IDEO and consumer listening - ideo uses empathic listening to consumers when designing products and services
IDEO and consumer listening - ideo uses empathic listening to consumers when designing products and services
IDEO and consumer listening - ideo uses empathic listening to consumers when designing products and services

IDEO and The Art of Innovation: The Role of Listening in Consumer Product Development


IDEO is an award-winning product design firm headquartered in Silicon Valley known for innovations such as the original Apple mouse, the Palm V, ground-breaking toys, defibrillators and other medical devices, snow board goggles, shopping carts, office furniture, software, and more.

Active and empathic listening are integral to IDEO's methodology for developing innovative products, the key components of which are:

  1. understanding and observing potential users in action in the real world;
  2. visualizing new solutions, particularly through brainstorming and prototyping;
  3. evaluating prototypes by observing how people interact with them; and
  4. implementing completed solutions.

 

This section examines a book by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm (Currency (Doubleday), 2001), with commentary and analysis by Bruce Wilson.

The following sections review IDEO's methods for observing and understanding customers and prototyping while discussing the relationships between these methods and business listening generally. Another section (under the businessLISTENING.com heading of "leadership") discusses IDEO's approach to brainstorming.

Observing and Understanding Customers the IDEO Way

IDEO calls their observation process "human factors" or "human inspiration". The process typically involves the following steps.

Firsthand Empathic Observation. IDEO sends its people into the field for firsthand, empathic observation of people working with the same problem or existing products meant to solve that same problem. For example, observing medical staff using a re-designed pacemaker, IDEO realized that only cardiologists used its advance functions, so they created a two-tier interface making the simpler features easier to access for the majority of users.

Using a Bug List. While observing users, IDEO team members keep a "bug list" of everything that strikes them as relevant, no matter how basic or simplistic, which helps them slowly alter the pre-conceptions they walked in with that are obscuring what they are really seeing and hearing.

Send in the Empath. IDEO has an in-house "empath" whose job is described as "part anthropologist and seer" to lead observational research efforts. IDEO's empath "plumbs people's latent needs and wishes, in order to redesign existing products or find inspiration for entirely new ones" through a process of "hyperobservation and synthesis."

 

The IDEO experience chronicled here is highly relevant to anyone who seeks to understand customer needs, then brainstorm and prototype solutions in a work environment conducive to teamwork and creativity. The authors write clearly and evocatively, with downright exciting descriptions of the processes underlying creation of contemporary products and the colorful teams that created them.

On the down side, knowing that much of the book was conceived in 2000, when the dreams of a future driven by dot coms and their free-spending work environments was still very much alive, may detract somewhat from the overall "recognize no limitations to what you can achieve" tone of the book.

Turn Off Compression and Filters. Rather than obtaining simplified summaries or survey information about a large number of people, IDEO prefers seeking out a smaller number of interesting people within their target group and studying them in greater detail through first hand observation and interaction.

Focus groups, traditional market research, and in-house experts are not very valuable by comparison to direct observation and interaction because they filter or skew the information in a number of ways. IDEO personnel go on-site to get hands-on experience with actual users.

For example, while observing potential customers testing a new piece of computer software, IDEO observers noticed that even though many users struggled to operate certain features, they didn't bring this up when they were surveyed afterwards!

Observation benefits everybody on the team. IDEO recommends sending designers, researchers, technicians, manufacturing people, and marketing people into the field to observe and thereby gain an intuitive understanding of what they are trying to accomplish with their piece of the customer satisfaction puzzle.

Include Prototyping in the Observation Cycle. IDEO also applies this empathic observation process while watching potential customers interact with early stage prototypes of products under development.

With respect to prototyping, one motto at IDEO is "Fail often to succeed sooner." In other words, those who take no risks also eliminate their chances for success.

 

Validating Your Market Using the Team's Gut Instincts. Before launching a new business, product or service it's critical to determine whether anyone is going to buy it. When it comes to surveys, we all forget sometimes that the mere fact that data was entered into a database then put through statistical equations devised by a Ph.D doesn't create a higher "truth" about the results or the conclusions we draw. Both IDEO and Austin Ventures emphasize the irreplaceable value of first-hand knowledge about the customer at all levels of your organization.

hardcover

 

Final thoughts. Firsthand empathic observation allows you to tap into customer needs before, during and after a solution is developed. This reliance on listening makes perfect sense: only if you can understand empathically what beauty is, what it looks like, and what it means in the eyes of your customer will you be able to recreate faithfully that experience in your products or services.

*** This book is highly recommended by businessLISTENING.com for anyone interested in creating or improving upon compelling products and services. ***

Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm (Currency (Doubleday), 2001) (>Amazon.com).



This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit WilsonStrategies.com.


Overview

Home Page

Detailed Description of Topics

Topics

Listening Strategy and Skills

Leadership
and Teams

Customer Relationships
in Sales and Marketing

Conflict Resolution and Negotiation

Resources

Listening Books

About Us

Contributors

Editorial

Contact Us


Google
Web businessListening.com


What do you think? Give us your feedback.


Customer Relationships
in Sales and Marketing


summary of site contents:

Home Page | Detailed Description of Topics | Listening Strategy and Skills | Leadership and Teams | Customer Relationships in Sales and Marketing | Conflict Resolution and Negotiation | Listening Books | Contributors | Editorial | Contact Us |


Sponsored Links:
 

businessLISTENING.com is produced by Wilson Strategies, consultants for leadership, customer relationship, and group process development.

Discussions of any author, business, business method or personal practice on this site are not endorsements, but are instead intended to provoke critical thinking and individual learning about the role of listening in business.

wilsonstrategies
business listening

©2003-2005, all rights reserved. "businessLISTENING.com" is our trademark, all other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.