The Art of Innovation

IDEO’s five step method

  1. Understand the market, client and technology
  2. Observe difficulties and gaps
  3. Visualize how a solution will solve the problem with roll plays, storyboards and prototypes
  4. Evaluate and refine with several prototypes
  5. Implement with commercialization and marketing

Building product experiences

Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible. —Alan Kay

Focus on verbs not nouns, and design experiences not products. Take the pain/struggle out of these experiences — one click is cheaper than two. Optimize the common case by focusing most design attention where you touch the product most.

Find a way to connect with people and embrace their differences over forcing the same behavior for everyone. Communicate helpful internal information (like wait times) to customers. Companies often need an empathy check with users to remember that the human component is critical.

Build products fast and leapfrog established players. Always move forward and achieve some part of the goal, then end the project by beginning the next.

Initial designs

Use metaphors or phrases to guide design and product objectives. Color inspires so make palette decisions part of the initial design goals.

Crank out 5 designs in first week then spend 10 minutes with the boss to request feedback. Use this to refine the initial designs into a great solution. A tough deadline is “great… if we can meet halfway through to refine the strategy”.

Simple sketching is invaluable business communication. Draw friendlier human figures using circular shapes instead of sticks.

Making prototypes

Never go to a meeting without a prototype. —Dermis Boyle

Prototypes help make progress against insurmountable challenges by sparking success determining innovations. The project course can be corrected earlier and more often — “fail often to succeed sooner… juggle bean bags not rocks first”.

Pitch presentations in stages as the product develops. First show a rough sketch, then a cheap foam model. Prototypes are harder to reject but still need a good performance: make trailers for each visual prototype and always make a great entrance, including greeting clients by name. A prototype is worth a thousand pictures, and each picture is worth a thousand words.

Concept projects with no client can lead directly to innovation by uncovering distant futures.


If you can’t make a t-shirt about it, maybe you don’t have a compelling story

Energy and effort can be the difference between hit and miss. Adoption can take forceful marketing. Transform the way you are perceived and become sanctioned by the market. Do not advertise failures because it can prevent market acceptance.

Every technology has a rate of inception, adoption and decline (s-curve theory).


Drive products as if the first time. They should have a Wet Nap interface, as simple as “tear open and use”.

Once customers start to use products you need to refine them. Refinement is asking what you do not need and 2.0 is an ideal time to streamline. Be wary of feature creep that happens when real innovation stalls, however note that extras and fine details can make a product (including the right accessories).

Experienced observers can deduce product faults by observing users. Static products can often be improved when observed in motion. It is important that each observer has a deep understanding so that stumbling points are immediately apparent.

Finding innovation

Innovation happens by looking at what isn’t there —Jake Burton

Everyone has a creative side but it requires training like any skill.

Know the soon to be state of the art and expect the unexpected. No one gets ahead copying the status quo. Every industry has places where the buzz is where you make connections and hear the latest.

Child-like questions of “Why?” and “Why not?” lead to innovation by stripping normal assumptions from analysis. Learn from the people who break the rules, perhaps adapting an existing product to a new use-case. Watch people struggle with existing products in new environments.

Think how one-use products are adapted cleverly for multiple uses. Social norms are tough to predict and change. Computer peripherals are proof something is missing in the core product.

Cross-pollinate ideas from multiple sources

  1. Skim media
  2. Watch the world
  3. Open departments for peer review
  4. Different opinions
  5. Fresh blood
  6. Empathise
  7. Cross-train


  • Empowerment while maintaining experience will be huge
  • Sticking with the status quo is safer but loses in the long run
  • Success has a tendency to hamstring companies
  • The person who tails endlessly at his desk is unlikely to be the one hatching a great innovation

Company mindset

The biggest barrier to innovation is company mindset and routines. Senior company executives should frame company needs in the context of innovation. Break rules and fail forward so that change is part of the culture. A change in mindset is more valuable than technological improvements.

Work environment

The best offices celebrate teamwork. A high people density makes offices pulse. Make desks movable and group project members together so that space is just for teamwork and not owned. Lay flexible workspace foundations and allow the teams to extend these foundations to suit. You should be able to tell when moving from one neighborhood to another and the workspace should communicate positivity to both employees and visitors.

Provide good food and encourage play to have constant off-site energy. There should be no need for a physical off-site because creativity should flow in the office.

IDEO integrated the prototyping process be integrated into the company work environment. Their Tech Box library of innovation elements archives experience from a range of industries.

Hire the right people

Build bridges to creativity by being a merit-based autonomous family of messy tinkerers. A can-do spirit is infectious throughout a business — people exceed their job description in their team. Self-motivation is imperative. In Zanset’s The Art of Possibility, he asked students to write a letter dated the last day of class explaining why they should get an A. They did more achieving their own goal than any teacher defined goal.

Pro-actively hire the intellectually curious. If you hire the right people, everything else will take care of itself. People perform when they feel special and sometimes the best inspiration is not doing work.

When you are stuck on a tough decision or have a problem that you do not understand, talk to all the smart people that you know. Avoid individuals who describe products as fine, “fine is a four letter word” and does not add any information to a discussion.

IDEO’s studio system

People pick where they want to work and the studio leads pick out of the applicants. Project enthusiasm comes from mindset — find the fun, and use people who have a personal investment in the project. Each team member must care about each other, trust the skills of their teammates, and be committed to joint success. Reward achievements and blunders with project trophies.

These hot groups are teams with purpose and personality, completely dedicated to the end-result. They are non-hierarchical, diverse and catalysed by ridiculous deadlines.

Brainstorming is an optimism injecting art

Enhance creativity

  • Act, sketch and mould physically, let the space of the room indicate the development of ideas (fill with paper)
  • Build and jump, let ideas flow then switch viewpoints or move laterally to keep the ideas coming
  • Defer judgement and criticism
  • Number ideas and go for quantity (100 ideas per hour)
  • Perform content related preparation and bring props for inspiration
  • Sharpen the focus outward, start with a well-defined customer need not on an organizational goal
  • Warm up by clearing the mind with a fast paced word game

Common failures

  • Asking experts in the target field gives depth not breadth
  • Bosses speaking first sets boundaries on communication
  • Disallowing silly ideas restricts wild, potentially successful, ideas
  • Forcing turns prevents ideas flowing naturally
  • Recording everything breaks the flow of the brainstorm, assign a scribe and keep the energy

Shopping cart reinvention

Other summaries

Simon Kendrick wrote another summary with a different focus.

ux-book  ux