Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

IDEO Brings Design Thinking to Fuqua

Creators of Apple’s first mouse teach innovation

Students Discuss Their Project During the IDEO Session of Christine Moorman's Marketing Strategy Class.

Students Discuss Their Project During the IDEO Session of Christine Moorman's Marketing Strategy Class.

April 15, 2014

It's an ordinary enough scene: a group of circular tables sitting in front of a projector in the Kirby Reading room at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Students hunch in excited conversation with each other, as Professor Christine Moorman wanders the room, offering advice and assistance. It could be any class. But it's not just any class.

It's Moorman's Marketing Strategy course, and for this particular session, she has brought in special guests from IDEO: design lead Misa Misono (Daytime MBA '09) and design director David Aycan, who are both business designers at the firm.

The students have been asked to pick a specific example of product packaging. It could be food, personal care, or really anything. The task is to innovate by improving the customer's experience with the product.

Part of the class involves students engaging in a design session to learn the fundamentals of innovation with the IDEO experts.


IDEO is a design and innovation consulting firm. By some standards, they are THE design experts, known for their creative approach and the prominence of their clients - for instance, that mouse you're using to click through this article? It's probably the offspring of the one IDEO designed for Apple in 1980.

The point of this session is to help the students think about innovation differently.
Misono starts by explaining to the students why IDEO is so successful at creative innovation. She says it's not the company itself.

"The magic of IDEO is our people" Misono says.

At IDEO, they work in small teams of three to five people with varied interests and experiences -- much like the small teams the students are divided in as they listen to the talk.

"We believe that a diversity of backgrounds leads to better design," Misono says. "In practice, that means sending out a team of people with dramatically different backgrounds to understand the same problem or space." 

Aycan talks during the session about the necessary elements of any design approach: desirability, viability and feasibility. Desirability is the human element, viability the business element, and feasibility the technology element.

"Every good business has had to hit the intersection of all three of these things," he tells the students.


For an example of how this works, Aycan talks about one of the businesses IDEO helped - Walgreens. Technology was rapidly making the pharmacist obsolete. Why hire a human when a robot can dispense pills just as well? IDEO looked at the problem and discovered something interesting. Pharmacists add a value to the business that can sometimes be overlooked.

"They can offer a lot of expertise that is comparable and can replace what a doctor does," Aycan says.

By combining technology that can streamline the pill-dispensing process with the unique value that pharmacists can provide, IDEO was able to help Walgreens improve its services without sacrificing the human element.


IDEO doesn't have many rules. But Misono says there are five standards the company uses when considering design:

  • Collaborate
  • Explore Alternatives
  • Start Early and Wrong
  • Keep it Rough in the Beginning (go easy on the details)
  • Focus on Business Risks

Misono says failure is an integral part of the conversation. Failing early and failing often allows companies to understand risks and to learn. She explains that it's essential to not get too wedded to one approach early on.

"It's really easy to get locked into an idea," she says.

Misono and Aycan take the students through the process of sharing research they've worked on and an opportunity development process that allows them to formulate ideas and questions that their design solutions should address.

For instance, the pair uses the example of a shoe store. They identify a common problem for women: They go to buy shoes, but they're not wearing the same outfit they will want to wear later. Misono and Aycan deal with this problem by forming a sentence using the term, "How might we?" In this case, "How Might We help people imagine what shoes will look like with different outfits?"

Then they launch into the brainstorming, coming up with possible solutions. During the session, they stress that there should be no judgment.

"It's often that an idea that's both inspiring and feasible actually developed from a wild, crazy, outlandish one," Misono says.

Later, they will decide what works and what doesn't, but for now, it's all about getting the idea on paper… or, actually, post-it notes.

They like post-it notes because they're modular. You can move them around, pair them with other ideas or throw them away. They also like pictures. They write one idea per post-it, along with a rough sketch representing it.


According to IDEO's website, the approach is all about design thinking.

"Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but gets overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols," the website states.

It's a process responsible for one of the most revolutionary devices in modern history - the mouse - and hopefully one that will yield new innovation as Fuqua students go out into the business world and apply what they've learned. 

Professor Moorman says this experience is an important leadership-development activity. 

She notes, "When leaders appreciate that innovation must be understood in the context of the customer's experience, we have a much better chance of developing new offerings that will actually improve customers' lives and help companies grow fast. The students did ethnographic-style research activities to understand how packaging was not offering customers the best experience. With IDEO's help, students learned how to develop many terrific ideas that I think have real market potential."