What I Do
I write and edit texts of all sorts, and I will work with you to make your ideas and language clear and strong.
I work with people who need to communicate to clients, customers, employees, and others. I’ve worked in online media and in print, providing everything from concise, space-constrained copy to academic articles and book-length efforts.
Speaking & workshops
I am available to speak to business and student groups on design thinking, innovation, and writing, as well as collaborate on workshops to introduce design thinking and the design process within organizations.
What I’ve Done
From 1987 to 2009, I worked at IDEO, a global design and innovation firm, in Palo Alto and San Francisco. During the last dozen years, my role involved writing, editing, speaking, and teaching about design thinking and IDEO’s history, culture, and process. Before that, I had been the firm’s first systems administrator and, later, its first IT manager. Before that, I spent eight years in various Silicon Valley companies as a drafter and junior designer.
As a writer and editor at IDEO, I worked closely with David Kelley (founder and chairman), Tim Brown (CEO and president), Tom Kelley (general manager), Bill Moggridge (cofounder), directors Whitney Mortimer
(marketing communications), John Foster (talent and organization),
Nancy Nichols (recruiting), John Ravitch (business development), and much of the design staff to create case studies, external websites, award entries, project pages, wikis, presentations, proposals, and a huge variety of internal communication pieces on websites, emails, and in physical spaces.
IDEO Work Timeline
- 2008-2009: Knowledge Sharing group. Helped build new intranet (evolved from earlier IDEO intranet work) to better foster communication across all offices. This effort led to thousands of wiki pages, project pages, uploaded images, blog entries, and more.
- 2007-2008: Talent and Organization group. Led seminars, workshops, one-to-one dialogs, and online communications. Helped articulate specific company roles, career paths, and new compensation platform, and encouraged career growth.
- 1998-2007: Marketing communications. Led annual competitions efforts, acted as editor at large and ombudsman, provided “voice” to most outward-facing publications and online sites, represented IDEO in various conferences and events, built image and text database.
- 1989-1997: Information Technology. Company’s first system administrator and later manager of tech support and IT group. Physical installation of computer and phone networks, computer equipment; championed then-new technologies such as CAD, e-mail, office intranet, wide-area network, the Internet, and the World Wide Web.
- 1987-1988: CAD Design Support. Senior drafter and junior designer, part of small pool of CAD experts; helped train designers on new CAD programs, provided custom interface and macros to IDEO and other institutions (Stanford, Cal Poly, etc.), served as user group president for CAD system.
Much of my work resides within IDEO’s
intranet and contains confidential material. Any nonpublic snapshots
below are included with kind permission of IDEO.
The Art of Innovation (2001, Doubleday) by Tom Kelley and Jon Littman
The Ten Faces of Innovation
(2006, Doubleday), by Tom Kelley and Jon Littman
I worked extensively on both
books, from research to copyediting. Tom thanks me in both books; in
the second, he wrote:
Scott Underwood applied his encyclopedic knowledge of words in giving me advice on syntax, grammar, and elements of style. I have learned more about the nuances of language from Scott than I have from any professor.
Editing, copyediting, proofreading, and/or research for
The History of IDEO’s Logos: this is one of a series of wiki pages created on IDEO’s intranet, the Tube, meant to inform new employees and remind the others about the firm’s history.
Careers page: a link to the most frequently asked questions from people interested in employment and internships, striking a balance between friendliness and firmness. This grew out of my work answering the extremely random, humorous, or provocative emails IDEO started receiving after 1999 — each and every email.
Kraft Foods case study: one of a few hundred stories written to convey the company’s breadth and expertise concisely and without jargon or boastfulness. Written in a “just-the-facts” tone, many of these articles were informed by competition entry forms, which tell a deeper story meant for a different audience.
30 Years of IDEO: this limited-audience website communicated the 30th anniversary of the founding of David Kelley Design, and showcased much of IDEO’s surprising new work (in strategy, food, nonprofit, and other nontraditional design projects). I worked on concepts with founder David Kelley, then collaborated with a graphic artist and a web programmer to create the finished site.
2000-2009: coordinated and hosted 350+ Know How Talks and Lunches, which included a weekly, internal-only, lunchtime show-and-tell series for IDEOers to share their work and points of view, and an evening series for a variety of writers, thinkers, makers, and doers. The number of great speakers I hosted are too many to list, but include:
- David Best, assemblage artist and Burning Man architect
- Guy Kawasaki, on the vagaries of luck in business
- Chip Heath, on Made to Stick
- Fritz Grobe & Stephen Voltz, a.k.a. Eepybird, on Diet Coke and Mentos fountains and sticky notes
- Howard Reingold, on Smart Mobs
- Grant McCracken on anthropology and design (Grant said kind things about his visit)
- Malcolm Gladwell, on jam, movies, and the danger of thinking too much
- Bob Sutton, The No Asshole Rule (Bob discusses his talk here)
- Dan Pink, on A Whole New Mind, and later, his manga book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. (IFTF’s Alex Pang blogged the earlier talk)
- Dr. Paul Ekman, on facial expressions, microexpressions, and the physical behavior of emotions
- Merlin Mann talks with me (see video) about making yourself smarter and more mindful
2003-2009: I led hundreds of tours of IDEO’s Palo Alto campus, essentially 30-
to 90-minute walking presentations on IDEO’s history, culture, and
process. My audiences included:
- CEOs and other leaders from current and potential clients
- Executive MBA classes, from US and international business schools
classes of design, engineering, and business students
- High school groups representing organizations like Future Business Leaders of America
- “Best practice” delegations from foreign governments
- Journalists, academics, and the occasional well-placed friend of a friend
I have also given many talks, presentations, and workshops, most recently:
- 2009: Visual Communication class, Academy of Art University, San Francisco: Writing for Designers talk given to third-year graphic design students
- 2008: BIZCamp, Jewish Family and
Children’s Services, San Rafael: Design for Entrepreneurs talk given to elective summer high school-age class
- 2007: Freestyle Academy of Communication Arts and Technology, Mountain View:
Design Thinking talk to combined classes of junior and senior high
schoolers in a multimedia arts program located on the Mtn View High
- 2007: Department of Design, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand:
a two-day introduction to human-centered design given to undergrad and
graduate design students, including a wallet design workshop, analogous
behavior talk, student work review, and IDEO & Design Thinking
2006-2007: Led IDEO 101, a multiday orientation and education workshop for all new employees, from all offices, regardless of level or seniority. More than a typical orientation program, this event was designed to create an intercompany cohort and foster better connections among the offices. It included short talks and Q&As on everything from the company’s finances to the plans for the future from most of IDEO’s leadership; a day-long real-world design charette with off-campus interviews, prototypes, and presentations; a “round robin” dinner event, meant to encourage attendees to mix and mingle, and wrap party featuring an IDEO-led music group.
1998-2006: Managed annual design competition effort, comprising
400+ projects. Work included 1500-word entry forms, image selection and
captioning, video scripting, and more. During this period, IDEO won
the most awards each year in the IDSA/Business Week competition, and hundreds of awards worldwide.
2006: Working with curator Signe Mayfield at the Palo Alto Art Center, I drew together IDEO Prototypes the Future, the first exhibition devoted to IDEO’s work. Podcasts and photos are available on the website of Ross Mayfield (founder of SocialText and also a speaker at IDEO’s Know How Talks). I also worked with the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation on the communications materials for a major fundraising effort.
These are samples of writing I’ve done outside the constraints of my longtime employer, whether for money or amusement.
A Friend in Need: a sestina written for the McSweeney’s website. (A sestina is an old, unrhymed poetry form with an interesting structure.)
Housing Works: an article on Patrimonio Hoy, the microlending arm of the multinational cement corporation CEMEX, written for (and substantially edited by) Design 21.
In-progress Ideas for New Yorker Cartoons: a humor piece written for McSweeney’s.
Drift: an article on language, written for my blog.
The 10,000 hours of Steve Martin: a book review, written for my blog.
IDEO (Palo Alto, San Francisco)
- company-wide knowledge-sharing website (copyediting)
- Tim Brown’s forthcoming book (rapid copyediting)
- short film (brainstorm, writing)
- current: public website (in-progress) (research, writing)
D2M (Mountain View)
- public product-review blog (in-progress) (writing, editing, research)
- marketing/branding effort (in-progress) (brainstorm, writing)
IMVU (Palo Alto)
Unnamed client (Calgary)
- currently planning a sponsored two-day innovation workshop for a 350-student high school