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Innovation in Design

This page presents material concerning innovation in design in a general sense. It is not intended to cover specific techniques or methods for creativity and innovation.

General Remarks

The following notes come from [Har03].

  • The best new product ideas are hatched by collaboration, not soloists.
  • New ideas are just old ideas rehashed into a different situation. The more different the new situation, the more radical the idea seems. This can be called recombinant innovation.
  • If a corporate culture expects significant innovations, it must acknowledge there will be many errors along the way. (Per IDEO: fail often to succeed sooner.)
  • Companies are often better off with only a small amount of innovation, because the organizational messiness that goes with innovation can destroy operational efficiency.
  • Let innovation happen, then tightly reign it in and institutionalize the result.
  • Brainstorming doesn't work with students because students have nothing at stake, whereas employees gain prestige by contributing to a brainstorming session.
  • Allow problems to be raised without already having the solution. Finding a problem is a good thing, not a bad thing. Innovative people tend to work best with several high-priority problems on their to do list.
  • Innovators benefit from casual connections that lead to chance encounters with unfamiliar ideas.
  • Promote internal knowledge-sharing networks, and “serious play”.
  • Qualities of a truly innovative culture include connections across disciplines, a good balance between freedom and constraint, and a community base that has the opportunity to work intensively - and respect for those to assume the role of innovator.

The following remarks are comments derived from [Jos01].

  • Myth: R&D is innovation. This is indeed a myth. R&D is a necessary co-requisite to innovation; sometimes, R&D drives innovation, and other times vice versa.
  • “If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.” This quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson is still true. Josty argues: “Radical new ideas are often rejected with they first emerge.” Josty is succumbing to his own 1st myth. The quote's meaning hinges on the word better. What is better? Better is temporary, so it always changes (and so, then, do we). Better is relative, so it depends on the environment & context. Better is subjective as well as objective: we need to know who will decide what the better product is and how they mean the term; we also need to educate them to raise their awareness of how to identify better products; we also need to be more responsive to societal needs.
  • Bob Cooper (McMaster) has shown that only about 1 in 60 new products succeed commercially. Why is this? I believe it's because the innovation really isn't better.
  • Myth: the customer is always right. The counterexample given regards Sears and IBM, companies who listened so closely to their customers, that they didn't see the competition's customers buying up innovative products. This is just blinker-vision. The other customers were right. Companies need to listen to their own customers as well as the competition's customers. One might consider changing the phrase to “The consumer is always right,” because consumer includes all customers, not just your own.
  • Myth: Government plays no role in innovation. Definitely a myth. If only 1 in 60 innovations succeed commercially, then innovating is a very risky business, which the private sector would abhor. Public funding of innovation is necessary to defray the risk.

The following remarks are based on Tom Brzustowski's keynote address to CANCAM 2003 (Calgary). Dr. Brzustowski is the president of NSERC. First person references are to me (Salustri), not Dr. Brzustowski.

  • There is a current emphasis on competitiveness, the market, and globalization. This bothers me. Certainly these are important issues, but one cannot exclude other factors, such as the pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, we ought to be seeking a balance between the practical and academic issues. As it is, the pendulum is still swinging away from academic issues, which is troubling. Also, NSERC is about research, not commercialization. Perhaps we need a sister organization specifically tasked with supporting the commercialization of all the federal research-oriented bodies.
  • Industry support for research and R&D must triple to reach identified targets. I must ask: is this possible when so many large companies in Canada are really US-owned and unable to set their own R&D strategies?
  • An interesting measure of R&D support is given by the following relation, which applies to a given product (class):
    • (R&D expense) / (Sales Revenue) [percentage]- = 16 / (product life in years).
  • R&D and world trade must grow together. This I agree with completely, where world is the whole world, not just the US.
  • Internationalizing R&D and product development is important.
  • Multidisciplinary work is a requirement.
  • We need more corporate research labs and more not-for-profits who connect industry & research.
  • Good definitions:
    • Basic research: discovery of knowledge.
    • Project research: solving an industry problem that cannot be solved with existing knowledge/technologies.
    • Consulting: solving an industry problem using only existing knowledge/technologies.
  • Two stakeholder groups were identified. The “scientists” and the people who can take technology and get them to market successfully. I believe the former are the “applied scientists” and the latter are the engineers (working with IT, business, marketing, etc.).

Design versus innovation

From post by Lars Albinsson to phd-design, 22 May 2008:

My hypothesis (based on Lakoff and Krippendorff) is that there is a difference in that innovation is associated with the challenge or alteration of some peoples “prototypes” (in the Roch sense), while design may or may not do this. That is; design is more general than innovation. (and the step from invention to innovation would be the process of getting people to accept that alteration.)

From post by Terry Love to phd-design, 22 May 2008:

One very simple yet powerfully useful distinction is that 'a design' is a component of a legal contract describing the detail of part of an agreed arrangement. A design specifies how something is to be done. The activity of designing, design practice, is simply producing 'designs' that have this legal role. That is also the primary difference betrween 'good' designs and 'bad' designs. They provide a response to a brief that will stand up to legal scrutiny as a component of a contract.

From post by Carmen Kobe to phd-design, 22 May 2008:

Creativity seen as a product is something new and usefull. Creativity seen as a process is the production of something new and usefull. Innovation is something new and usefull, successfully implemented resp. introduced to a market.

From post by Harold Nelson to phd-design, 22 May 2008:

In my own experience in different contexts (business, government, academic, etc.) I find a variety of concepts applied to, or implied by, the term 'innovation'. The term is used interchangeably with the concepts of creativity, invention, discovery – in other words anything which is new. In the US, innovation is being pushed as necessary and essential to everyone's well-being. The thing that will improve education, health, safety, etc., etc. and of course that which will make businesses competitive in the new global economy.
For me design-fueled innovation is just one of many means of making something new an integral part of their everyday lives. The 'new' in this case is something that is the outcome of a design process — creating something that does not yet exist to serve the desires or needs of an other. Designing includes innovation processes that can be as simple as an architect serving a single client or a product saturating a market of millions of people.

From post by Imran Sobh to phd-design, 22 May 2008:

After a recent discussion in a class on design and organizations, the conclusion in my mind is that it is mainly an issue of who the audience is when someone is talking about design. In that case, I think it becomes less important what the technical definitions are, but rather what the connotations are, who is using the terms, who they are speaking to and why.
Business people and managers like to use the word innovation because it doesn't carry a lot of the baggage that comes with the word “design.” The way I've heard it used is usually in the context of economic stimulation rather than deeply satisfying products. Businesses need to innovate. It sounds very forward looking, with a focus on the “newness” rather than the process. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, it's part of their language, and if designers want to be a part of it, they have to either use the same language or work on discussions that clarify what is exactly is being talked about.
From the perspective of designers, I've talked to people who have felt like the use of the term is robbing designers of what they do. The lack of baggage is precisely what is bothersome – its not giving them credit for what they do or the history they bring. The word design, on the other hand, you could say still brings to mind notions of decoration or visual enhancement for a lot of people. I don't think our culture has reached a point where we see the idea of design or design thinking as an abstracted activity that is beneficial to more than visual and physical products. While this may be frustrating to many designers and academic institutions, it seems to be changing.
To bring it all together, as most people here likely know, the meaning of the word(s) change depending on the situation. In general, I would say people are talking about the same thing: design. In my biased opinion, I think design offers a broader range of associations and a more interesting way of thinking about what is going on. I recently read a definition of innovation in a textbook that went something like “the process of taking a good idea and translating it into a product.” When I read descriptions like that, including the link that was posted, I can't help but think “isn't that just a part of design?”


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See Also


[Har03]. A. Hargadon. 2003. How breakthroughs happen: the surprising truth about how companies innovate. Harvard Business School Press.
[Jos01]. P. Josty. 2001. Myths about innovation.
research/innovation_in_design.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)