Knowledge Management at IDEO

Knowledge Sharing by Design: KM at IDEO


by Madanmohan Rao

Knowledge Management consultant and author



I had a chance last month to meet Gentry Underwood, Head of Knowledge Sharing at ace design firm IDEO ( He spoke at the PICNIC conference in Amsterdam, on social media and knowledge sharing. Underwood is a human factors specialist with a background in visual ethnography, psychology, and interaction design. He previously was an interaction designer for Reactivity and London Road Design. He is reportedly a “glutton for the power of visual imagery.”


One of IDEO’s popular tools, Tech Box, is a combination of parts and materials library, database and website, and organisational memory. It allows IDEO to archive its wide array of experience gained from work across many industries and share it across all studios in their worldwide network. The Tech Box is a valuable resource that designers and engineers use to gain inspiration, break out of a holding pattern, or merely avoid reinventing the wheel, according to IDEO.


KM in IDEO takes place at multiple levels: between teams, studios, themes, and passionate individuals on topics of their interest. Organisation design, with a mix of culture and tools, is key for success in knowledge sharing, according to Underwood. The company’s social Intranet is called The Tube, and provides access to PeoplePages, projects, knowledge assets, blogs and a Wiki for domain spaces. The Wiki was launched in 2007, and blogs in 2008. Drawing on social software principles, the PeoplePages includes people pointers, tags and project icons. Profiles include people’s current project and time availability. Individual recognition helps spur knowledge sharing.


It is important to keep interfaces intuitive, Underwood advised; they should be fluid and have less friction. “We went through four Wiki designs before we were satisfied,” he said. Tools should integrate well otherwise you will slide into a “death spiral,” Underwood cautioned.


Employees are alerted about new blogs and posts via news and email newsletters (“FeedMail”). A special screen in the company café features images of employee PeoplePages, and regularly draws attention to specific profiles.


“Iterate early and often; this mix of interface and social interaction design is new raw territory in knowledge sharing,” Underwood advised.



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