IDEO is the largest and one of the most influential design consultancy firms in the United States. The company has created many recognizable design icons of the technol­ogy age, including the first laptop computer, the first mouse for Apple, the Palm V PDA, and the TiVo digital video recorder. Beyond its high-tech wizardry, the com­pany has designed revolutionary household items such as the Swifter Sweeper and Crest’s stand-up toothpaste tube, both for Procter & Gamble. IDEO’s diverse roster of clients includes AT&T, Bank of America, Ford Motor Company, PepsiCo, Nike, Marriott, Caterpillar, Eli Lilly, Lufthansa, Prada, and the Mayo Clinic.

IDEO’s success is predicated on an approach called “design thinking”—an innovative method that incorpo­rates behavior into design. It’s an unconventional way of problem solving and starts by forming teams of indi­viduals with various backgrounds and experiences. Team members range from anthropologists and journalists to MBAs and engineers. IDEO’s belief is that if you bring together a diverse group with these talents, they will build upon each other’s ideas and come up a solution that one mind cannot reach alone.

Next, IDEO uses different methods of behavioral research and observation to get into the mind of the consumer. This helps IDEO uncover deep insights and understand how consumers purchase, interact with, use, and even dispose of products. For example, one method shadows consumers, takes pictures or videos of them during product purchase or use occasions, and conducts in-depth interviews with them to further evaluate their experiences. IDEO uses another method called behavioral mapping and maintains a photo­graphic log of people within a certain area like an airline departure lounge, a hospital waiting room, or a food court to gauge how the experience can be improved. Participants keep a “camera journal” in which they record their visual impressions of a given product or category. IDEO also invites consumers to use storytell­ing techniques and share personal narratives, videos, skits, or even animations about their experiences with a product or service.

IDEO’s human-centered approach runs counter to the prevailing wisdom of many high-tech firms that focus more on their own capabilities when designing products. David Blakely, head of IDEO’s technology group, explained, “Tech companies design from the inside out, whereas we design from the outside in so that we can put customers first.” Ultimately, the com­pany designs products that consumers want and value because they offer a superior experience and solve a problem. Recent product innovations include a heart defibrillator that talks with instructions during an emer­gency and a renovated version of the classic wooden classroom chair.

Marriott hired IDEO to help make its Courtyard by Marriott hotels more appealing to younger guests. IDEO conducted interviews and observed guests in the hotel’s lounges, lobbies, and restaurants. Its research revealed that younger guests were turned off by the lack of ac­tivity in the hotel’s public places, the lack of technology offered, and poor food options. As a result, Courtyard by Marriott updated its furniture and decor to be more comfortable and inviting. The hotel added advanced technology options throughout its lobbies and lounges, such as flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. Marriott converted its breakfast buffets to 24/7 coffee-shop-style cafes, where guests could quickly grab a gourmet coffee drink and healthy bite to eat anytime. Courtyard even created new outdoor hangout spots with sound speakers and fire pits. After the renovations, the chain changed its tagline to “Courtyard. It’s a New Stay.”

Prototyping takes place throughout IDEO’s design process so individuals can physically test out the prod­uct, experience it, and improve upon it during each level of development. IDEO encourages its clients, even senior executives, to participate in the research so they get a sense of the actual consumer experience with their product or service. For example, when it created a prototype for Apple’s first mouse, Steve Jobs didn’t like the sound it made when it moved around on a desk and insisted that IDEO find a way to reduce the noise. The design firm overcame this huge technical obstacle and successfully rubber-coated the steel ball without interfer­ing with its function.

IDEO’s novel consumer-led approach to design has generated countless success stories and awards for the firm and its clients. Its work has also served as i nspiration for the creation of Stanford University’s design school — The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design—where stu­dents work on problem solving centered around design thinking.

The most important result for IDEO is that its designs solve a usability problem for clients. The company goes broad and deep to achieve this goal. Since its founding, it has been issued thousands of patents and generated hundreds of millions in revenues.

Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.


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