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Last month I travelled to Californian summer, welcoming a brief respite from the depths of a harsh winter, to join my colleagues at IDEO. This was a momentous meeting – after many months of working intensely together on OpenIDEO from our respective locations in London, California and New Zealand, it was the first time our team of five got to be together face-to-face. A few of us even managed a board meeting of sorts – surfing the fine waves of Santa Cruz where we shacked up for a few days to brainstorm ideas on future directions for OpenIDEO.

Then it was back to IDEO HQ in Palo Alto. There’s so much that could be said about this hotbed of creative intelligence – not in the least highlighting the inspiring places to take a break while at work. A glaring feature of life at IDEO is a zeal for trying things out – within a culture which views failure as an opportunity to learn. Alongside many client focused pursuits, folks also post to IDEO Labs where “we can show bits of what we’re working on, talk about prototyping, and share our excitement over the tools that help us create.”

This iterative, explorative and hands-on approach enables future imaginings such as the much hailed Future of the Book alongside more playful one-off prototypes like the amusingly brilliant Alex Cam. Essentially it’s an active, demonstrative approach which entails much more than just coming up with ideas – rather, it’s about rolling up one’s sleeves and actually trying things out. But if you’re already a keen follower of all-things-IDEO, you know that, right? So as I poked around corners and peered over work benches, I was searching for evidence of prototyping which would keep everyone more entertained. I found it while toying round on the upper floors.

Many methods can be used to approximate human form and action in the course of designing – modelling, stand-ins and so forth. While on my wanderings I stumbled upon another popular avenue for approximation at IDEO – the Barbie. Childhood memories flooded back of how easy she was to contort and costume – which pose advantages when scoping out scenarios and personas for quick protoyping.

As with any workshop setting, laying your hands on the necessary parts and pieces assists assemblage – so I was pleased to see that orderly filing is a priority at IDEO.

 “Experimentation is not a method – it’s a way of life, of trying things out in order to seek improvement that will be relevant. You’ll never know if it could have been better if you don’t try things out – and you broaden your perspective along the way, leading to a result that’s richer for the journey,” noted my new found IDEO-buddy who was tinkering away, mildly amused at my Barbie preoccupation. It’s obviously a significant part of his life – prior to joining IDEO he had worked in a circus for 6 years.

Back to the reason for my trip – OpenIDEO – and a more serious yet uplifting note. As I set off on my travels we received an *awesome* video from a group of Colombian students who took it upon themselves to prototype a concept which they had submitted to our Maternal Health and Mobile Technology challenge. Be sure to check out the low-down of their prototype journey and heart-warming achievements with a low-income community, further south in Argentina. There are some things a Barbie just can’t approximate.
Related posts:
OpenIDEO: Better Together
Global Challenge: Local Flavour
And if Barbie eccentricities are your thing, check out these one-off creations.

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