A primer for Creative Confidence

IDEO is one of the most sought-after and imitated firms around. The company has a long history of working with leading Silicon Valley stalwarts like Hewlett-Packard and Apple. People covet its ethos that push the boundary of design past aesthetics to a line of thinking about innovation that, the company says, can be copied in other realms, like healthcare planning, mid-range hotels and mid-to-late career U2 albums.

One of IDEO's founders, David Kelley and his brother Tom (who also works there), wrote a book that gave voice to their ideas on spreading the gospel of design, called Creative Confidence. The brothers Kelley want to teach designers to have the confidence to not only solve difficult problems, but solve them in ways that no one has thought of before.

Here's the takeaway:

In every project they've created, the design team asks three basic questions:

  1. Is the innovation technically feasible?
  2. Is it feasible from a business standpoint? Do we have enough money and time to make this change? (This is more important than you'd think, they say.)
  3. Finally, is it feasible from a people standpoint? Is this what customers want?

The third question is the most important. The goal of any product or service is to solve a problem. But the problem must:

  1. Be an issue people admit they have
  2. or, be an issue people weren't aware they had before, but once enlightened, now admit to it

How to understand your customers
This gets us to the second main point: You must understand your end users to understand their problems. The Kelley brothers label this empathy, and it is the foundation to creating innovative solutions. Empathy starts by challenging your preconceived notions on what you think your customers' needs are.

There's a long debate about spoken and unspoken needs. Most people don't have the vocabulary to explicity state their needs. Designers get around this by not only asking customers question, but watching them interact with products and services. “Be a fly on the wall in an online forum,” the Kelleys write. “Pay attention as potential customers share feedback, air grievances, and ask questions. You're not looking for evaluations or features. You're searching for pain points and latent needs among the people.”

As a customer, try your own customer service to notice how problems are handled and how you are meant to feel.

Everyone is an expert. Not just the managers. Say you're in a doctor's office: The receptionist and medical assistant will have more insight on customer experience than the doctor will.

In the end, you can try to interview customers, the Kelleys write. Think of a few open ended questions about your product or service. Go to a place where your customers spend time, and find someone to approach. Ask Why? Can you tell me more about that?

This is just one aspect of Creative Confidence, a great little book chocked full of ideas.

Photo: Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta