I had the privilege of spending this afternoon at IDEO’s Cambridge office, just up the street from MIT. A few of my Mullen colleagues and I got the full IDEO treatment – an overview of their beliefs, a tour of the offices (team rooms, 3-D printers, proto-type lab) and attendance at afternoon tea, where a new designer shared his silk screen portfolio and a few amusing stories behind his posters while we all indulged in strawberry shortcakes.
We’re living in a time when the diminishing impact of traditional advertising and the consumer/citizen’s ability to control and influence media and content requires all of us to get better at creating utility, experiences and baked-in brand qualities, not to mention social value, if we’re to serve and guide clients in their behavior, actions and branding efforts.
IDEO should be one of our benchmarks. Ironically, they’re as interested in the tools and tactics needed to generate awareness for their creations and inventions as we are for the methods behind their accomplishments. So we have something in common.
Clark Scheffy, a lead designer, shared some of his and IDEO’s key beliefs. Worth noting that in IDEO’s capabilities presentation there are few facts, no boring stats, and no “selling,” just a philosophy that is hard to argue with.
Design can have a huge impact on the world around us
The idea that design can create new products, change behavior, solve problems, and build solutions is key to IDEO’s belief system and to their entire approach to problem solving. It’s not about research; it’s about creativity and inventing stuff – products, methods, experiences – that effect real change. From programs like Keep the Change, to vaccines that don’t require needles or medical professionals to administer them.
Magic happens through diversity of experience and perspective
You can sense this just from meeting the people at IDEO. Designers, UX professionals, former consultants eager to be more creative, former ad agency types, printers, musicians, strategists, chefs. You notice diversity in accents, skin color, age, gender. IDEO’s approach to collaboration and team problem solving (asking for help is more important than having an idea) is part of the culture.
Inspiration can be found in many places and in many ways, but you have to get out there.
In advertising we depend too much on query and focus groups. IDEO gets out there. They check into hospitals and strap cameras to their foreheads to improve health care. They live in a van with three other people on the edge of the beach to better connect with surfers when designing board shorts. Their designers balance checkbooks with ordinary people when working on banking products. It’s less about size of sample and more about proximity to those whom a product or brand strives to serve.
You get to great by experimenting
Their mantra, “Think to build. Build to think,” says it all. They’re famous for their prototyping, but the idea of finding the answers in the building, embracing an iterative rather than linear process, brings to mind Lean Startup-type thinking rather than the typical ad agency assembly line approach.
Knowledge across categories and industries yields better ideas
How many times have you had a client ask for experience in their category? Do you have car experience? Packaged goods? We may know that it matters more to them than to the ability to generate ideas that work. But IDEO takes the offensive and markets aggressively the value of that range of experience. Perhaps we should package that feature a little bit more effectively.
Success comes from vision and action
Plenty of firms do research, discover insights, hand over some data and move on. IDEO refuses to take on projects that don’t have an actionable outcome. It makes me think that agencies should take (or consider) the inverse approach, requesting more of a role in the invention and creation of what it is that gets advertised or communicated in the first place.
We’re most successful when we work with not for a client
No doubt many of us are working this way. But within the advertising industry there remains a bit of the “creative magic” that only a few people are able to conceive. When that’s the case we work in silos and in isolation from our clients. The “creative team” goes away and does their thing off in a corner. Great when you’re making a TV spot, but if you’re creating a digital experience, or developing an eco-system or inventing a new service, it’s definitely better to work jointly with our partners.
My favorite quote from Clark came in side conversation during a tour of the office. “There’s no such thing as a boring brand or assignment. Just un-exciting people. We strive to work with exciting people.”
That may be the best take-away of all.
Image snagged from Ideo’s site.