Krysta Curtis adds joy to the world through design.

Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Little People – Klip Klop Toys

Wonderful news!  Another toy concept I worked on at IDEO has made it to market!  Introducing… Little People Klip Klops!

It’s available as a Disney Princess Stable and a Mike the Knight Arena!


Wooden Ramp WalkerThe idea was sparked from a wooden ramp walker toy that I had as a young girl.  The hedgehog toy shown here is similar to the ramp walker I had as a kid – just a straight ramp and a wooden character.  However, the slow rocking motion and rhythmic clicking as the character made its way down the ramp was endlessly amusing.  The new Klip Klops toys add an approachable playset with multiple extra activities and interactive sounds.   This brings the mechanism up-to-speed with today’s kids – hopefully it will be a HUGE hit this holiday season!

This goes to show that sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective on something tried and true to make a brand new success.

Congrats to the IDEO Toy Lab!

I Believe you are a Creative Visionary


I believe great creative visionaries are only one small part creative and one large part analytical.  Creative visionaries must come up with ideas, but ideas are a dime a dozen.  Most importantly, they must use efficient, insightful and analytical processes to judge their ideas and to prove them out.

I believe it’s necessary to work in an environment where you feel safe to fail, where you feel safe to flounder and where you feel excited about bringing radical new ideas to others without fear of unfair judgement.  You will need to learn the ability to defer your own judgement and to look for the ways something might succeed instead of focusing on the many ways it could fail.

I believe you will become a great creative visionary and you will be amazed at what you achieve.

Innovation is a Function of Time

After working for IDEO and utilizing their innovation process, I believe innovation is merely a function of time.  I believe almost anything is possible – as long as you’re willing to devote the time to make it happen.  I’d like to talk about deadlines as it pertains to the innovation process.

Innovation can and should be efficient, but due to the nature of the ambiguity of innovation, it’s next to impossible to put a hard and fast deadline on it. When time is short, people tend to settle on a ho-hum idea thinking they can work out the kinks as they develop it.  Extending the deadline down the road is no better either. When the deadline is extended, the team rushes to fix the smaller details since they are too invested in what they have or still don’t feel they have enough time to solve the bigger problems. Therefore, this leads to wasted work, a longer development time overall and a less-than-ideal product launch.

In the world of game design, if you are working on something other than a tried-and-true mechanic, I would suggest spending time to rapid prototype the game.  If you want to try out a risky mechanic, I suggest starting with a quick and dirty prototype.  Use programmer art and don’t worry about the UI.  As long as you can try the mechanic and show it to a few colleagues  that should be all you need to quickly gauge it’s fun-factor.

If you want to get a quick gage at the mass-market appeal, it might make sense to start with a ‘look and feel’ prototype by making a power point or video fakery of the experience. It must look and feel as close to the final product as possible or your feedback will be useless.  People are easily caught up in details that aren’t a part of the final game, this will skew your results.  Put it in front of a FEW people one-on-one and pay close attention to how they react.  Ask lots of questions to see if they understand what’s going on and try to gauge if you think they would want to play it if they could.  If it goes well, ask more people and/or send out surveys with a video.  It won’t tell you everything but there will be a TON of learnings there and little time investment.

Now it’s time for a fully-fleshed out playable prototype (or you may want to start here if it is easy enough).  Don’t forget, the prototype must look and feel like the final product as close as possible.  Don’t stop developing and modifying the idea until you receive tons of positive feedback.  Once you do – run full speed with development!  There will be many challenges as you build the game, but hopefully your playable prototype reduced these risks substantially and any changes are minor.  Always remember, work efficiently to solve the big problems first, then focus on the details.

For projects desiring the highest innovation factor, I suggest loosening the importance of deadlines, particularly in the design phase.  Set milestone dates for tasks to keep the team moving quickly.  But for the final shipping deadline, take a “we’ll release it when it’s right approach.”  Better yet, have a design team devoted to designing and prototyping these more innovative ideas well ahead of production without a deadline at all.  That way you can build up a pipeline of ideas to grab from whenever you have a production team ready to go!

However, if you’re working with a strict deadline that doesn’t allow the time to work through any unknowns, I suggest working on something with a tried-and-true mechanic.  Don’t try to innovate on a hard and fast deadline – it doesn’t work.

IDEO’s Toy Lab on ’60 Minutes’

As part of the 60 Minutes segment featuring David Kelley, a web extra was created highlighting the Toy Lab’s “Elmo Calls” iPhone app.  It was SOOO cool to see my old stomping ground on TV!  Back then we were called Zero20 and not yet working on apps – but the place looks the same!

Take a look here!

How NOT to Design Breakthrough Inventions

I’m incredibly excited to share the ’60 Minutes’ television segment featuring David Kelley, How to Design Breakthrough Inventions!  Besides his career, it focuses a bunch around David Kelley’s early relationship with Apple and his long lasting friendship with Steve Jobs.  It offers only a quick overview of IDEO’s process, but I love how the beginning of the segment focuses on some of my favorite core values – building on the ideas of others, empathy and diversity in teams.  These values are key to promoting creativity and innovation among teams.

In fact, the first thing I noticed when I flew to IDEO’s headquarters in Palo Alto, CA for my 10-hour long interview workshop was how supportive people were in conversations.  This communication style wasn’t just used when coming up with ideas – it was a communication style that permeated almost every conversation I had at IDEO.  This doesn’t mean people were ‘soft,’ on the contrary conversations discussing difficult matters would still be effective and had the unique ability to do so without reducing morale, creativity or productivity.  I’ve written a few blog posts about this topic, the most relevant being Be Courageous:  Look for Success and Feedback is Not a Four Letter Word.

Since I’ve already posted about HOW to do use this communication style, I’d like to share a few communications and development methods that are NOT effective for creativity, morale and productivity.  After all, this blog post is titled ‘How NOT to Design Breakthrough Inventions:’

“Your Idea Sucks”

Actual wording can be anywhere from “not compelling or inspiring,” “that’s a bad or terrible idea” to “that’ll never work or that would fail.”  This is what can happen when this method is used:

They may have worked hours on this idea and were very proud of it.  Now they may feel like their hard work was poo-pooed on which can make them feel undervalued, like they wasted their time or that they suck at coming up with ideas.  This type of feedback is unlikely to be a good experience for them.  As a result, they may feel they are being unfairly criticized and become resentful.  Worse, they may become fearful of bringing forth new ideas so they can avoid this negative experience in the future.  Even if they do continue to work on ideas, they’ll have a hard time being creative since fear dampens the creative process.  Don’t expect innovative new ideas from this person in the future.

My advice to you, give actionable feedback, empathize with your team and spend the time to teach and not scold.

“This Just Isn’t It”

This is a basic lack of feedback.  This can happen by using phrases like “its not really want I want,” “come back with something else” or “this just isn’t it.”  Without following up with detailed feedback, this method should rarely be used.  This is what can happen when this method is used:

They are most likely eager to please you and probably tried to give you what you wanted.  Now they may feel directionless, like they are spinning their wheels and are wasting their time.  If this pattern continues, they may start to lose faith in the leadership since they may think you aren’t confident in your vision.  Ultimately, they may feel like a drone following orders, lose their sense of ownership or feel their expertise is undervalued or underutilized.  This kind of environment may make it difficult to hold a strong vision for the project.  Without the core team member holding the vision, and without being motivated by ownership, the project will suffer.  In the end, the person may spend their efforts just trying to get anything approved so they can move forward and to get out of the stressful loop – even if they don’t fully believe in it.

If you’re the manager, my advice to you is to have the confidence to give actionable feedback and spend the time to do so.  The more you put into your employees, the more you will get from them.

“Let’s Pivot… for the 15th Time”

In fast changing markets sometimes pivoting is an important strategy, but pivoting too many times can lead to ineffective results.  When this type of decision comes from above and when it becomes a regular occurrence, this is what may happen:

Similar to a lack of feedback from above, the person may feel they are spinning their wheels and wasting their time.  If the changes seem arbitrary  they may think you don’t have a confident vision in the product and may lose faith in your leadership.  Again, the more time spent in the pivoting process, the less ownership they may feel and they may lose their vision.  At a certain point they may begin to feel that any work they do complete will be lost in the next pivot and they may stop putting their heart into it.  Whether the changes are arbitrary or valid, the more time spent in this stage, the further away the ship date becomes.  Soon, competitors will have released multiple products in the time you’ve spent fumbling around with one.

My advice to you, settle on a clear goal before sending your team down any path.  Remember the 80/20 rule – even if there might be something “not exactly aligned,” as long as the product is fun, it’s likely to be more beneficial from a commerce and a team morale perspective to settle on a direction and move forward.

’60 Minutes’ with David Kelley

The founder of IDEO and one of my heroes, David Kelley will be featured in a ’60 Minutes’ episode titled ‘Design Thinking.’  It sounds like it’s going to be a great follow up to the now infamous Nightline:  Deep Dive video filmed in 1999 when the company was focused heavily on product design.  I’m glad this new take on Design Thinking will demonstrate how IDEO’s human-centered design processes are applicable to so much more including business design and global issues like clean drinking water and improving school systems.  Empathy for the win!

The show airs Sunday, January 6th, at 7PM on CBS.  Here’s a link to the preview!

And if you haven’t seen the Nightline:  Deep Dive video yet, take a look here:

Fail Early and Often to Succeed Sooner

“Fail Early and Often to Succeed Sooner” is one of my favorite IDEOisms.  Just today, IDEO London’s Design Director, Tom Hulme was featured in a video in the Harvard Business Review.  Tom briefly explains this theory and updates it to reflect the current state of the industry.  Take a look here:

Here are some of my thoughts on Tom’s theory and how I believe it pertains to the social games industry:

#1 Skip the Focus Group

While Tom does have a point for products like soda, in the case of mass market social games, I don’t agree with skipping focus groups all together.  Depending on the circumstances, I find getting my ideas, the artwork or the prototypes in front of people as early as possible helps me to empathize with them and see things I would have missed otherwise.  Also, in mobile games it’s easy to put people in the ‘real’ environment since people play mobile games anywhere anyways.  The problem however, is making sure to not skew people’s judgement and to get enough of the right people to take a look.  That’s a finesse skill – see my post on feedback to get some pointers.

#2 Test it’s Appeal Online

I love that the example he uses to demonstrate this point is from Zynga.  I’ve actually posted about one of Zynga’s click-tests in another blog post (TBD) – they tested a roller coaster themed game through Facebook ads.  I agree with this approach wholeheartedly and think it is immensely important in the development of new game IP.  Luckily for Zynga, they can easily target their audience through Facebook ads – there are numerous different demographic criteria available to them to get incredibly useful data.  For games outside of Facebook like mobile games, there is no service quite as useful as this.

Through my experience, I’ve learned it’s very hard to judge what the mass market will like by using my own intuition or by asking a sample of people.  In fact, in doing tests like these I have been proved very wrong before!  Imagine if I went with my gut instinct in those cases… yikes!

#3 Launch a Mock Version

This sounds like an excellent idea for certain scenarios.  However in social games, the trend has been to launch a ‘minimum viable product’ and to perform rigorous testing before investing any further into the game.  Social games don’t typically take too long to build, and the important details are usually worked out while building them anyways.  It wouldn’t make sense to launch a game that isn’t representative of the final product.  But that’s not to say a MVP can’t be changed if data from it’s beta test reveals problems.  For best results, test in a small market like Canada before launching worldwide.


Finding success can be like the roll of a dice.  For the best chance of success, use tried and true strategies and plan for ways in which you can fail safely and learn from it.  This is the approach I personally use to determine a game to make:

  • Start with feedback from a small sample of people – this will be qualitative data which can be used to uncover insights and opportunities and point out any major disasters.
  • Then, get data from a wider audience through internet ad tests – this will be quantitative data which can be used to validate the mass market appeal.
  • Finally, launch a minimally viable product in a small market to prevent spending any extra time in case the game does not work out as intended.

Good luck!

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