Archives For design culture

I hardly ever look at résumés. In general, they don’t help me achieve my goal—to discover people who will be a great fit at IDEO.

I get that the résumé is just the first step in the journey, but what a terrible first step it is, especially when you have to read through several thousand of them every year. Just last year, we had about 14,000 candidates applying for jobs at IDEO. You can imagine how tedious it would be to look through that tall stack of 8.5 x 11 black-and-white typed documents. At a certain point, they all start to look the same, and your chances of singling out that special person with unique skills are very slim.

In a job market where creative confidence, collaboration, and storytelling are valued across sectors, it would make sense for your first impression to be a showcase for those qualities. Rather than standard, it should be exceptional.

So, how would I fix the résumé? Here are a few ideas from a design-thinking perspective.

First, I would ask: What are you trying to communicate?

Do you want to merely list standard qualifications, or describe more unique skills? Are you showing off your depth of experience, or a particularly remarkable journey? Do you mean to infer your qualifications by being linked to the companies listed on your résumé, or to show that you’ve developed your own point of view?

Second, I’d add some visual flair.

Your résumé might convey what’s important to you and what strengths you want to emphasize through creative visual puns. IDEO mechanical engineer Jordan Lay impressed us with his engineer’s rendering. (see above)

Perhaps you’d like to feature an illustration of your character, offering insight into who you are as a person and your combination of skills and experiences. Business designer Joe Brown introduced himself to IDEO staff with charming cutout illustrations.

Third, think like a digital native.

In the not-so-distant future—and some might argue, right now—the résumé will likely be digital, not even printable on paper. That allows video and animation to play a role in telling your story. Take a look at this clever video created by IDEO systems designer Deirdre Cerminaro, when she applied for a job. It showcases her personality, imagination, as well as her video-producing chops.

Whichever creative approach you take, remember that your résumé is a design challenge and that you must think about the user. While it might pay to be visually compelling, it’s just as important to be clear and legible.

It’s a tall order, but making the effort to get your résumé right will make you stand out from the pack of job seekers. So go ahead and challenge yourself to put your best foot forward.

Images courtesy of IDEO / Jordan Lay + Joe Brown

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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I’m a big believer in the value of internships, that’s why IDEO runs a substantial program every year. As well as getting experience working on real design projects, our interns are tasked with a series of conceptual projects so they get the most out of their time with us—and vice versa. One of those activities is the Summer Intern Design Challenge, run out of our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices. Interns are asked to team up, tackle a design brief, then present their final prototypes at an exhibition. The Challenge not only gives interns a chance to collaborate with each other, but they leave IDEO with work they can share publicly.

This year, we decided to try a little time travel. Nearly 20 years ago, I participated in a project along with a team of other designers at IDEO. The brief: design a series of light switch prototypes for an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Our submissions explored unconventional materials like satin, fake fur, and rubberized Lycra, but their overall forms—panels mounted on walls—were relatively traditional.

This year, we tasked our interns with the same brief, but boy were the results different, a sign of how much design has changed over the intervening decades. While some of the interns focused on material explorations and the physical experience of a light switch—like my team and I did in 1995—others went much further afield. From a collaborative game called Smile Switch that converts facial expressions into light, to Brighter Moments, a fixture that plays meaningful messages for loved ones when they turn on the light, to a social impact service called Let It Shine that helps families in developing countries pay for energy, the idea of a traditional light switch was explored from every angle.

The diversity of approaches to this humble, often overlooked object shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, as I mentioned in a recent post, a design career is much more open today. In 1995, my prototyping team all came from industrial design and engineering backgrounds. This year, in addition to ID and engineering interns, we had interaction, business, environments, and org designers along withdevelopers and other folks joining in the fun.

The experience reminded me of a few things I’ve learned from these and other interns over the years.

Interns ask “why.” Because they’re new, interns don’t know what’s been done before. When they ask why you’re doing something a certain way, you have to explain yourself, which can reveal long-held assumptions—and force you to rethink them.

Interns energize a workplace. The best interns are eager to roll up their sleeves and jump in headfirst. Their enthusiasm is infectious and can help unlock even the most stuck teams.

Interns don’t just learn from you, you learn from them. The assumption is that interns will leave your company smarter for it, but I’ve found the learning is definitely two-way. Whether it’s beautiful wall murals, hacked knitting machines, or teaching pasta-making classes, our best interns have given back as much as they’ve been given.

When I see the caliber and diversity of the interns that spent this summer with us, and the creative approaches they took to a challenge as mundane as a light switch, I’m hopeful about the future of design. Thank you, interns, for a Master Class in optimism.

What have you learned from interns?

openideo_employment_linkedin

Few people have helped as many people find the right job as Dick Bolles. The best-selling author of What Color is Your Parachute? and co-founder of eParachute.com has been advising job seekers for over 40 years. I had a chance to speak with Bolles recently as part of the OpenIDEO Youth Employment Challenge. The online challenge, done in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, hopes to engage a global community in tackling the issue of youth employment. Below are notes from our conversation, which I hope will help stimulate creativity for the challenge’s Ideas Phase.

Know Yourself

“Education, if it’s doing its job, needs to teach young people three things: they need to learn who they are, how to find the right work, and how to find an appropriate life partner. If colleges were ever to think about how they could help students learn about those three problems, education would be turned on its head.”

Bolles makes a compelling case for the value of self-knowledge. During our short conversation, he shared two stories of readers who told him how much easier their job searches became after they invested in self-exploration. Knowing your own gifts and interests well not only enables you to narrow your focus, it also helps you to understand how your skills might transfer to roles you might not have previously imagined.

Job Hunt in Groups

“I was talking to someone looking for a job and asked, ‘WHY are you doing your job hunt alone?’ I never understand why people don’t work together and help each other… Only by youth talking to other youth can we make a dent in this problem.”

For me, this insight was a real eye opener, but it makes perfect sense. At IDEO, we strongly believe that collaboration leads to great things, so why not apply this same logic to looking for a new job? Making job hunts more social makes them more enjoyable and educational. Job seekers are able to share leads, networks, and advice. They’re able to practice for interviews together and keep each other’s spirits up after setbacks. And once they start landing jobs, the value of their combined networks becomes all the more important. Animals hunt in packs, why shouldn’t we?

Stay Optimistic

“Every job hunt in the world depends on one factor above all else: hope. Instead of always hearing about how intractable the problem [of youth unemployment] is, what if there was a project that collected success stories of people that took charge of their own job hunt and their own life?”

By nature, designers are optimistic. We believe there are solutions to tough problems and that, with the right methodology and collaboration, we can find them. It’s easy to lose your optimism, though, when the odds feel stacked against you. That’s why Bolles’ point is so critical: maintaining hope is an essential ingredient to a successful job search. How might we protect young people’s most important asset—their hope?

I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your ideas and solutions on OpenIDEO’s Youth Employment Challenge. I, personally, will be offering a design critique to a selected idea during the challenge’s Refinement Phase and one lucky participant will be selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative’s 10th Annual Meeting in September 2014.

What advice have you given to first-time job seekers?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Fancy a career in design? When I made that choice 30 years ago, the options were limited. You either got an engineering degree and then went to design school, or you went to art school and studied graphic design, architecture, or industrial design, like I did.

Today, things are very different. Thanks to the still-booming Silicon Valley, interaction and user-experience designers have been added to the mix, but those aren’t the only opportunities for design thinkers. Even graduates of non-traditional programs can embark on exciting design careers. To wit, here are five disciplines that didn’t even exist at IDEO a few years ago.

The Designer Coder

Prototyping has always been a critical part of design, but in today’s online, app-based economy, the preferred prototyping medium is increasingly code. Designers who can also code possess a powerful set of tools. There are thousands of positions open to those who have the skills to conceive new ideas and the ability to launch them quickly into market.

The Design Entrepreneur

Combining entrepreneurialism and design is the hot thing in Silicon Valley these days. Every start-up worth its salt has a designer on its founding team. Venture capital firms are including designers in their inner circles, too. More importantly, many of the fastest-growing companies are succeeding because they’ve designed a highly appealing product or service. Just look at Uber or Airbnb. If you have the design skills to craft the right product—and the entrepreneurial grit to see things through—there’s never been a better time to be a design entrepreneur.

The Hybrid Design Researcher

Once upon a time, design researchers came from backgrounds in anthropology, ethnography, or psychology. Deep qualitative research was the secret to discovering unmet needs. While it’s still a successful design-research strategy, these more traditional methods are now being combined with real-time data to reveal user behavior. Knowing how to tap into technology to uncover how individuals and groups really think and act is an essential part of innovation. If you love people and love crunching data, this might be the design career for you.

The Business Designer

Business design may seem like a contradiction if you think about business purely from an operational lens. If you’re a business designer, however, you’re not just looking for innovation from an end product or service. You’re looking at the business model, channel strategy, marketing, supply chain, and a million other things. In truly disruptive innovations, all aspects of the business are up for grabs. Think about the early days of Google. Search innovation was what we experienced as users, but it was by attaching search results to advertising—a business model innovation—that made the company billions. If you have a passion for operations and a desire to flex your creative muscles to create new business systems, then becoming a business designer is the way to go.

The Social Innovator

Creating maximum positive impact on the planet has been my main motivation as a designer. Today, many of those problems—poverty alleviation, access to clean water, financial inclusion, health services for the poor, livable cities, and many more—are in the social sector. Until recently, the only way designers could contribute to these issues was to do small, pro-bono projects or to do research stints within academia. But now, large organization such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and others, have enthusiastically embraced design thinking. At the same time, non-profit design companies like D-RevDesign that Matters, our own IDEO.org, and others are collaborating with social entrepreneurs and NGOs to bring exciting new innovations to those most in need. For perhaps the first time in the history of design, it’s possible to make a career designing for the social sector.

These are just a handful of exciting new design careers I’ve witnessed as of late. Given the urgent, complex challenges our world faces, expect more. Better yet, if you’re a young graduate or looking to change careers, ask yourself:

How might I apply my unique talents to design challenges?

Who knows, maybe next year, I might be writing about you.

What other unlikely skill sets do you think could advance design innovation?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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Typically, the soundtrack of Fourth of July is the deafening boom of fireworks. You can barely hear yourself think, let alone have meaningful conversations with family and friends. This year, why not try something different and hone your creative listening skills in the time it takes to fire up a grill?

IDEO’s New York studio recently put together a short “Creative Listening” course in the form of a podcast for the Aspen Ideas Festival. Designed to help conference goers maximize their experience, the four bite-sized segments can help anyone develop better creative listening habits in 30 minutes. Here are a few things you’ll learn:

How to utilize your intuition: Sometimes too much information is just that. It can be overwhelming and logic can only get you so far. That’s when you need to trust your gut and ask, “What’s really important here?” “What’s going on behind the surface, the unsaid versus the said?”

How to hone your interpretation skills: Industry jargon and wordy explanations often mask the true value of something. Learning how to distill a message down to its essence, into simple, understandable language isn’t “dumbing it down,” it’s giving it wings.

How to find inspiration in unexpected places: Looking outside your normal, go-to sources can be a great creativity boost. For instance, one of our teams was working on new membership program for a credit card company. Instead of looking at the competition, they spent time with a rabbi who encouraged people thinking about changing religions to experience different types of synagogues to find the right “fit.” That extreme, analogous experience helped the team turn the corner.

And finally, learn how to amp up your curiosity: Curiosity pushes us beyond what we know and challenges us to look at long-held beliefs in a new light. Staying curious—always asking “Why?” like an earnest preschooler—is a critical muscle that needs to be continuously flexed if you want to have new, game-changing ideas.

Best of all, the course is free to download on iTunes.

Creative listening is a great tool to help you solve tough problems at work. But this holiday weekend, you might want to apply what you learn to tackle a more pressing challenge: keeping everyone happy on vacation.

Happy Fourth!

 

What’s the most surprising thing you learned when you listened creatively?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)