IDEO is one of the largest and most important American design and consulting companies. Starting as an industrial design and interaction design studio (one of the founders was Bill Modgidge), IDEO has extended its consulting services to compete with business consulting companies like McKinsey.

What differs IDEO from the others is approach based on using the same tools while designing products - such as user’s observation, context of use analysis, prototyping and iterative process - for developing business and marketing strategy.

How design thinking can help building strategy?

Typical tools used by strategists such as Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides don’t favour creativity and good communication (as we all know, PowerPoint is pure evil 😉 – seriously, it was responsible for the disaster of the space shuttle Columbia and its use has been banned by NASA.) You can’t properly understand the whole project if its vision is only contained in short bulletpoints. PowerPoint slides are boring, and words can be understood differently. Strategy formulated and presented in this way, is trapped in ambiguous abstractions, difficult to clarify and evaluate.

According to IDEO, preparing strategic prototypes is a much better solution. Such a prototype is not a detailed design, its role is to present strategic vision in way that is engaging emotions and imagination (built to think). The human mind needs to confront some real object or a story to develop an idea and assess its strengths and weaknesses. Prototype can be a mockup of the product, it also can be a comic strip or a film, which shows the use of the service in a narrative form. An example of such a prototype is the concept of a web browser of the future, Aurora, prepared by Adaptive Path, another company which integrates design with strategic consulting.

In his article “Strategy by Design” the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, outlines the elements of creating a strategy. At the beginning: hit the Streets. The process of creating a strategy needs to be “human-centered”. To gather interesting insights it’s important to spend some time with consumers, watching their behaviors, personally test the products and services, get to know the user experience, on which we can often build the whole strategy.

The next step is prototyping:

Design thinking is by nature a process of prototyping. When you are on a promising idea, build it. The prototype is usually a drawing, model, or a video describing the product, system or service. We build these models very fast, they are strict and not very elegant, but they work. The aim is not to create approximations of the finished product, or process, the aim is to gather feedback that will help us resolve the problem. In a sense, we build to think.

When you start rapidly prototype, you begin to build a strategy. Doing this at very beginning of the cycle of innovation, allows you to release the most precious things in your organization: human intuition. When you sit down with team of experienced employees and show them prototypes of products and services that you want to implement within two years, you will learn whether they have an intuitive feeling that you are going in the right direction. It is enlightening trial-and-error method: Observe the world, pattern recognition and behavior, generate ideas, collect feedback, repeat the process and improve project until you are going to be ready to put product on the market.

Prototype tells the story. Prototyping is simultaneously an evaluation process – it generates feedback, which allows you to put the amendments on the fly – and is the process of telling stories. This is the way of visual presentation and experiencing every strategy. – Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO.

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