How to Get Some IDEO Design Magic

Last Updated May 12, 2008 6:27 PM EDT

Want to bring a little IDEO magic to your startup?

Here's a primer from Sim Simeonov, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was at the Nantucket Conference recently. He blogged about the IDEO presence at the conference -- it had a design workshop and its CEO, Tim Brown, gave a keynote talk. It was all off the record to me, but I can link to his discussion of the workshop, Top Five Suggestions for Entrepreneurs from IDEO, which was aimed at helping entrepreneurs understand how IDEO comes up with product ideas.

A key is "Desirability," Sim tells us -- companies that want to succeed must create a product vision and then stick to it. An example of a vision whose designers were steadfast: the iPhone. On the flip side, Microsoft Vista is a product where the visionaries watered things down.

He expounds on the IDEO process's five steps (observation to synthesis to a generative framework to a prototype and finally to the solution), and adds his own useful comments on why he particularly likes prototyping (it lets entrepreneurs quickly work through bad ideas).

He notes the five things IDEO suggested to entrepreneurs:

1) Spend time with customers
2) Be visual and tangible (in other words, build things, even if it's just on paper)
3) Try it yourself
4) For inspiration, look outside your category
5) Test-drive your ideas, constantly.

Simeonov noted that IDEO's special sauce comes in part from the people it hires, who are deeply knowledgeable about an area, but also have broad interests (the firm calls them T-shaped people). (Note that links he had to video from IDEO's Devorah Klein and design expert Jules Pieri apparently are no longer available).

Simeonov recommends four books on the topic:

"The Art of Innovation"
"The Ten Faces of Innovation"
"The Opposable Mind"
"Contextual Design"

And he tells entrepreneurs that if they're really in startup mode, they probably cannot afford to engage IDEO itself for consultation, both because of time and money. But entrepreneurs should check out some of the comments on his post, which have suggestions on other ways to get a little design magic for less money.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.