come together on a project, the ideas stay strong and fresh. And, with so many sources of innovation floating around, you're much more likely to turn out entirely new ideas, like the new Swiffer CarpetFlick.
The best part about IDEO's model is that it isn't super secret. As you'll see in part two of IDEO Vacation, the founders are all to eager for everyone to copy their wildly successful strategy. They really believe that everything deserves good design, from governments to golf courses, preschools to printers. Stay tuned for part two, as I get to have lunch with the big boys and talk about the future of design as we know it, as we've dreamed of it, and as we haven't even thought of it yet.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team