Bringing Design to Software
© Addison-Wesley, 1996


Profile 8. IDEO

Profile Authors: Bradley Hartfield and Terry Winograd

IDEO is one of the world's largest and most successful design consultancies, combining industrial design and engineering. Its Palo Alto office has completed projects for many of the high-technology companies of Silicon Valley, and has been responsible for the physical design of many notable computer systems, including early Apple computer enclosures and the colorful Silicon Graphics workstations. IDEO is considered distinctive for its ability to integrate the disparate cultures of engineering and design: It routinely combines creative innovation with pragmatic engineering and manufacturing. IDEO's products include everything from high-tech medical equipment and Apple's first mouse to a lifelike mechanical whale used for special effects in the movie Free Willy. (see Figure 8.1).


Figure 8.1 IDEO Designs IDEO has developed design methods that have been applied to a wide variety of applications, including computers, software interfaces, physical interfaces for specialized medical and technical devices, and even the toothpaste pump. (Source: Courtesy of IDEO.)

As David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, discusses with Bradley Hartfield in Chapter 8, IDEO's success rests not just on the abilities of individual designers, but even more on an overall approach to design that emphasizes group work and cross-functional development. The IDEO design process calls for an intense focus on understanding the world of the user; on cross-fertilization of disciplines, styles, and personalities; and on an ability to concentrate on functionality, aesthetics, and manufacturability simultaneously.

IDEO was formed as a merger of Kelley's mechanical-design firm (David Kelley Design), and an industrial design firm (ID2) that was created by Bill Moggridge in 1979. In the 1980s, ID2 coined the term interaction design to describe its work on graphical user interfaces and smart products. IDEO operates as a federation of small design offices with different styles, giving it the diversity to support the breadth of its design interests within a common approach to methodology. That methodology has been explored and articulated over the years through a large number of projects, and can be summarized as a sequence of five interdependent steps:

1. Understand. Before attempting to create new designs, the designer needs to understand the context for the product: the relevant technologies, competitive environments, potential market segments, and the current forces for change in the arena in which the product will appear. This step requires doing research on the state of the art, talking with colleagues, and interviewing relevant experts and consumers in the potential market. Through this activity, the designers come to know the problem area intimately and to produce a small set of key ideas that will guide the product design. For example, in a project developing portable computers for the Japanese computer company NEC, key ideas centered on the concepts neutral, essential, and creative. This kind of general orientation gives the design team a common direction, to be interpreted in the light of each specific design area.

2. Observe. Once there is a broad direction, it is crucial to focus on the potential users and customers. Observation at IDEO includes conventional methods such as focus groups, and also emphasizes the need not only to observe activities that are tied directly to the intended design, but also to get a broader view of what people do in related areas, what they are used to, and what matters to them. The designers generate concrete representations of the observations that are effective for guiding the work. One technique used by IDEO for communicating observations is the creation of character maps: detailed personality and activity descriptions for a small set of envisioned typical users. For example, in developing a product for automobile instrumentation, IDEO developed the characters of Figure 8.2. They are fictitious, created to cover a broad range of the different characteristics that the team observed in the potential users of the product. Visualizing these characters helps designers to anchor their thinking about what their designs will mean in practice to the different people who may use them.


Figure 8.2 Character Map This table summarizes the characteristics of four imagined customers of new designs for automobile instrumentation. The personality traits were chosen to be relevant to driving and automobile-purchase behaviors. (Source: Reprinted by permission from Bill Verplank, Jane Fulton, Allison Black, and Bill Moggridge. Observation and invention: Use of scenarios in interaction design. Tutorial, INTERCHI'93, Amsterdam, 1993, p. 36.)

3. Visualize and predict. At the third step, the designer's attention finally turns to the object or system being designed. Techniques for brainstorming, sketching, prototyping, simulating, and analyzing designs are intermixed as appropriate for the project. Even in this step, though, attention remains on the user. A central way of fleshing out the details of a design is to develop detailed storyboards or scenarios of a person using the new device. Scenarios are fictional stories, with characters, events, products, and environments. They project product ideas and themes into the context of a realistic future. Storyboards are highly visual, using photographs or comic-book sequences of drawings to depict the interactions between people and artifacts. In both cases, the concreteness helps to reveal aspects of the design that otherwise might not occur to the designer.


Figure 8.3 Storyboard A storyboard depicts a sequence of activities in which the object being designed plays a role. By providing a concrete representation for the user, setting, and action sequence, it brings out aspects of the design that are invisible when more abstract specification methods are used. (Source: Courtesy of Laurie Vertelney.)

4. Evaluate and refine. Once there is a basic structure for the design, the details are filled in, and user testing at a variety of levels is performed to provide feedback. The design team carries out repeated cycles of analysis, observation, sketching, and prototyping, similar to the spiral development model discussed by Denning and Dargan in Chapter 6 (see Figure 6.2). At this stage, the cross-functional interdisciplinary aspects are crucial, because evaluation of each aspect of a design must incorporate disparate evaluation criteria.

5. Implement. In the implementation stage, designers focus their attention more on the pragmatic aspects of building the designed object: costs, manufacturability, durability, quality control, maintenance, and so on. The goal of employing cross-functional teams throughout the process is to ensure that these considerations have not been ignored in the previous steps, because in general they cannot be simply patched on at the end. If the design process has gone well, implementation planning should produce no major surprises, but it can require modification of design details.
IDEO designers do not follow this methodology mechanically. In fact, there are several different versions, including ones with three steps, four steps, and seven steps, each rearranging and interrelating the process elements differently. Similar methodologies have guided work at other companies, such as Apple Computer (see Laurel, 1990; Bauersfeld, 1994). The point of a design methodology is not to have a recipe to follow, but rather to have a structure to fall back on-a set of reference points. A designer can use a structured process method as a form of self-reflection, to make the ongoing design process visible and to redesign and improve the process continually, as an integral part of doing design.

Suggested Readings

Bill Moggridge. Design for the Information Revolution. Design DK 4, Copenhagen: Danish Design Centre, 1992.

Penny Bauersfeld. Software by Design: Creating People-Friendly Software. New York: M&T Books, 1994.