Uncharted Creative Territory

My experience collaborating with IDEO.org

Hero image
Illustration by Katie Lee
Hero image
Illustration by Katie Lee
Approach and schedule by IDEO.org.
Approach and schedule by IDEO.org.

As many do, I think of IDEO.org as the poster-child for successful creative process and thoughtful design. So you can imagine my excitement when I—a young, budding designer—was presented with the opportunity to collaborate on an IDEO.org project. It was definitely a “pinch me” moment, even before the project was described to me—and from there it only got better.

The IDEO.org team had been working with Stanford to design a supportive space for teens and young adults, offering services specifically for mental health. The brand they developed, “allcove,” as with all IDEO.org projects, proved to be purposeful. It was the kind of work that fulfills every designer’s desire to create a meaningful solution to a real problem in the world.

I packed my bags and flew to San Francisco, asking no questions. On the plane I reviewed their mid-project share document which summarized the field research and outlined their attentive insights, as well as their brand guidelines for allcove. By the time I landed, I had a complete understanding of the project’s intention and was so impressed that they were able to get me fully immersed before even speaking face-to-face.

View outside the IDEO.org office.
View outside the IDEO.org office.

Day two.

Day four.

We hosted the prototype, and I couldn’t have been more jazzed. When the teens arrived, they instantly reacted to the room and seemed slightly confused, yet excited, to begin. Seph thoughtfully led the environmental section of the session by reading out the prompts while the rest of us sat back to observe, record audio, take notes, and soak it all in.

Slowly I felt more confident in asking the group questions and participating more actively in the prototype. The experience was instantly gratifying because you could physically see their reactions to the environments we created. For most situations, the teens preferred secluded, private, individual space but had moments of gravitating towards the layered tiered, “alone but not alone” seating.

Environmental vignettes created for the prototype.
Environmental vignettes created for the prototype.

We took all the learnings back to the .org office, recapped them in sticky-notes and discussed how we’d apply them to the user journey.

Everything came together so seamlessly, like we’d been working as a team for months. Looking back, I’m curious about how that environment was created from the get-go.  Was it the positive, enthusiastic energy everyone possessed? I think it just proves how a project with a higher purpose can drive individuals which impacts a team’s collective attitude, spirit of collaboration and work-flow.

Day three.

Layout for the prototype session.
Layout for the prototype session.

Upon arrival, I was warmly welcomed by Seph Lang and Nathalie Collins with lunch and a tour of their space. They didn’t have much briefing to do since their documents had been so thorough, so we dove into concepting environmental prototypes for use in an upcoming session with a focus group of teens. It’s hard to describe, but the moment we sat down together, post-its in hand, I felt like part of the family. I discovered we spoke the same language—this was an exciting realization and major confidence boost.

Day one.

Album cover inspired by the team crossing the street.
Album cover inspired by the team crossing the street.

We were preparing for the prototype, which felt quick since it was my first time conducting research in this way. I was stoked about gaining insight from a focus group, which was probably comical to the team since they literally do it non-stop. We wanted to find out what types of environments the teens would prefer when in an emotional or unstable state of mind.

We decided that the quickest, most effective way to create these mock environments would be to plot backdrops and style them up with a few physical props to make them more immersive. We then wrote out a few scenarios that would put the teens in a mindset of being stressed, unstable and emotional, and planned to prompt them to go to the environment that best suited their needs.

Work session applying prototype learnings to the user journey.
Work session applying prototype learnings to the user journey.
Google slides collaboration.
Google slides collaboration.

The time had regretfully come for me to head back to Seattle, but we would collaborate over the next couple weeks through Google Slides and Slack to keep the project rolling. The spatial concepts came together as we iterated through quick sketches and pulled inspirational imagery. This process felt constructive and efficient and wouldn’t have been the same without the in-person introduction. Having experienced the protyping session together, we were completely aligned which made the following creative process super smooth. 

Google slides collaboration.
Google slides collaboration.

I flew back to join the team once again as the project was wrapping up. To lock eyes and ensure that everything was buttoned up for the final experiential playbook deliverable. The trust within the team was crucial and I think it’s what allowed the work to be the best it could be. I felt empowered to contribute in my area of expertise but to use my voice outside of it as well. Everyone had the best interest of the project in mind which allowed for a respectful, constructive work space.

During this visit, we ideated ways to visualize environmental principles we formed in response to the prototype. It was a great reminder to never lose sight of the learnings from the field research and that it’s those details that make the work thoughtful and authentic to our audience.

Back to IDEO.org.

Visualization of design principles informed by the prototype.
Visualization of design principles informed by the prototype.

It was an extreme pleasure to work with the IDEO.org team on this project, and I’m so thankful. They made me feel like a valued teammate within our first interactions, which really speaks to the work environment they’ve cultivated. Experiencing another creative group’s process was immeasurably valuable for me as an individual, and will have a ripple effect as I bring it back to my own team in Seattle.

Final sketches for the allcove experiential playbook.
Final sketches for the allcove experiential playbook.

I hope to pass on what I’ve learned, and provide another designer with the same opportunity. The pride I feel in the final work produced through this partnership is something everyone should experience.

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