IDEO CoLab Makeathon 2019

3 minute read

This year, I received the incredible opportunity to participate in the IDEO CoLab Makeathon.

CoLab is IDEO’s platform for collaborative impact. We connect organizations to shape technology’s impact on the world. Together, we design the future.

Over one fast-paced, jam-packed Saturday, tinkerers and innovators met at IDEO’s San Francisco and Boston offices to take part in this full-day makeathon.

I was assigned to a group comprising a business student from UPenn, an industrial designer from SVA, and a business consultant from EY-Parthenon.

Designing for the workplace of the future in 5 hours!

Each team was given a unique challenge, and ours was about helping employers create a venue for honest conversations about employee values - the workplace of the future!

My team and I started by discussing the context and goals for our project. A few months ago, Amazon employees successfully organized Amazon’s ambitious carbon reduction targets, aiming to achieve the goals of the Paris Accord a decade before schedule! In a similar vein, we wanted to create a safe space for all employees to voice out where their employers fail to meet their ethical expectations, and explore how employers can take action on the concerns of their workforce, rather than waiting for a strike to react.

makeathon brainstorming

To better understand our target users, we mapped out the user journey of employers and employees in the situation, thinking critically about what is said, thought, felt, and done at each step.

This allowed us to distill a list of needs for both employers and employees.

makeathon needs list

We decided that a critical pain point we wanted to target was the step at which employees recognize a mis-alignment with their company’s values, and attempt to voice out their concerns.

makeathon how might we

Let the ideas run freeee

And so began our intensive brainstorming and sketching session to create a solution for our identified need. Cue the flurry of post-its!

makeathon brainstorming

makeathon brainstorming

Idea convergence

IDEO process

Over 50 ideas later, we voted on our top ideas based on feasibility, desirability, and viability, and ended up with REAL TALK.

REAL TALK is a friendly tool for employees to surface ethical concerns and to prioritize critical issues.

We wanted to create a user-friendly web interface that synchronized with an interactive panel that employees could engage with in waiting areas (e.g. at elevators). Input on this interface can be voted on by others, who can also share stories or comments. To create a safe space, we developed a system which allows for anonymity, but does not allow an employee to create more than one account should they abuse the system.

On a regular basis, issues voiced on the system flow into a hackathon, where employees can ideate on possible solutions, and management can actively participate in bringing these concepts to fruition.

real talk concept

The birth of REAL TALK @ IDEO

We then set out to build a speed demo of our idea. We designed REAL TALK to be a platform that could be implemented at any company. For our demo, we created REAL TALK @ IDEO.

real talk value propositions

I took charge of the visual design, branding, and creating a friendly experience that would encourage employees to speak out.

To get credible content for our demo, we asked CoLab employees to complete a paper survey, “I think my company should X because Y”. Everyone was enthusiastic to complete this survey, allowing us to get a ton of content in a short time \o/

real talk at IDEO

This content was fed into both our virtual and physical prototypes, the former created on Figma, and the latter consisting thick paper, laser-cut acrylic, and little-bits.

real talk prototype real talk prototype

real talk prototype


I loved working on this project with my teammates Carmen, Colleen, and Glenda. It was one of the smoothest, most fun team dynamics I’ve ever had - ideas flowed freely and everyone built each other up. It was awesome to have a demonstrable product in just a few hours! So grateful 🌻

real talk team


  • The incredible IDEO CoLab team for organizing this event!
  • Open Doodles for sketchy illustrations