One trend that’s coming out of the literature is the need for designers to have material samples available for inspiration. One of the most well known (and perhaps most idiosyncratic) is the Tech Box at IDEO. Started by Dennis Boyle as a drawer under a table, it has grown to be a set of over 200 pieces that is duplicated in each IDEO studio with a dedicated curator.
The printed information I can find relating to this dates back to 1999 (so a lot may have changed). Still, there are some interesting points:
[the Tech Box] is a combination parts and materials library, database and website, and organizational memory. It allows IDEO to archive its wide array of experience gained from work across many industries and share it across all studios in our worldwide network.
What is worth noting here is the pluralistic nature of the information: it is physical, technical, and anecdotal:
Each Tech Box has several drawers holding hundreds of objects, from smart fabrics to elegant mechanisms to clever toys, each of which are tagged and numbered. Designers and engineers can rummage through the compartments, play with the items, and apply materials used by other designers and engineers within the company to their current project. The entire contents of the Tech Box are available on IDEO’s intranet through a searchable website, with each item listing its specifications, including manufacturer and price, and an additional IDEO anecdote with designer and project info if applicable. 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.
Unfortunately the information about the boxes are kept behind closed doors (or those lucky clients)
All major IDEO offices maintain a duplicate Tech Box, each with its own curator who oversees the addition of new materials, and most IDEO employees are constantly on the lookout for likely candidates for addition. Additionally, IDEO offers the Tech Box as part of its innovation services, as its clients become increasingly aware of the value of knowledge management.
There is also a New York Times piece from around the time the box was first publicised that gives information about the background to the project.
Image from IDEO site