IDEO is an award-winning global design firm with a human-centred, design-based approach to business innovation and growth. On Day 2, our study tour joined the 1.5 hour commute out to Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, to visit the IDEO campus.

From the get-go, IDEO felt more like the Universal Studios of new product development than a workplace. Multi-disciplinary teams work together on projects where prototyping is king and fast fails are encouraged. Interns compete for entry to an exciting and creative environment that I would have eagerly applied for in an earlier life. The culture is one of creativity and customer focus and staff turnover is low.

Workspaces are informal and open plan, and meeting rooms are available for collaboration. The prototyping equipment includes specialised manufacturing equipment and the latest 3D plastic printers.

The IDEO process revolves around prototyping and fast fail: evolution of prototyping  – show it quick & easy, then finesse. Use video prototyping to mock up how products/ services may look or feel. Concentrate on “What is the quick and dirtiest way to communicate my product/ service?”

IDEO redesigned the pizza cutter, removing the traditional and rather impractical handle. They designed the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), as well as needle-less vaccine patches. IDEO is also home to a toy lab, from which the latest Elmo mobile app and design-your-own, stick-on Barbie outfit was produced.

Open IDEO, the company’s a not-for-profit arm, is also located at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.  Open IDEO is a global platform for social good; the staff work on large-scale problems like sanitation, clean water and energy efficient stoves for third world countries.

The top three messages I took away from this visit are:

  1. To build the best products, co-locate a customer-oriented team with design, engineering and consumer/marketing skills to provide solutions to customers.
  2. Use prototyping to validate your product with the market before scale-up.
  3. Provide the right environment and grow the right culture in your organisation. Seen in the way their leaders communicate with staff, core values the company espouses and the work environment they provide for staff.
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