A Review of the IDEO Process
October 25, 2001
Innovation is now the centerpiece of corporate strategies and initiatives. However, barriers to creativity abound. Innovation and structure are like oil and water. Bureaucracy does not allow risk. Experts can inadvertently block an innovation by saying, “It’s never been done that way.”
IDEO is a widely admired, award-winning design and development firm in Palo Alto, California. For founder David M. Kelley and his colleagues, work is play, brainstorming is a science, and the most important rule is to break the rules. The Wall Street Journal dubbed their offices “Imagination’s Playground,” and Fortune titled its visit to IDEO “A day at Innovation U.” ABC’s Nightline asked IDEO to redesign a shopping cart in 5 days. ABC called it “The Deep Dive.” (See reference )
IDEO has brought the world the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, the Palm handheld, the Crest Neat Squeeze tube with its one-twist cap and hundreds of other cutting-edge products and services. Since their start in the Stanford Design Department in 1978, IDEO has grown from a two-person office to a staff of over 300. Teams are at the heart of the IDEO method. “Hot project” teams are infused with purpose and personality. To IDEO, teams always beat individuals. The myth of the lone genius can actually hamper a company’s efforts in innovation and creativity. Loners are so caught up in their idea that they are reluctant to let it go, much less allow it to be experimented with and improved upon.
Hot Project Teams should:
Come from widely divergent disciplines
Be empowered to go get whatever is needed
Merge fun and project
Be as small as three or large as a dozen
Have clear, tangible goals (seemingly unreachable), serious deadlines Be passionate
Team members should be “crazy” characters. Consider these characters for team membership: visionary, troubleshooter, iconoclast, pulse taker, craftsman, technologist, entrepreneur, cross-dresser (formal training different from what they do). Team members need to look the part. Consider T-shirts, sweatshirts, bicycle messenger bags, or baseball caps. Let irreverence sprout when the spirit moves you.
The Hot Project Team uses the IDEO Process. This process enables the team to identify opportunities for innovation and is foundational to the development of its unique innovative products and services.
The IDEO Process is made up of 5 steps:
Scope the project.
about people and
contexts of use.
ideas by making
them physical, so
users can interact
human issues in
the first design
The reference of the above version is .
A slightly different version is found in reference . It identifies the 5 steps as: 1. Understand, 2. Observe, 3. Visualize, 4. Evaluate and Refine, and 5. Implement. That version separates the first step into two steps, 1. Understand and 2. Observe but includes synthesize as part of the second step.
Each of the five steps is defined below.
Step 1: Understand and observe. Understand the market, the client, the technology, and the perceived constraints on the problem. Observe real people in real-life situations to find out what makes them tick, what confuse them, likes and dislikes and latent needs not addressed by current products or services. Go to the source not the “experts” inside an organization. Inspiration comes from observation.
Start with a “what do you know” session
Do an intense “state of the art” review
Seeing and hearing things with your own eyes and ears is a critical first step in improving or creating a breakthrough product or service
References: 1. ABC News (1999), The Deep Dive, ABC News Home Video of Nightline on 2/9/99.
2. IDEO San Francisco (3/29/2001), DePaul Healthcare Innovation and Design Plan
3. Kelly, Tom (2001): The Art of Innovation, Lessons in Creativity from IDEO,
America’s Leading Design Firm, Doubleday, NY
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