IDEO, design, the everyday

This is the first in a series of commentaries on a class running at Stanford, Winter Quarter 2010 – “Transformative Design” ENGR 231 – [Link]

I made a visit to IDEO last week, the design consultancy with its head office in downtown Palo Alto, by Stanford. I’m teaching a class next term with one of its founders, Bill Moggridge. It’s called “Transformative Design” and is run through the Hasso-Plattner Institute for Design at Stanford – the Bernie Roth from Mechanical Engineering is with us as one of the original teaching team. I am joining this year with Megghan Dryer, also of IDEO.

The’s mission is quite clear – to promote “design thinking” – the process of human-centered design at the heart of IDEO’s very successful consultancy. I am fascinated with this juxtaposition – IDEO’s distillation of design practice with the interpretive understanding and analytics at the core of archaeological and anthropological approaches to material culture.

[Link to class website]

David Kelley, Tom Kelley, Tim Brown and Bill himself have written much about IDEO’s method, the use of ethnographic observation, brainstorming, prototyping and narrative. I’ll be elaborating on all this through the course of the class.

[Link] – Bill’s book – “Designing Interactions”

[Link] – Tim Brown’s blog on design thinking

My line is that archaeologists offer unique insights into both creativity and innovation in the history of design, and, as modernity’s key memory practice, archaeology is itself a design practice, working on what is left of the past, crafting and modeling.

[Link] – archaeology as design in contemporary “risk society”.

An insight came straight out of this recent visit.

I picked up a couple of books in the IDEO collection. “Thoughtless Acts” is a photographic documentary of intuitive everyday “design” – when people adapt things and environments to needs and desires often unforeseen.



IDEO people have also produced two travel guides – on London and New York.

They are called “eyes open” and celebrate experience, ambience and character, rather than overdramatized tourist “attractions”.


There is so much value in making manifest what is tacit, overlooked, assumed.

The quotidian – the everyday, the unnoticed, the ambient – is at the heart of human experience. The quotidian constitutes our sense of “presence”, of really being there. The quotidian is a core of an archaeological imagination.

For me, the flow of everyday experience always and already implies a question of attention, about “what matters” – on what should we focus, what is really happening? It is the question of the relationship between signal and noise, figure and ground.

More notes – Figure and Ground

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