Ideo, the Shopping Cart and the Halo Effect. What Is – Really – Good Design?

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(Almost) Anybody interested in innovation knows about the IDEO process and the well-famed Ideo shopping cart video shot for ABC. It is indeed a staple for innovation seminars and a renowned example of faultless creativity methodology. In the ABC video (you can purchase it from ABC see link per below) you will see the IDEO team challenged about the re-design of a simple everyday object, the shopping cart. And the demonstration is compelling. Here’s an object we use on an everyday basis, that is almost universally used from one end of the planet to the other, and we hadn’t even thought about making it more user-friendly. Obvious isn’t it? And the Ideo team therefore redesign the aforementioned trolley in less than 2 days. Impressive, all the seminar attendees stand up and cheer, here’s an impressive process that leads to compelling results (see the finished trolley on the lefthand-side)!

At least that’s what I had thought too, maybe a bit naively, until I read the following critical articles for which I am providing links hereafter. Afterthoughts include questions such as “why wasn’t this shopping cart deployed after the show and why can’t we find it in shops?” and also “is the exercise real or is it artificial, namely at the beginning of the process when they start investigating the problem with cameras, are they doing it for real?”.

I was also pondering – whereas I have just started reading Rosenzweig’s latest opus – whether this wasn’t a case for a halo effect, i.e. “a tendency to make inferences about specific traits on the basis of a general impression” (The Halo Effect, p50). Yes, the video looks nice, and the people look brilliant and the process really seems to work fine. In just two days a new (supposedly) superior shopping cart was created but the real question is: what is really good design? Is it design that looks nice, or is it also about practicality for instance? (what about all these boxes on the cart, are they really so convenient? where do you store them? how do you pile the trolleys on one another etc.). Is it design (only) aimed at the end user or is it also design aimed at shop-owners too? that’s an important part. In the video the onus is on the team to develop a shopping-cart that would be more convenient. But more convenient to whom? Can we assume that shop-owners aren’t worried about the cost of their trolleys, the way that they are stored, their lifespan? Besides, is the trolley issue the main issue, even for end-users? For instance, would clients rather pay more for food stored conveniently in a designer trolley or pay less for food piled up in a chicken-wire box on wheels?

These are open questions, but chances are that the answer lies in the fact that one cannot find these trolleys in our shops.

But mind you, don’t jump to the conclusion that the Ideo process doesn’t work either. Judging on just one example would simply be not enough. It would just be another halo effect.