An IDEA for IDEO: Conversational Design


The Idea

Not everyone possesses creative confidence, and even those that have felt confident in one context may lose some confidence in undertaking a new challenge in which they have little or no experience. What if IDEO could always be there when that individual needed creative guidance, an introduction to an expert, or a boost of design inspiration, like from a long-time mentor or a trusted advisor? The guidance, expertise, and inspiration could be uncovered from within a specific organization where the individual works, from individuals in other organizations that IDEO also works with, or from within IDEO itself. The idea: turn IDEO – its people, its methodology, its knowledge base, its network of clients, students, and associates – into a living brand, personified in a human voice, accessible anywhere, anytime.


Who is the target user, and why would this be valuable?

While the user would be any person who seeks creative direction, the target customer would change depending on the stage of the product’s lifecycle. When considering the Innovator and Early Adopter phases, the key customer could be a Learning and Development professional in an enterprise seeking to grow its creative capability. The value to L&D professionals would be to have the IDEO brand within their creativity programs for employees. The benefit to the user would be access to bite-sized versions of learning content (Bersin, 2016), curated by IDEO, and access to experts in the IDEO network whenever the user needs creative guidance. The value to IDEO would be the opportunity to observe, ideate, prototype, gather feedback, and iterate on this new product with key users before implementing the core product idea of IDEO as an always-on advisor. The value to all three, the customer, the user, and IDEO, is the ability have real experiences and data to share with eventual budget stakeholders on how this product is generating actual business value. Key customers in the product lifecycle’s later stages would be discovered based on what is learned during the first phase of development.


Why does this fit IDEO’s brand? How would this help IDEO achieve its business objectives?

IDEO has built a legacy in human-centered design and creating human-centered products. Giving IDEO a voice, a human voice that is enabled through technology, present to the user whenever needed, feels like a natural extension of the company’s brand. Perfecting this could engage someone in nearly every role and studio in IDEO. In terms of IDEO’s product team achieving its goals, the human voice is itself a tool (Kleinberger, 2014), and when technology is applied to assist people and scale intervention to those moments when those individuals lack confidence, leaders and organizations are truly supporting their creative teams to do greater work. Also, by taking the approach of interacting deeply with a set of Early Adopters, IDEO should reap the rewards of positive word-of-mouth from L&D professionals and users regarding the experience with the product and the opportunity to co-create with IDEO.


User Story

A voice can travel – literally and figuratively. The user need not have a keyboard or have hands free to interact using his or her voice, and IDEO’s assistance can take a multitude of different forms depending on the situation: the interaction might be a direct, step-by-step explanation on how to approach a design challenge; the assistance may be a link to bite-sized chunks of knowledge like an instructional video; or IDEO may decide the best option is an introduction to someone whom IDEO thinks can offer help that IDEO can’t offer by itself. Every interaction is captured and analyzed to build up a base of knowledge that can be used to help other users later and identify when new expertise is being developed in someone who was once seeking expertise. The two screenshots below are a mocked-up series of Facebook M screens describing the interaction a user might experience with IDEO:

ideo1 .pngideo2.png

While these screens have Facebook Messenger as the canvas for the mockup, these interactions could occur via Slack, Google Hangouts Chat, Microsoft Teams, or perhaps AR or voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo, Microsoft Hololens, or Meta 2.


How to verify the viability of this idea with minimum time and budget?

IDEO already possess a rich community of designers who seek help from and provide help to one another. I learned recently that when faced with a design challenge, IDEO employees will routinely send out broadcast emails to others in the company for insight and assistance. In addition to this story inspiring me deeply about IDEO’s culture, this situation also represents an incredible opportunity to observe the very interactions this product should support. A related challenge exists of archiving these email interactions in a searchable, shared knowledge base that can be accessed by others for future use; a product like the one proposed here would solve for this issue as well. While observation and ideation with a relevant user base could start immediately, there’s the question of moving to rapid prototyping. Platforms such as Amazon’s Alexa, Facebook M, and Google Assistant offer Application Programming Interfaces to expedite and simplify integrating into their AI and conversational UIs, and Facebook specifically has developed conversational interfaces utilizing human-assisted artificial intelligence (Sosman, 2015). The entry of these dominant platforms into conversational UI also has jump-started an ecosystem of providers to enable prototyping these experiences without writing a single line of code. Because such a canvas exists, IDEO could move from observation and ideation with their target customers to the rapid prototyping step with a minimum of time and expense.



Bersin, J. (2016, October 12). The Growing Role of Microlearning. Retrieved from:

Kleinberger, R. (2014). Using the Voice as a Tool for Self-Reflection. Retrieved from:

Sosman, A. (2015). Facebook M – The Anti-Turing Test. Retrieved from: