Learn, Look, Ask, Try: IDEO Method Cards Turn 7

method cards
Learn. Look. Ask. Try. These are the cards we’re dealt in the people-centric design approach used by the global design innovation provocateurs at IDEO. Back in 2003, IDEO began dealing these four “suits” in a pack of 51 Method Cards.

What the Cluetrain Manifesto did for marketing strategy, IDEO and specifically the Method Cards did for design strategy. In the same way Cluetrain saw and named what was happening in a “small pieces, loosely joined” world, in the Method Cards, IDEO saw and named a design strategy that was for and about interconnected everyday people. If all markets are conversations (Cluetrain), then all useful design is indeed conversation as well.

So, for instance, in designing an airplane interior, the IDEO design team used “Bodystorming.” In bodystorming, people act out scenarios and roles, paying close attention to the intuitive responses prompted by the physical enactment. Method Cards let us all in on this and 50 other IDEO trade secrets. At the core of the Method Card method is the notion that it doesn’t matter how cool, or wonky, or geeked-out something is; If it’s not intuitively useable, beautiful, or (best of all) both, you’re automatically diminishing your return on R & D investment.

I use the Method Cards mainly as tools for process design. They are great for groups who are working on solving a particular “how do we get from here to there” kind of problem. In this, I’m part of an unexpected cohort. In receiving feedback IDEO found: “In its first year, the Method Cards appeared to have unexpected relevance to groups that are not necessarily engaged in design initiatives. Clients report using the tool to explore new approaches to problem-solving, gain perspective, inspire a team, turn a corner, try new approaches, and to adapt and develop their own methods.” Exactly so in my experience.

Oh, and I like that this is such a tactile tool. I can pull the deck of the shelf, rummage through and look for an idea that fits my need at the moment. I can put them in the middle of a table and let a group of people paw around in them like a discount bin at *insert favorite clothier here*.

So happy 7th birthday, Method Cards! Thanks for the help and inspiration!


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