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VII.2 March-April 2000
Page: 32
Digital Citation

Design brief: IDEO

Danny Stillion

back to top  About IDEO

IDEO creates products, services, and environments for companies pioneering new ways to provide value for their customers. Drawing on 20 years of experience in the field of innovation and design, IDEO defines and develops new futures for industry leaders and start-ups alike.

back to top  Philosophy of Design

IDEO's design philosophy strikes a balance between user-centered design and technology focused engineering and design. With an interdisciplinary approach to projects, IDEO leverages experts within strategic services, human factors ergonomics, environments, industrial design, interaction design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering and manufacturing support. Multidisciplinary teams work together to rapidly prototype and visualize concepts for refinement and eventual implementation.

This breadth of expertise places IDEO in a unique position to offer turnkey support for clients' innovation needs. The level of formality of the creative process varies widely depending on individual projects. Most projects follow an iterative approach, beginning with an understanding phase, and then an observation phase. Visualizations follow. Outcomes from the visualization phase are then leveraged for evaluation and refinement. Implementation is conducted during the last phase.

At IDEO, human interface design is recognized as a key component of innovation. Interaction designers and human factors staff work closely together early in most projects to identify opportunities for innovation. Many clients are entering new market segments with new product offerings. A combination of user observations and technology research often reveals paths to innovation and inspires the design process.

Early observations can reveal latent needs users themselves may not even be aware of. Identifying these needs can lead to key innovations. Early efforts assist clients in refining product features and functionality. Successful products like the Palm Pilot attest to the importance of achieving feature and functional balance. Usability is key to early adoption, particularly in new markets.

At IDEO, the value of human interface work is widely recognized. There is no universal application of human factors resources to all projects, in part due to the wide variety of work we do. Rather than being known as the team to call in when there is an obvious ergonomic issue or a display on a product, human factors and interaction design contributions are recognized in a broader context.

The role that human factors and interaction design experts play in defining user experiences is recognized throughout the company. Whether this involves defining how a user interacts with a digital book or facilitating the customer journey as it relates to train travel, IDEO's interaction design team and human factors staff collaborate at both strategic and tactical levels.

The background of interaction designers varies widely at IDEO. Some team members have visual design or industrial design backgrounds, whereas others focus more on information design and interaction architectures. A growing number of interaction designers at IDEO work in connected information appliances and design for Web-based experiences.

In recent years, the demand for interaction design has increased significantly both from within IDEO and from its clients. As the Internet plays a larger role in product systems, people are recognizing the greater role of interaction designers in defining satisfying interaction with products. The focus on product design has shifted to user experience design, sometimes referred to as "transaction engineering." Those with the skill to structure and organize information systems, as well as effectively design visual interfaces, play a vital role.

IDEO Palo Alto is moving to fill an increasing need for specialization in the areas of Web-based prototyping and production. However, because of the variety of projects the consultancy is involved with, generalists are also needed. Those with specific skills in rapid prototyping (which represents a skill set that leverages both software and hardware skills) are also highly valued.

back to top  Design Process

A general process of understanding, observing, visualizing, evaluating and refining, and implementing applies to many projects within IDEO. It should be noted that the first 4 phases are iterative in nature. Also, depending on where clients are in their projects, IDEO may enter the design process anywhere along this sequence.

The flexibility of the design process is reflected in the scope of projects IDEO gets involved with. At one end of the spectrum are "deep dives," which focus intensely but relatively briefly on particular projects. Multidisciplinary teams are quickly formed to brainstorm a particular challenge. On the other end of the spectrum lie intense and systemic projects that may last 12 to 18 months. Multidisciplinary teams are also brought to bear on these projects.

Those participating range from human factors staff, interaction designers, industrial designers, mechanical, electrical, and software engineers, and manufacturing support staff. Most IDEO projects involve more than one discipline, depending on client needs.

Human interface design is both a role and a specialized job at various points throughout a project. Initially, the role of the human interface designer is to insure a focus on users and on real-world implications. As projects become more resolved through an understanding phase, visualization of how the user experience could develop becomes the more specialized job of interaction design team members.

Interaction designers within IDEO achieve satisfaction through peer approval and knowledge sharing with colleagues and clients, as well as in the successful launch of a service or product. Seeing the fruits of one's labor in the marketplace, adding to the value of people's lives, motivates many at IDEO.

The design process at IDEO continues to evolve, true to the spirit of a company that places such value on rapid prototyping. One of the tenets of this approach is recognition of the value in failing early-on in explorations, in order to achieve ultimate success sooner. Placing more emphasis on prototyping rapidly and at higher level of resolutions is important, and IDEO continues to refine strengths in this area.

The skills associated with rapid prototyping and the ability to immerse oneself in a new domain should be bolstered within higher education institutions. Programming and basic stamp technology allow designers to more accurately address both the physical and virtual aspects of a user experience through prototyping.

More higher education institutions are beginning to realize the importance of working in a truly interdisciplinary fashion. Institutions must teach both rapid visualization skills and the methodologies needed for large informational projects at systems levels. This balance must be achieved at no cost to the craft skills of students.

Higher education institutions must encourage working across the departments that exist within a design school. Institutions must also work across disciplines, universities, and industries to increase the value of student's experiences.

Above all, higher education institutions must teach designers to be good learners. One of the key benefits of being a designer at IDEO is the endless variety of our work. IDEO hires those who demonstrate the ability to learn quickly. Projects often do not allow or demand that IDEO designers become 100% experts in a client's area of expertise. Instead, IDEO designers must get up to speed quickly on enough of the issues while leveraging their design expertise.

The ability to learn quickly and to learn by doing is particularly important in the interaction design field. Whereas tools in other discipline may evolve yearly, key visualization and creative tools for interaction designers change dramatically on a monthly basis. It is important to stay actively involved in the art of doing. A benefit of working at IDEO is that its engineers and designers from other disciplines represent a great resource for insights regarding emerging technologies.

back to top  Design Project Example

The Globe User Interface project was a concept project completed for Steelcase and demonstrated during the 1998 NeoCon Exposition in Chicago. The concept focused on facilitating group work.

Both IDEO and the client's knowledge of group work and collaboration were leveraged to structure a framework for the project. Working with engineers, industrial designers, and human factors staff, the interaction design team developed an interface solution that bridges the physical aspects of a team space with the virtual aspects of team work. Working with multidisciplinary teams and experts from the client's side is typical. Also, bridging between the physical and virtual worlds is common.

As with most projects, the understanding phase included a research component, which involved study of previous models proposed for collaborative work. The failings of previous efforts were identified, and many addressed. The project extended over a relatively brief four-week interval.

The goal was to provide tools to work groups while making the technology as transparent as possible. Accommodation of existing patterns of group work was done though the integration of electronic whiteboards, physical and highly mobile whiteboards, and a central stylus-driven interface on large 41-inch flat plasma displays. A smaller row of six 17-inch LCD displays allowing groups to display information is a retaining zone along the top of the media wall, while key documents are worked on within the active zone of three 41-inch flat plasma screens.

back to top  Author

Danny Stillion
Interaction Design
IDEO Product Development

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1. Microns

F2Figure 2. Document plus all displays

UF1Figure. Danny Stillion Interaction Design, IDEO Product Development

back to top  Sidebar: Company Snapshot

Job Titles For Design and Usability Positions
Interaction designer and human factors specialist.

Job Qualifications
Applicants to IDEO may have diverse backgrounds and should have extensive experience in areas related to interaction design: cognitive psychology, computer science, graphic and communication design, interactive media, and product design. Advanced degrees are highly valued.

Number Employed in Design and Usability
Approximately 30 individuals with a human factors and interaction design focus, and 60 with an industrial design focus.

Breadth of Project Teams
Projects vary widely and include work in consumer products, transportation, environments, medical products, computer industry products, and services.

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench

Favorite Publications
Negroponte N. Being Digital.
Postman N. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.
Tufte E. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
Creative Review
ID Magazine

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe GoLive, Macromedia Director, Macromedia Sound Edit 16, Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Inspiration, Quark Xpress, Graphic Converter, and collaborative whiteboarding.

Favorite Quote
Less is more.

Source of Inspiration
Apollo lunar missions

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©2000 ACM  1072-5220/00/0200  $5.00

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