Education is the means by which we thrive, individually and collectively. In recent times, the growing complexity and interconnectedness of our now global society has challenged the effectiveness of traditional education systems, which were designed for the needs of the industrial era. The old model was built upon the idea that a worker’s job was to apply the basic skills they’d learned in school to specific tasks. To thrive in the 21st century, however, we need to go beyond that—and teach people how to learn, engage, and create. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The new model is about the constant creation of knowledge and empowering individuals to participate, communicate, and innovate.

This is the spirit that drives IDEO’s designs for learning. Whether it’s about developing tools, environments, or curricula that enable more engaging learning experiences; transforming schools, programs, and organizations; or addressing systemic challenges that affect education-at-large, our human-centered methodologies and multi-disciplinary teams bring innovation solutions to education.

A design-thinking approach to public school for the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Our Approach

  • Platform Innovation
  • Digital Learning
  • Strategies for Scale
  • System and Innovation Strategy
  • Building a Generation of Design Thinkers
As demand for online learning, adult education, and worldwide workforce development grows, our challenge is not only to build infrastructure, but also to design effective learning experiences, so that students stay engaged, discover new meaning, and achieve the desired outcomes. We develop new digital apps and platforms, design schools and other learning environments, and build knowledge sharing systems for managing complex data across institutions - all of which center around the needs of core users, typically the learners themselves.

The questions clients ask us include: How might we redesign in person and online experiences to capture the hearts and minds of today's learners? How might we design experiences that support learners, from start to successful completion? How might we create distributed experiences that build collective knowledge?
Digital learning tools present prime opportunities for innovation: They're modular. They allow for individualized learning experiences. They expand the horizons of self-teachers. IDEO's human - centered design process allows our teams to build technology - based tools that are optimized to meet students' needs across a range of contexts and media channels.

The questions clients ask us include: How might we help children learn through engaging, media - based experiences? How might we design tools that bring learners what they need when they need it? How might we inspire a generation of entrepreneurs to develop apps that effectively engage others in learning?
As public education systems acknowledge the need to evolve, attention is shifting from what kids are learning to how they're learning. Educators have begun seeking new approaches and systems that enable powerful, effective experiences. Examples of promising solutions - those that have achieved great results on a local level - are popping up around the globe. The immediate, natural questions are: How can more of us benefit from what others have created? How do we bring great ideas to scale? We address these challenges first by examining people's diverse needs across the system and identifying which needs are universal and which are local. We then design tools and experiences that bring to scale not only the original solutions, but also the processes and intentions that generated them.

The questions clients ask us include: How might we create platforms that allow great ideas generated on the local level to be shared across the country? How might we create tools and resources that allow schools across the country to employ new assessment models and curricular design?
It's cliche but true: Change is inevitable and constant. We have great empathy for how hard change can be, particularly within an institutionalized system. How do you create the space for new, unproven ideas, while a system is in motion? How do you redesign curricula while classes are in session? We have experience in innovating within and across systems. This includes envisioning the future of organizations and developing tangible steps to get toward that vision; creating strategic plans for institutions and organizations to frame education and learning goals; devising investment strategies for catalyzing action across the country; and building tools and experiences that invite people to work and participate in new ways.

The questions clients ask us include: How might an institution or a foundation develop a relevant, custom approach to educational programming and investments? How might schools, districts, and state-level systems learn to continually innovate and adapt? How might we engage teachers across the country in innovation on a local level?
Solutions to the complex challenges society faces today - global warming, poverty, health care - can no longer rest solely in the hands of an elite few. These challenges require collaboration, imagination, and action at an unprecedented scale. What would the world look like if everyone saw the problems in the world as design opportunities? What if every child believed in his or her creative abilities and had a means of productively tapping into them? We know how to develop, nurture, and facilitate the skills, behaviors, and mind-sets of future design thinkers.

The questions clients ask us include: How might we help teachers develop the ability to foster creative and innovative talents in each of their students (while developing their own understanding of their role as a designer)? How might we help every child around the globe believe in his or her ability to make a positive impact in the world around them? How might we help state-level systems incorporate the skills, behaviors, and mind-sets of creativity and innovation into their core curriculum?

Ideas and Connections


  • Sandy Speicher

    Sandy Speicher

    Sandy Speicher is a Partner at the global design and innovation firm IDEO. She is the Managing Director of IDEO’s Education practice, which looks to…

  • Duane Bray

    Duane Bray

    Duane is a Partner at IDEO, where he heads the firm’s Global Digital Business. He joined IDEO in 1995 to lead and develop the discipline…