Working at IDEO has been absolutely amazing - just like it's chalked up to be. Big open spaces, collaboration, brainstorming, ideating, prototyping, and no cubicles to be seen. Right after I graduated, I was hired as an intern to film the Bits + Blocks program run by IDEO and hosted at the Harvard iLab for two months. The program was around venture design, using Bitcoin technology to build startups based on community needs and, of course, human centered design. They took 25 students, from rising sophomores to those who had recently completed a graduate degree, and guided them through design entrepreneurship.
For the second two months I documented IDEO Boston's Fortnight program, a series of artist residencies that bring new creative energy into the office and engage with the Cambridge community. The artists I filmed were as innovative as the space itself, from electronic musicians to filmmaking anthropologists. Having the opportunity to tell stories about innovation and creation was incredibly rewarding.
The Boston office is on the quirkier, playful side of things, with a foosball table that people actually use. The designers are incredibly talented, empathetic, and personable. There are weekly inspiring guest talks and community lunch type events where people gather in the cafe and mingle - you get to know most everyone at least casually. It is a hyper-social environment, so that can take a bit of getting used to. People are always sharing ideas in common spaces and relating back progress to the studio as a whole. You all know that I always take food into consideration, and the fact that tasty lunches were provided 3 days a week was the cherry on top.
My biggest challenge was figuring out where the boundaries lied. At IDEO, there are none. They say it's a culture of "ask forgiveness, not permission" and they mean it. It took me a while to realize the liberties I could take with my storytelling and the way I interacted with the studio. I usually step gingerly in unfamiliar situations, so I was more cautious than I needed to be. Not to mention it being my first job out of college. Imposter syndrome anyone? I honestly had to pinch myself, IDEO is one of my dream companies and I couldn't believe that I was there right out of the gate.
They practice what they preach. Design thinking prevails, and they go through the whole process. They empathize with the people for whom they're designing. They value being a T-shaped individual - having a breath of knowledge and experience, while having one strong area of expertise. And they value storytelling, people document their process as they go, and valued the videos I was able to share back as I captured parts of the action.
The work was inspiring. I learned so much over the four months I was there, about design, organizational structure, my own tendencies and preferences in working environments, and about how human centered design is put into practice. I could really feel IDEO's global community and exchange of ideas. And I could see that IDEO gives its designers the flexibility and freedom they need to be the most successful in their projects and productive in their teams. And as I develop into a more seasoned designer and storyteller, I hope to be back someday.
If you're curious, here's a video that I made for the IDEOers as a little goodbye.