IDEO and d School

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.


Where is your idea? 


IDEO is the design studio responsible for among other things, the first Apple mouse. Founded by David Kelley, the company has grown to include his brother Tom and annexed part of the Stanford campus for a design (d) school. In addition, the IDEO U YouTube channel has some wonderful content.

In a tweet, the IDEO ethos is; Ask then build then ask more.

In a blog post, the IDEO ethos is; SEE BELOW

In an ebook, the IDEO ethos is: here. One experiment we’re running in 2018 is these things called ‘dots.’ These are ‘distillations of thoughts’ that take about thirty minutes to read or listen to.

IDEO focuses on “human-centric design.” This is also the backbone of the d-school and IDEO U instruction. Human-centric design is about finding problems then designing solutions. As founder David Kelley said;

“So much of the world is focused on problem-solving, we’re good at that and we should keep working at that but we really believe the designer’s task is to figure out what is a problem worth working on. What’s a non-obvious need?”

Non-obvious needs come from asking a lot of questions. But don’t expect people to tell you what they want. In more than one talk by more than one IDEO-er, someone referenced Henry Ford’s quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

And the Steve Jobs one, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

I used to think that Jobs quote was a sign of his arrogance. Now I don’t. The IDEO team made me think about latent needs. Chief Executive Officer of IDEO, Tim Brown wrote that good design, “is helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have, and this is the challenge of design thinkers.” Put another way, good designers design from first principles.

These insights come from interviewing. Brown wrote:

“Walk into the offices of any of the world’s leading design consultancies, and the first question is likely to be ‘Where is everybody?’ Of course, many hours are spent in the model shop, in project rooms, and peering into computer monitors, but many more hours are spent out in the field with the people who will ultimately benefit from our work.”

For example, IDEO redesigned the school lunch experience. In interviewing students they found that they didn’t have enough time to socialize. In interviewing staff they found that the students weren’t eating healthy food. The solution was to serve the food family style, and with some clever choice architecture, bring out the fruits and vegetables first.

This school lunch solution wasn’t birthed in one great moment of Silicon Valley brilliance. Instead, it was a process of iteration. Brown wrote:

“The reason for the iterative, nonlinear nature of the journey is not that design thinkers are disorganized or undisciplined but that design thinking is fundamentally an exploratory process; done right, it will invariably make unexpected discoveries along the way, and it would be foolish not to find out where they lead.”

This is the build and ask process. Brown explains that early designs should be fast and to the point. For designing experiences the initial design can be post-it notes on a wall. The Kelley brothers said that you should “squint” at prototypes. Prototypes are like compasses, they give headings.

Good prototype builds come from good brainstorming questions. Stanford professor Bill Burnett warns against lazy brainstorming.

“The number one thing we see is that people grab the first idea, or the first couple ideas and run with them. Ninety-nine out of one-hundred times those first ideas are things that are available to you. They’re things you know how to do and so by definition, they’re not innovations.”

IDEO style human-centric design is for wicked problems. This isn’t solve-for-x. It’s why good brainstorming is collaborative and requires commitment. Burnett suggests using the comedian “yes and…” approach.

David Kelley says to brainstorm like ten-year-old girls rather than ten-year-old boys. Boys are competitive whereas girls are more cooperative. The latter comes up with more innovative solutions than the former.

Better questions help to better brainstorm and better brainstorms lead to better prototypes which lead to better questions. Good design according to IDEO is a cycle of ask and build.


Thanks for reading.

Again, the Kindle is here.

23 thoughts on “IDEO and d School”

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