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Noam: IDEO’s Human-centered Approach to Software/Hardware Prototyping

Travis Lee (IDEO), Simon King (CMU Design Center), Evan Shapiro (IDEO), Jon Wettersten (IDEO)
Location: Conference Center - Golden Gate Room

In recent years IDEO has evolved its software capabilities for designing and developing human-centered experiences. However, as our experiential prototypes became more complex we found ourselves reinventing similar solutions, often in a fragile and one-off manner that compromised our ability to quickly swap in-and-out components and explore alternative design approaches. To address this, we built Noam, a reusable hardware and software prototyping framework designed to make connecting multiple disparate platforms easier. Noam helps us explore more ideas in a shorter time period, while providing more direct and immediate feedback about user behavior.

The technical design that underlies the Noam platform is an event based messaging system. The Noam Server coordinates communication between any number of Noam Lemmas, which serve as translators allowing supported platforms to send messages to any other. Lemmas have been written for Arduino, OpenFrameworks, JavaScript, Qt/QML, Unity, and more. This common translation layer helps development teams collaborate, avoids limitations inherent in any one technology, and enables a fluid design process.

IDEO has utilized Noam to improve our prototypes on a diverse range of projects. We’ve used it to capture actual usage behavior in real time, create real interactions with real technology, and swap out components (e.g. display, controllers, computers) without modifying the code. In this presentation we will provide an overview of the Noam framework and share stories from the field on how it has improved our design and research process.

Photo of Travis Lee

Travis Lee


Travis helps lead Product and Venture Design in the IDEO Chicago studio. He enjoys applying cutting-edge technology and creative engineering to diverse design challenges. A champion of “hack-to-build” rapid mechanical prototyping, he is passionate about building tools and platforms that improve the practice of design in a diverse set of applications including cleantech, in-vehicle technology, medical devices, and wearables.

Photo of Simon King

Simon King

CMU Design Center

Simon King leads the interaction design discipline at IDEO Chicago. His work encompasses both macro- and micro-interactions across diverse industries including professional medical devices, mobile device platforms, in-vehicle experiences, large-scale imaging systems, and financial services.

Photo of Evan Shapiro

Evan Shapiro


Evan Shapiro is a designer and engineer at IDEO in San Francisco. Evan works on a wide range of projects in varied capacities. He has built probabilistic simulations of electromechanical systems to optimize algorithms for medical injection devices, applied strategic problem solving and user research to develop a line of pet-care products, and helped to design and prototype compelling automotive user experiences.

Evan has two core passions at IDEO – leveraging a strong background in engineering and mathematics to tackle difficult science, engineering and system design problems, and applying hardware and software skills to develop and prototype experiences at the intersection of the physical and digital realms. Before arriving at IDEO, Evan founded a small software company in Portland, OR, and worked as a successful professional poker player and instructor.

Photo of Jon Wettersten

Jon Wettersten


Jon Wettersten helps lead IDEO Chicago’s software efforts and has helped design and develop user experiences ranging across a variety of platforms such as embedded, mobile, web and desktop platforms.