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Fast 50 2008: IDEO

The standard by which all other design firms are measured, Palo Alto-based IDEO had a great year, even against its own high bar. Unlike past years, where design firm innovation was often about a creating a new laptop or other electronic gadget, in 2007, IDEO's initiatives spanned areas far beyond the realm of traditional product design. The CDC asked the company to help it tackle the problem of childhood obesity; the Acumen Fund enlisted the firm to collaborate on a slate of products, services, and business models for delivering clean water in the developing world; the Red Cross hired IDEO to come up with ways to encourage blood donations; and HBO asked them to envision how people will view content five years from now.

"Today, we're working in social domains such as wellness, sustainability, and design for markets where people live on less than a dollar day. This creates opportunities to make a significant impact on people's lives. As social issues increasingly become business issues," says IDEO CEO Tim Brown, "this will be a critical new direction for design."

Of course, this being IDEO, there's also an array of award-winning products to talk about. The company's designs for the cabin and cockpit instrument panel for the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet (VLJ) won IDEA Gold, as did its LCD monitor for Samsung, and its radiation therapy device for Calypso Medical. The strategy IDEO developed for bicycle-parts manufacturer Shimano brought casual and lapsed bikers back to the experience. And IDEO's relaunch of Allen Edmonds breathed new life into the aging shoe brand.

But it was, perhaps, their "Keep the Change" campaign for Bank of America that had the most dramatic and measurable impact. Based on ethnographic research that showed that target customers—boomer-age women with kids—tended to round up their financial transactions for both speed and convenience, IDEO developed a service that rounds up purchases made with a Bank of America Visa debit card to the nearest dollar, and then transfers the difference from the customer's checking account to her savings account. That bit of financial wizardry also solved another problem: low savings rates among the members of the target demo. The campaign proved so popular that it drew more than 2.5 million customers in its first year, including 700,000 new checking accounts and one million new savings accounts for the bank. That's no small change.