IDEO– Method to our Madness

Often when I speak about innovation at conferences or seminars, I tell about the example of IDEO. Innovation is about creativity and IDEO is perhaps the premier design and innovation consultancy in the world.

The company has been ranked in the top 25 most innovative companies by BusinessWeek and it does consulting work for the other 24 companies in the top 25. As I talk about the company quite often, I decided to write this brief blog to present the essence of my impressions.

imageIDEO is based in Palo Alto, California, United States with other locations in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Mumbai, Seoul, and Tokyo. The company helps design products, services, environments, and digital experiences. Additionally, the company has become increasingly involved in management consulting and organizational design in recent years.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president and CEO

IDEO is a high-commitment management organization in that it consists of project teams, flat hierarchy, individual autonomy, creativity, socialization of recruits and engineer buy-in. As each component functions together as a system, this management style is critical to the success of IDEO. IDEO is a very flat organization that essentially functions around many teams. The organization is divided into “studios” to manage its growing size. Each studio operates independently and usually seeks business locally.

In the book The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm, the author Tom Kelley shares the strategy and approach IDEO has taken to develop everything from the Apple mouse, to a portable heart defibrillator, to the Palm handheld. Or, as Tom puts it: “A Method To Our Madness”. In bullet point format, the advice is:

  1. Understand the market, the client, the technology and percieved constraints
  2. Observe real people in real life situations
  3. Visualize new-to-the-world concepts
  4. Evaluate and refine the prototypes
  5. Implement the new concept for commercialization

There are some quite interesting videos from IDEO on YouTube. Some of them are linked here below:

CEO Tim Brown on Change by Design


The Future of the Book


Connecting Communities Challenge


The Future of Self-Service Banking


Sustainability at IDEO: A First Look Through the Lens


ABC Nightline–IDEO Shopping Cart

1 comment

  1. Hi Jorgen, trust you’re well.
    Lovely article. Great in fact. Love … love the pureness, the simplicity of it. As much as I’m not, specifically an “Apple” person, this is so, very much, “Apple” – in it’s simplicity. No rocket science, which, ironically, makes it that much more difficult for people to grasp – this dire need for simplicity to ensure success, to keep it “real.”
    Tom’s “Understand, Observe, Visualise, Implement” is as “old as the hills” yet, it still escapes most folk. Why? Hmm… that’s a long conversation over a long bottle of red wine…
    I notice something else, where IDEO is spread, geographically: “San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Mumbai, Seoul, and Tokyo” – goes back to our conversation at the Hyatt re. needing to be in the East. The East are better at copying than truly developing, hence IDEO’s traction in the East. Something to really think about going forward. Doesn’t this “fit” the philosophical essence of BC?
    Tim Brown’s video above merely reinforces this.
    Great article, txs muchly,

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