Archives For visual design

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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?

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Part of maintaining a thriving creative culture is giving people time and permission to play. One of the ways we encourage creative play at IDEO is through Designs On—, a semi-annual internal design challenge started five years ago by my colleague Blaise Bertrand. Each edition of Designs On— centers on a theme ranging from Global Warming to Birth.

Packaging is the central theme of the newly launched fifth edition of Designs On—. In it are 18 unexpected packaging ideas, like a medicine bottle that signals expiration like a rotting banana, and using synthetic biology to sustainably manufacture cups, among many other thought-provoking ideas. Serious, scientific, playful, and emotional, the concepts form a collective portfolio that showcases the creativity of our designers, and acts as inspiration for our current—and future—client work.

We think it’s creative playtime well spent.

What about you? What would you design if time, money, or feasibility weren’t concerns?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

One Designer’s Love Letter

February 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

Designer Elger Oberwelz created this short stop-motion video as a tribute to a beloved projectMetropolis magazine tells the story behind the love letter.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Make It Visual

December 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Here’s another design thinking tip from Change By Design: Make it visual.

Some things are hard to describe in words. In fact, many things are hard to describe in words. Try describing in detail the bedroom you spent your childhood in. My guess is that you will have a hard time describing it well enough for someone else to recreate it. The same is true for new ideas. Words may be a start, but they often lack the precision and clarity required to describe a new idea to someone else. Photos, sketches, and data visualizations can make complex ideas easier to understand and share. That’s why portfolios beat résumés, and young designers are still encouraged to carry a sketchbook.

This week, try recording your observations and ideas visually, even if just as a rough sketch in a notebook or a picture on your camera phone. If you think you can’t draw, too bad. Do it anyway.

Mind mapping can be an excellent way to get visual about abstract ideas. For example, check out the design thinking mind map used in Change By Design, which you also can see in my recent post, “Start Designing Your Life.”

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)