Designers are natural pattern seekers. They instinctually notice details and pick up on emerging themes. They make sense of what they find, considering patterns in broader contexts or as moments of meaning. PATTERNS, both a tool and a website created by IDEO, attempts to codify these things—to frame them in a way (and in a place) that offers inspiration and insight.
PATTERNS are not yet trends; they are burgeoning themes that result from working across diverse domains and immersing ourselves in business and popular culture. PATTERNS started as an internal way for IDEO designers to share the common threads that we notice across design projects and capture our perspectives on them. Given the wide scope of industries in which we work, these observations can be both surprising and telling. There's the colleague who noticed that the food truck vendor at MIT—a former scientist with an MBA sending customers daily specials via text messages—was part of a business in beta trend; another considered how a roadside anti-litter campaign exemplifies behavior change at scale. Thoughts like these may seem small on their own, but when coupled with similar notions from other sectors, they can spark ideas that lead to opportunities to innovate.
Beyond spotting emerging themes, PATTERNS provides a way to tap into collective intelligence and to do better work faster. The Web site helps us reach out to others and encourages people to document what intrigues them and comment on what they feel passionately about. We post provocative articles that distill the current thinking on myriad topics and clearly articulate how people can respond to any given pattern through design. In our current collection, pattern spotters Makiko Taniguchi and Eddie Wu explore copycat design as an open platform for innovation and point to a range of industries and challenges, from technology and education to the optimism of humor and legitimacy through participation.
For the next several weeks, Co.Design will publish some of our stories and findings. By sharing PATTERNS, we hope to help people design for greater impact within their organizations and communities. We believe more can happen when we work together. So in the spirit of collaboration, we invite you to join the discussion. What patterns have you seen lately?
Read pieces from the PATTERNS series here.
Suzanne Gibbs Howard specializes in human factors and design research at IDEO. She has knack for finding new approaches and synthesizing insights to drive design, brand, and business strategies.