Fast Company has a good article on Ideo, a company known for it's ability to innovate. How do they do it?
The secret, it turns out, reduces to one of those touchy-feely terms that make MBAs squirm: "empathy." In the Ideo universe, great design doesn't begin with a far-out concept or a way-cool drawing. It begins with a deep and empathic understanding of the human condition. The first step for any Ideo team on any project is to try to empathize with the people who might use whatever product or service that eventually emerges from its work.
But fear not, MBAs. This quest for empathic connection doesn't involve any arm linking or folk singing. Instead, Ideo has crafted a set of systematic research methods for understanding what the firm calls "human factors." And now, after years of internal use, it has collected those techniques, stamped them onto 51 funky oversized cards, and packaged them into a box that anyone can buy for $49. Think of it as Ideo for the rest of us.
In b-school we watched a film on this company. They had to design a new grocery cart, and the first thing they did was go out and walk around grocery stores. They talked to shoppers and staff, took notes, and then went back to the office and brainstormed for hours. The final product was very impressive. If anyone out there has used these Ideo cards, I'd be very interested to know whether or not they helped.