Ideo, Interdisciplinarity and Enterprise

Last night’s Designerly Thinking event with Bill Moggridge, co-founder of Ideo, was thought provoking as expected. I felt like a bit of an interloper in a room full of design people who had come to see one of their idols. And we weren’t disappointed – Bill was clear, honest, very modest but also very insightful. The success of Ideo (described by some as the most successful design agency ever having designed the first computer mouse for Apple way back in 1980 amongst other things) has been largely down to an interdisciplinary approach and making people ‘live together’ or at least ‘work together’ over a prolonged period. When they first brought in a human factors expert, nobody spoke to them for the first 3 months, but after 6 months everybody wanted them on their team.

The most interesting observation for me was the way that design is perceived in the UK verses the US, where Bill, a Brit, now lives and works. In the UK, I get the sense that designers see themselves as different species to business people, using intuitive rather than logical thinking. In the US the boundaries are more blurred, largely due to necessity. One person I spoke to in the room also suggested that choosing to follow a design career path immediately implies a liberal political persuasion that is by its very nature anti-capitalist. Nico, our host for the evening from Spy Media, made a passing comment that he thought more designers should read the economist and it strikes me that a more complementary rather than confrontational approach between design and business would be to the benefit for both.


  1. A very enjoyable event, rammed and with lots of intelligent questions and debate. THe first thing IDEO reinvented was design and it was great to meet Bill. Having experienced both sides of the biz/design coin I believe that designers have masses to teach, or remind, mainstream business. Moreover designers are under-rated advisors compared to management consultants or advertising planners. Here are 3 things: remember you’re human (senses, and emotions are on all the time); learn by doing rather than endless strategising; trust your judgement rather than the crutch of research. Any more anyone?

  2. David – I would place even more emphasis on the human being part. This is essentially what good design is all about: making things/services that human beings find a joy to use/engage with. Design is such an integral component of innovation, yet so often undervalued. Take the iPod (or iPhone) as easy examples: the only innovation in these products is the appealing physical design and UI design (with the human being at the core of both). The tech itself was nothing new, simply repackaged and given intuitive controls – much like the entire Mac product range. Good design is about so much more than making things appealing; at its heart it’s about making things useable or do-able. I’m overjoyed to see the UK finally embracing the concept of service design. As an American living in the UK, I am constantly shocked by the poor levels of service the Brits are willing to put up with. Perhaps the reason us ‘Yanks’ are so accustomed to seamless people-focussed services is because business and design are much closer bedfellows across the pond.

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