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7 Tips from Thom Huxtable of IDEO


Ever eager to help expose our Shillington students to life inside a creative agency, we sought the expertise of Thom Huxtable for a guest lecture—Interaction Designer originally from England, now based in New York working at global design company, IDEO. Thom’s talk was a truly enlightening experience, commencing with the trajectory of his career and leading to life at his current workplace.

While explaining what it’s like to be a designer at IDEO Thom described it as an environment unlike your traditional office and something more akin to, “a playschool or a workshop” or “like a bomb went off in a post it note factory”—which conjured up all kind of wonder and intrigue in our minds!

Next we gained insight into the processes embedded in IDEO design strategy. Thom explained, “The process at IDEO can feel uncomfortable at times… it’s a series of divergent and convergent modes, we often use a technique called ‘how might we’ where we can use it to frame problems and come up with solutions”. We learned how this open and investigative method is particularly active with the brainstorming sessions at IDEO which Thom expanded on as being, “Sort of like Improv theatre, where you build on what the person before you has said”. The notion of improv seemed to permeate Studio life at IDEO with a recurring  ‘design charrette’ taking place, where the whole office gathers to share their thoughts on a particular project—something which we all wanted to have a stab at.

Thom rounded up his guest lecture with a series of useful tips surrounding particular points he’s gathered throughout the last 10 years of his career. We’ve shared these tips below, so read on to hear the importance of finding your ‘Wu Tang’, ways to stay curious and why Typography is essential.

Top Tips from Thom Huxtable

  1. Typography is essential—it is communication.
    Fundamental to almost any visual design is typography. It is how we communicate. Wireframes with good typography are easier to understand and websites with good typography are more useable. Remember, the web is mostly type!
  2. Surround yourself with people that say “yes”—find your Wu Tang.
    I have learnt to always strive to surround myself with “yes” sayers. They will help you get to where you want to go, will build ideas with you, will support you when you fail. This made me think about the Wu Tang—a group of guys who each had complimentary skills, who supported and created with each other to become rap superstars.
  3. Bring your whole self to work. You are unique. 
    Your life experience are unique no matter how mundane you think you are. I don’t have the experiences you do and so always look to rely on what you know intuitively. More often than not you can be your own inspiration.
  4. Stay curious.
    Useful sties/programs: Site Inspire, Designer News, MindsparkleMag, SketchApp, Popapp, Invisionapp, Hoverstates, Appitize, Ideo and Design Kit.
  5. Be humble, be confident, be annoyed, be cool.
    Nobody wants to work with assholes. Confidence sells, so present your work like you mean it. Keep your eyes open, the world is full of opportunity. Something annoys you? Design it better. You never know where it might take you.
  6. Your next project has the potential to be your best. Try and make it your best.
    A common complaint I hear from designers is that the brief is boring or the client is too corporate or its a ‘fuddy duddy’ government project. This is no excuse not to do your best work. Go and do your best work—you’re only as good as your current project!
  7. Portfolios matter, start small and only show the best stuff.
    Keep it simple. Making a portfolio is hard work, it takes ages. Begin with only a few projects, your best ones. Think about how you will maintain it, think about how you can iterate and build on it. Design it so your work sings and go and get that dream job.

Huge thanks to Thom for visiting us at Shillington New York. If you’re keen to see more from Thom remember to visit his website for a broad selection of work and follow him on Twitter for regular updates. 

We regularly post about our industry talks, so why not check out our archives? We have advice pieces from Build, Moving Brands, and UnderConsideration’s Armin Vit!

Top image from Thom’s website—IDEO Kraftwerks

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