Design Thinking is About People Doing

Design Thinking is About People Doing


For the last few weeks, I have been taking a class with IDEO designed to help people become more observant. Before coming up with a solution to a perceived problem, the IDEO team collects data.

IDEO (pronounced “eye-dee-oh”) is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. They just launched a pilot educational program and I was lucky enough to be part of their first class. We had several exercises to perform but they were all based on helping us hone our skills in people watching.

The first step was identifying a problem that needed solving (for instance, we were spending time trying to find ways to help elderly people engage more successfully with technology). In order to do this we were asked to observe elderly people in their environments (and to observe those people who were part of that environment). We looked for things that prompted behaviors (signs, traffic patterns, room arrangements); took note of “work-arounds” (simple solutions that helped people adapt (post-it notes with passwords next to computer screens); paid attention to what was important to people (on-line shopping, weather info, contact with family and friends); looked at body language (when were people relaxed and when were they noticeably stiff or awkward); we grouped patterns and routines together to identify trends in behavior; and we noted anything that stood out.

IDEO uses an acronym for this activity AEIOU (activities, environments, interactions, objects, and users). These observations were jotted down via pen and paper and through photos and videos. But the real insight came when we talked to people about what we saw and they explained the how’s and the why’s of their actions.

IDEO uses a structured approach to solution building.


Their design process helps generate ideas and put them into action. Here are the steps:

Discovery: I have a challenge. How do I approach it?

Interpretation: I learned something. How do I interpret it?

Ideation: I see an opportunity. What do I create?

Experimentation: I have an idea. How do I build it?

Evolution: I tried something. How do I evolve it?

They are a generous company and post many of their tools online. I learned so much from this seemingly simple course. I thought I was observant and I am – but now I am much more people centric when I observe. From now on observation will include interviews and examination not just of the result, but of the process it took to get there. Take a look at IDEO – they are leading the way in our innovation economy and they have something to teach all of us about the power of people.


One thought on “Design Thinking is About People Doing

  1. Wow 🙂 seeing that you have alot of beautiful graphics I feel honored that you decided to go with my note-sketch, thank you! IDEO changed my whole approach to problem solving and the way I look at things around me.

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