Tag Archives: IDEO

Innovation is the Key

27 Apr

IDEO is world’s largest design firm. Originally named David Kelley Design (named after the founder and Stanford University professor, David Kelley) and founded in 1978, it was later rechristened IDEO, which came from the word ‘ideology’. The company has some of Fortune 100 clients and is primarily involved with the design of consumer products. Some of the most popular and innovative products designed by IDEO are the Apple mouse, Steelcase chairs, and Palm V PDA. Professor Kelley teaches a very popular course at Stanford University that helps students learn the basics of design and rapid prototype development.

The book The Art of Innovation was written by David Kelley’s brother Tom Kelley (with journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Jonathan Littman), who is also the General Manager at IDEO. The book is intended to share the best practices for developing a culture of innovation within a company, which is practiced at IDEO after years of using and refining. A person at the company is the official ‘Story Teller’ to outside visitors who tour the company to see and learn what makes the company the leader in design innovation.

The book has been divided into fifteen chapters. Each chapter covers a specific topic in the design process or in building a company focused on innovation. Tom Kelley talks about building a company-wide culture that promotes thinking and innovation and what the stages are in developing an innovative product.

Here’s is the summary of chapter 1.

Innovation is the key
In the last 15 years, innovation has become a buzzword widely used in big corporations to tiny startup companies. The CEOs and the executive team members always talk about innovation, be it product innovation, process innovation, services innovation, or innovation in other areas. It has become a top priority for many companies. The methodology developed by IDEO comprises five stages:

  • a. Understand the potential market, users, available technology, and constraints.
  • b. Observe the potential users in real-world situations doing their normal activities instead of setting up focus groups and laboratory research.
  • c. Visualize how and what the products will be in future and how, where, and when they will be used.
  • d. Build a prototype and continuously test with real users and refine it.
  • e. Commercialize the concept by launching the product in the market.

Innovation is a mindset, a complex, time-consuming, and difficult process, but it is the only key to future growth. It is the only way to remain relevant in today’s hyper-competitive market.

Suggested Readings
You Call That Innovation?
Innovation Is a Discipline, Not a Cliché

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Product Design By Focus Groups = Bad Idea

14 Feb

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

“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.” – Steve Jobs

Windows tablet vs. iPad
Bill Gates advocated the use of tablets for many years. Microsoft developed one, but it never succeeded in the market. Why? Because Bill Gates was convinced that it should run all Windows applications and should have pen input. But most people spend a lot of time consuming content, such as reading emails, blogs, and news sites, and surfing the Internet. For them, running a copy of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is not necessary, neither is writing on screen with a pen. If Apple had asked people, they would never have articulated the need for something like the iPad. But observing and understanding people’s behavior made the iPad possible and hugely popular.

The point is: Do people know what they want? And will they tell you what they want when you ask them? The answer is both yes and no. Sometimes, when people are aware of the problems they are facing, they can articulate exactly what they need to address their problem.

However, most of the time, when faced with a problem for which no satisfactory solution is available, we find a workaround to that problem. And then that workaround gets so entwined with our lives that it becomes a habit. When it becomes a habit, we no longer view it as a problem. When someone asks us questions, we can’t express the problems because we are not aware of those problems. This is the primary reason focus groups don’t work as well as expected.

Other reasons include:
– People do not understand what is being asked of them.
– They do not immediately know the answer to questions (but might think of better answers later).
– They are not comfortable speaking up in a group setting.
– The most vocal participants take over the meeting.
– The focus shifts to building consensus.
– They do not want to say something contrary to the group opinion.

When focus groups work
Focus groups  do work in certain situations – when there is a product or feature to be shown or an idea to be discussed. People, when they see a product, can tell what they like or don’t like, and what changes they would like to make in that product. However, even this approach is not always foolproof. The first looks of a product can elicit initial reactions but not well thought out explanations.

Focus groups also help in understanding people’s preferences, desires, and problems of which they are aware. Professors know very well that most of their students do not read the books before coming to the class. They also know that students prefer to spend a lot of time on social activities, online as well as offline. Based on these problems, one possible solution is to make the students take a quiz, for grade, before coming to the lecture. But this “force them to do it” approach generates compliance, not engagement. It forces the students to take the test, but doesn’t help them learn. An ethnographic study might reveal that students do read books, but do not fully understand the concepts because they are too hard. Or that students do not want to read a boring 30-page chapter but would read small chunks or do an engaging activity on their mobile devices.

What designers/innovators say
Two of the most innovative companies I know are Apple and IDEO. Everybody knows Apple. IDEO is the world’s largest design firm with headquarters in Palo Alto. Apple and IDEO have worked together on many products, including Apple’s first mouse. IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown and General Manager, Tom Kelley, both have written books on design and innovation. And both recommend an observation-based approach to understanding the users’ problems. A diverse team, collaboration and brainstorming, prototyping, and testing/evaluation are some of the other recommendations in their books.

I have never seen a focus group leading to an improvement in a product’s design. However, observation or ethnographic research doesn’t always lead to innovative solutions. Why? Because of our own biases, the altering of the users’ behavior when they are being observed, a failure to understand the behavior, difficulty of conducting such research on a large scale, and a failure to come up with compelling solutions people need or would want to have. As Paul Graham says – “Make something people want”.

Product design is difficult on many levels. Is design thinking the answer to product design in an organization?

Suggested readings

Brainstorming Or Blamestorming?

7 Nov

Blamestorm – I learned this word (it’s actually a dictionary word!) today in an article I was reading on why brainstorming doesn’t work in organizations. In the article “Why brainstorming doesn’t work“, the Washington Post journalist argues that brainstorming generally doesn’t yield expected results because people have a misconception of how it works. A large group is gathered and asked to present, brainstorm, and come up with creative ideas. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and I have seen it plenty of times to believe it’s true. It has also been proved by recent research.

Why brainstorming in the traditional sense doesn’t work? Because people fixate on others’ ideas. They focus too much on what others are saying, they are led in a particular direction by the most vocal members, and they are scared of presenting radical ideas. We are social in nature. We prefer to be in groups where we belong, and we don’t want to do anything that goes against the majority. In his excellent book “The Wisdom of Crowds“, James Suroweicki argues that diversity and independence are very important for a group to come up with wise decisions. Tom Kelly of IDEO, in his book, “The Art of Innovation” (one of the best books I’ve ever read) , has also written about the prerequisite of having a diverse group for generating innovative ideas.

So what works? One, have a small group of people with diverse educational backgrounds, work and life experiences, areas of expertise, cultures, etc. because they bring a unique perspective to the table. And two, give them freedom and let them work independently, generate multiple, diverse, radical ideas, and then bring everyone together to brainstorm and build on each others’ ideas. However, most of the times, the opposite happens. A large group meets to brainstorm. Some people dominate, in order of corporate hierarchy, and the focus is on building consensus instead of encouraging dissension and lateral thinking.

But this is not the only way brainstorming works. A wide body of research proves that brainstorming can work if there is a trained facilitator to guide the session, enforce some ground rules, and elicit ideas from the participants. “Trained” is the key word here.

Related Articles:
Forget Brainstorming
Don’t forget: Brainstorming works!
The Brainstorming Process Is B.S. But Can We Rework It?
Innovation Is About Arguing, Not Brainstorming. Here’s How To Argue Productively