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Silicon Valley Design Firm IDEO Aims to Rethink Books, Cars

Posted by Editor on November 23, 2010

By Ryan Flinn – Nov 23, 2010 11:15 AM MT on

Employees at the Silicon Valley design firm IDEO LLC spotted weaknesses in the current crop of electronic-book readers. So they did what came naturally to them and designed their own.

The company created a proposal for e-readers called “The Future of the Book,” showing how the devices could tap wireless Internet access, location services and social networks to help readers interact and get more involved in novels. In September, the ideas were presented to publishers in New York, including McGraw-Hill Cos. and Random House.

“This is the way designers are — interested across lots of things in their personal life,” Diego Rodriguez, a partner at IDEO, said in an interview from its Palo Alto, California, headquarters. “We tend to see trends, societal trends, maybe before mainstream society feels them.”

While IDEO’s vision for e-books may take time to show up in stores, the firm laid the groundwork for many of the products consumers will be considering this holiday season — as well as the way they pay for them. Its designers helped create Apple Inc.’s first mouse and TiVo Inc.’s remote control, and they devised Bank of America Corp.’s Keep the Change program, which rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference in customers’ savings accounts.

Switch to Strategy

Once focused on product design, the firm has spent the past decade branching out into everything from fighting childhood obesity to changing the way drivers interact with their cars. Its projects now involve brand management, business strategy and experience building, and revenue has increased 65 percent to $117 million by year-end from $71 million in 2000. The firm’s 545 employees are spread across offices in Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Munich, San Francisco and Shanghai.

“That’s the strength of IDEO — they can work on anything,” said George McCain, president-elect of Industrial Designers Society of America, an association devoted to industrial design. IDEO, formed in 1991 when three separate design firms merged, has won more awards from the organization than any other company.

“Before them, everyone was doing just design of an object, and trying to make it look good,” he said. “They went below the surface, they dived down deep and looked into: what are the real needs of the user that’s going to use this product.”

Audrey’s Failure

Not every project works out. Take Audrey, an Internet appliance that IDEO designed for 3Com Corp. in 1999. The device was meant to be an information center for families that displayed calendars, weather, sports, stocks and traffic — something handled today by mobile applications on smartphones.

Other ideas, such as “The Future of the Book,” are never meant to become real products. The company says it came up with that concept to start a conversation with publishers and content providers, though people have contacted IDEO about ordering the device shown in the demonstration video….read entire article here.


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