Case Study – IDEO: Organizational Creativity

IDEO – Designing Apple and Microsoft Computer Mouse

Organization Culture

The organization culture of IDE is centered around “team”. IDEO has a team-oriented, multidisciplinary, collaborative culture. It’s extremely flat organization centered on projects and teams.
IDEO gives the flexibility of its employees to design their own working areas for better creativity. There are no formal hierarchies in the organization. The center part of the culture is known as “Greenhouse” can be defined as:
•    Building neighborhood
•    Think Project, Think personal
•    Building blocks
•    Inspiration from Adversity
•    Prototype your space
•    Create a team icon
•    Watch your buddy language
•    Simple team space
•    Hierarchy is the enemy of team space
•    Give your workers a view
•    Tell stories
•    Make your junk sing
In the organization culture of IDEO, its emphasis more on the diversity and respect for others diverse ideas. The culture is open to welcome the innovative ideas and suggestions. Brainstorming and insightful observations are the religion at IDEO.
The company does not have formal titles and dress code. Surprisingly, management encourages the employees to leave their desk and walk around. The lack of hierarchy prohibits the actual brains of the company (engineers & designers) to the managerial positions.
At the workplace, they just don’t pump up the team but creates an atmosphere where people take chances and solve the problems. The major shared values at IDEO are freedom, responsibility, openness, creativity, commitment and fun.
Designing Apple Mouse: 
IDEO has an extremely successful designing process emphasis on the innovative ideas and brainstorming. It has the think of out the box approach.
The Design process:
1.    Creation of Hot Teams
2.    Brainstorming
3.    Rapid Prototyping
4.    Observing and listening to the customers
5.    Thinking of products in terms of verbs rather than a noun.
IDEO was given a project to develop a mouse for the new Apple computer Lisa. Previous inventions were made in the mouse technology including the technological concepts of Star and Xerox PARC though the new technologies were expensive and the mouse was fragile. The expectations were set from Apple that the new design of mouse should be more reliable, user-friendly and should be 10% of the actual cost.
IDEO design team used a simple and innovative mechanism with two slotted wheels as encoders that turn the ball rolled. A third roller held the ball in place against the encoders for revolving enhancing the “point and shoot” functionality.
Instead of using the previous metal particles, the team used plastic “ribcage” for the particles to overcome the cost limitations.
The team used a rubber coating the ball for the free movement of the ball. The team assembled the parts into the sloping box and tested.
Being more specific about the process, Apple has set up the expectations that they wanted to keep the cost of the mouse between $10 to $35 to keep the advantage of cost.  IDEO team was clear in the concept that if they want to keep the cost at such low level, they have to keep the basic design very simple. The solution was in using the sturdy but less expensive material. The previous versions of the mouse like Xerox’s PARC were too expensive, too delicate, and hard to keep it clean. Although it was a masterpiece of the high technology, it was not just right for the common man who is the consumer.
Even the ball that was used in PARC mouse was highly expensive. The fist solution that IDEO developed is the usage of the plastic ball. The second challenge was of the ball bearing.  The team designed the solution and eliminated the gimbals (provides support for the rotation of the object).  A designer saw the balls roll off the table of his office and came up with the idea of eliminating gimbals!!!
Now, the mouse ball was no longer being pushed on as a bearing support, it was actually free to roll, and we barely need to touch it to get the information about where it was moving.
The next challenge was encoding problem, the team came up with two solutions:
1) inserting magnet in the ball and stamping it with a spiral – this can track the position of the mouse optically
2) placing two identical indicators along the ball’s equator at 90 degrees. Each indicator was attached with a roller and can roll with the movement of the ball.
IDEO team placed a LED on the side of the wheel shone, so that as the mouse makes a move, the wheel will spin and phototransistor records the blink of the light and translate them into the electrical signals.
In the entire internal mechanism, only roller and slotted wheels were the moving parts this gave the entire mouse a durability and protection against the dust. Later, the team added the third roller.
The team made each component of the mouse very simply using the solutions lying in our daily activities and observing them.
IDEO Team efficiently used the creativity and knowledge by using the “plastic ribcage” (economical alternative) & and simple mechanism.
The mouse project turned out to be a textbook example of “rapid prototyping,” of building something quickly to try out one’s ideas about it, relying more on models and materials than on formal specifications or user tests.
The entire exercises resulted in the birth of the mouse meeting the expectations of the client Apple. The basic mechanism was changed slightly for the Macintosh computer. The basic design and mechanism used in the later generations of the mouse.

IDEO – Microsoft Mouse

 In 1987, IDEOS designer team worked on the Microsoft Mouse project. The objective of the project was to design world’s first the most economical mouse.

The Microsoft Mouse project was different in compare to the Apple Mouse since the main focus of the project was designing instead of technical engineering. After a long time of observations and design development, IDO developers came with the idea of Dove Bar forum of the mouse. The new design was just ‘different’ from the other boxy mouse prevalent at the time. The new look of the mouse looks like a soap and had two different buttons.  IDO Designers added two buttons at the top of the mouse increasing the performance with the advancement of the right click.

To signal its more frequent use, the left button (workhorse button) was given a defining ridge and made slightly larger than the right. IDEO designers added the glossy finish to give the mouse elegant look and feel. In addition, IDEO team collaborated with Microsoft’s Japanese team to work further on manufacturing specifications expected from Microsoft.

To give the mouse a brand name, IDEO designers molded the Microsoft logo to avoid the inevitable fading. To avoid the power consumptions, designers used mechanical sensors instead of optical sensors. This enabled the designers to reduce a certain cost of the optical sensors. The new change in the basic principles also made the usage of the mouse be compatible with a number of computers. To give more boost to the power line, IDEO designers also included a separate adaptor box and multiple cables.
The other challenge to the team was how to make the mouse movement faster? The team found out the solution by increasing the resolution from 200 dpi to 400 dpi almost double. A simple logic – the higher resolution means it takes less mouse movement to spirit the cursor across the screen, a faster mouse! Only the faster movement is not exactly what Microsoft wanted. How can we control the movement of the cursor while doing different tasks on the computer? When we need to browse multiple applications, we need a faster mouse and when we need to do precise things (like carefully selecting emails from the list) we need a slow mouse to pick up the check box carefully.  IDEO experts came up with the concept of “ballistic drives” which was never tried before! 
The ballistic driver makes mouse movement more efficient by trying to second-guess your intentions. It assumes that if you’re moving the mouse quickly, you want to cover a lot of screen territory fast, and it thinks that if you’re moving slowly, you must be doing careful positioning.
As an example, when you move the mouse quickly, it crosses a normal 80-column text screen with less than 1 inch of mouse movement. If you move the mouse slowly, the same cross-screen journey takes more than 3 1/2 inches. The higher resolution combined with the ballistic driver gives the mouse an unmatched silky-smooth feel.
The resulting clean appearance, enhanced control, and improved reliability created enormous consumer appeal that replaced all earlier versions and sold more than two million units in its first two years. It almost changed the world of the Computers with the enhancement in the “Point & Shoot” functionality.

Lesson Learned:

The main success of the IDEO team lies in the observations in the day to day activities and creativity.  The solutions of the most difficult technical problems lie in our daily life – all we need to is open our eyes and observe carefully!

The roots of success of IDEO is in the  organizational culture that promotes creativity by providing “autonomy” to the employees.

When employees are highly educated and motivated, keeping them complete autonomy in work increases creativity and overall work performance!

Thanks for reading!

~ Sam Solanki


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