The 2008 Nantucket Conference opened up with a session led by world-class design firm IDEO. The session title was Design Thinking for Entrepreneurs: Identifying New Markets and Developing the Winning Product or Service. Although they could have designed a better title, Devorah Klein (Human Factor Specialist) and Eric Saperstein (New Business Initiatives) did a great job walking people through the IDEO process. Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO, sat at the back and helped with answers to some questions from the audience.
Focus on Desirability
The core of the IDEO philosophy starts with a focus on desirability. Come up with something people want then figure out how to optimize the technical and business aspects of it. Keep in mind that designing for people means designing for a journey through the product/service lifecycle.
The presenters told cautionary tales about clients who come up with a vision of something that people want but then cut so many corners to get feasibility and viability where they want them to be that the end result deviates substantially from the original vision.
The lesson here is to stay true to your vision. Apple under Steve’s inspired but at the same time occasionally ruthless leadership is probably the best recent example of a company doing everything it can to stay true to its vision. The teams building the iPod and iPhone jumped through a lot of hoops to build great products. Apple even took the risk of launching the iPhone on the relatively limited AT&T network rather than compromise their vision in dealing with larger mobile operators. Microsoft’s Vista is an example of a product that comes from a company which has lost some of its vision.
The IDEO process goes from observation to solution through intermediate three steps (a) synthesis, where observations get abstracted to a core form of knowledge and understanding about the domain, (b) the development of a generative framework based on that knowledge which in turn enables (c) the creation of many prototypes.
Getting inspiration through observation is where it all begins. IDEO’s approach here is similar to other methodologies such as Contextual Design. However, inspiration can come from other sources such as the prototypes you’ve built. Some ideas for getting inspiration:
- Spent time with people, both current customers and people who you’d want to have as customers. Develop deep empathy.
- Imagine what the future could be. Do not constrain your thinking.
- Embrace failure. Failure is data.
- Build to think. The act of creation helps you see things in a different light.
- Build low-res prototypes. Paper is OK. Iterate quickly. Generate many options. Be passionate about your prototypes but evaluate them dispassionately.
- Build it yourself. It’s another way to get yourself to see things from a different perspective.
The value fast prototyping is huge. I tell the entrepreneurs I work with that they must fail quickly & cheaply but that is OK to take a lot of time and a lot of money to be wildly successful. Here are some words of advice on prototyping from IDEO’s Devorah Klein.
Five things to try tomorrow
The presenters left the group with the following five suggestions:
- Spent time with customers. Really push yourself to think about unusual but relevant people you should talk to.
- Be visual and tangible. Build a prototype of something. Paper is OK.
- Try it yourself. This is the classing dogfooding principle.
- Get out of your category for inspiration. You won’t know what you don’t know until you see something that inspires you.
- Test-drive ideas. Do it all the time.
How does IDEO do it?
Thinking about IDEO’s process, three interesting questions came to mind:
- Is what they are doing unique?
- How do they recruit?
- Is their process teachable?
For the first question, I turned to my friend Jules Pieri, an entrepreneur who is an industrial designer by training.
With regards to the second question, Devorah’s comment was that IDEO likes to recruit T-shaped people, folks who are deep in one are but broad in many.
Last but not least, CEO Tim Brown mentioned that IDEO is currently involved with projects in Africa where they are packaging some of their methodology to help local entrepreneurs design better products and services. Tim’s take is that IDEO’s process is definitely teachable.
For those who’d like to know more
I have four book suggestions if you are interested in this topic.
Also, there are some neat presentations/videos on the IDEO site.
IDEO and startups
Some of you may be wondering whether it makes sense for an early-stage startup to engage IDEO. Last year I approached the Boston office of IDEO with the very same question. The short answers is “probably not”. An process iteration tends to cost in the six digit range. Also, engaging with IDEO requires a lot of human resources from the company going through the process.
As with many things in startup life, it’s best to be self-reliant–learn to apply some of the core principles of the IDEO methodology yourself.