Creative Listening

IDEOUnited States


Concept / Professional


Project Description

Let’s face it. Listening has become hard. We waste time waiting to be heard, rather than engaging in what we hear; we’re distracted by smartphones and tablets and mental to do lists; we’re inundated with information and an endless supply of content and communication platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, Netfilx, movies, TV, podcasts). We even join the fray and add our own streams of content to the mix.

We struggle with these realities just like everyone else, but we’ve developed tools and habits to cut through the static and help us focus. We took some of the methods our designers use in their project work and translated them into simple exercises to help users engage in listening and get more out of what they hear.

We identified four approaches that our designers use in project work that do double duty as tools for making listening more engaged and fruitful: Inspiration, Intuition, Interpretation, and Curiosity. Together these tools describe a mindset, a mental muscle that can be built with regular practice of three steps — tuning in, listening, and reflecting.

Tuning in is where the user sets an intention for their listening experience, whether it be to get inspired, learn something new, or challenge their assumptions. Listening is a personal moment, which users can engage in however they prefer, whether that’s with note taking or simply sitting and listening without activity. Finally, reflecting is where users are led through simple exercises to process what they’ve heard to hone intuition, spark inspiration, practice interpretation, or follow curiosity.

This process, when practiced regularly, becomes a habit that increases self knowledge and unlocks creativity

Creative Listening was initially designed as a curriculum for use at conferences during keynotes, lectures, and panels. It was conceived as a modular yet cohesive offering, including podcast content, in-person tutorials, and in-context exercise worksheets. Attendees could listen to a podcast about one of the tools before breakfast, practice with a corresponding worksheet at a morning tutorial, then use the exercise again at a recommended plenary. They could then bring the insights they captured to an interactive evening salon exploring the afternoon plenary’s topic in more depth. Alternatively, attendees could engage in any part of the offering on a standalone basis.

We first prototyped the tools at Sundance Institute and Aspen Ideas Festival, later revised them for the FastCompany Innovation by Design Awards Conference, and then iterated them again for SXSW 2015.


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