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Jane Fulton Suri of IDEO

By James Caldwell | Published: February 2nd, 2009

I recently went to see Jane Fulton Suri speak at the Ontario College of Art and Design, she is the Chief Creative Director of IDEO which is a California-based design firm. She comes from a background in human factors psychology and architecture and is a one of the people championing and trying to evolve human-centred design methods. She has been a contributing author for several periodicals and also published her own book, ‘Thoughtless Acts?’.

What impressed me the most about Jane

First I must point out that Jane Suri has a varied and full portfolio of work. There is no question that her enthusiasm and thought process are integral to everything that she does. She has had the good fortune of working on many different projects and after much time, has amassed a great amount of wisdom from working on some very different problems. I truly believe that people earn their opportunities and Jane’s are impressive.

My take on IDEO

IDEO have a very similar design method to most any design lab. I really don’t think that there was anything overtly special about it, just that their confidence and track record can speak for itself and that they have built upon each of their successes with one interesting project after another.

What IDEO knows is what we already know

There is a standard approach to human-centred design which acts as a ‘glue’ for interdisciplinary designers. The basic idea is that ‘people’ have a ‘desire’ for something they want, a ‘business’ will have a ‘viable’ plan to produce said something and then to be workable the ‘technical’ aspects of the project must be ‘feasible’. This process requires that the designers act as research organization and design shop. For all involved the project must have a sense of pleasure and enjoyment and the designers must empathize with their intended audience. (see Good foundations for eCRM, last paragraph)

Suri observes that there are two sides to the equation: rational v.s. intuitive, observation v.s. empathy, data v.s. insight, intellectual v.s. visceral, reality v.s. imagination, etc. But even amid this incomplete list, it is paramount that a designer lives the life of the intended client; watch people use the product, lend space to the customer experience and allow them to get a sense of control. When properly understood this simple idea allows the designer to align themselves with the customer’s goals and produce a better result.

Coming around

Unfortunately I do not believe Jane Suri’s presentation was as good as it should have been and when I arrived back home to review my notes I realized that the lecture seemed insubstantial and that my initial opinion was not going to be a favourable one. I also recognized that I did not appreciate Jane as a speaker, maybe because my expectations were set too high because I have heard so much about IDEO and her personally; after all, she is somewhat of an icon in the United States. In addition, I may have wanted to hear something new from her presentation and I was let down because there wasn’t anything. I think that her presentation really needs to be reworked and at a minimum it should include empirical data that supports the claims made by her and IDEO.

However, now that I have had some time to mull over her talk, I have a different appreciation for her and IDEO. Their work is wonderful and their employees must be good to produce it but it is their passion and their creative insights which are special. And maybe that is the point. People know how to produce great work but sometimes they just don’t spend (or cannot spend) the necessary time and resources on a project. Teamwork is also crucial and although she didn’t say it, she intimated it frequently.

In conclusion

There are many different design labs like IDEO and many superb designers (I will used this term loosely in this article) and I think it is too bad we can’t swap our experiences/companies in which we work on a seasonal basis, I think we would all benefit greatly. Certainly anyone would gain a lot from working with Jane Suri.


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