IDEO Method Cards


The people of IDEO are determined to have us understand and incorporate Design Thinking into our schools and classrooms.  Although many books and articles are available describing the process, sometimes you need to experience the various steps of Design Thinking.

Empathy is a great Design Thinking step to work through with students or with your school staff to introduce the concept.  The kit contains 51 IDEO Method Cards and is divided into the categories: Learn, Look, Ask and Try. Each card has a somewhat outdated photograph on the front of it.  It looks like IDEO asked people to contribute photos from whatever was on their computer and then, without adding anything at the deadline, matched what they could to the writing on the backside of the card.  Finding a connection between the photo on the front and the writing on the back is a whole other lesson.

That criticism aside, the cards themselves challenge groups to Learn, Look, Ask and Try to create empathy about a real or practice problem.

For example, Learn contains a card that challenges the group to formulate Character Profiles.  Watch real people and develop archetypes based on their behavior.  What is the outcome of this exercise? You can look at your group of archetypes and see who would be your target customer or consumer of the prototype you are developing.

In the pile of Look cards, you are encouraged to do just that – look.  Join with your group to be a small group of flies on the wall.  Observe and record people’s behavior.  You are getting a minute to minute lesson on how real life use of an item happens and what, without consumers’ reflections, is the honest reaction of people to a particular situation.  Each of the cards contain a title, a “how” section, a “why” section and then an example of how this method was used at IDEO.  In the case of the “Fly on the Wall” card,  IDEO observed an operating room during some transplant surgeries before designing a transport box for organs.

The Ask section of the card deck is the interview process or some kind of verbal or visual feedback on a problem.  “Word-Concept Association” allows a group to ask individuals to do word associations.  Reaction to these words can help cluster consumers’ thoughts about a product and prioritize what they feel is important.

From the Try pile of cards, a group could use “Empathy Tools” to experience how individuals with various abilities respond to a prototype.  If your intended audience is senior adults with some dexterity issues and you are designing a prototype with buttons on it, this exercise ensures the buttons will be easily managed.

All in all, this set of cards would be a great Professional Development tool or classroom device to illustrate many ways to experience the empathy part of the design thinking process.  These cards are pretty comprehensive but it would be a great exercise to see what comes out of the discussion groups. The cards could be added to or particular ideas can be used for all the groups.

The IDEO Method Cards are an easy way to introduce the foundations of this process to teachers and students.

And there is an app, but it is pretty old school.  For $4.99 you get the complete set (they are $49.00 US for a real set).  The resolution is as bad as the photographs but worth a look.


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