Design Innovation

Do you think that innovation is a requirement of good design?

That depends on what Innovation means to you.

Not really. Because imo its also about iteration, refinement and evolution.

I have found that innovation is always down the list from the first position in what is required in a commercial product. Better to meet the expectations than get caught up in wheel reinvention.

If a new product is not innovative it does not have a right to exist…
If your new product doesn’t fix a problem then there’s no need for it.
If your new product is only there to make you and your client richer…then there’s no need for it.

I always try to read between the lines of the design brief and then implement something new and unexpected.

Innovation is all about taking bigger steps. Time is running out and we cannot afford to run around in circles.

But I do acknowledge that choosing for innovation has its downsides. It’s a huge risk and the reward isn’t instant. As a designer you will put yourself in the danger zone. Your client and everybody else will call you crazy…but when you do pull it off. They’ll say: ‘I always believed and rooted for you’ :wink: If it doesn’t work…be ready to take a pounding.

If you are merely restyling things then you aren’t a designer. According to my book that is.



iPhone 1: Innovative >>> iPhone4 Iterative. Both are good design. Both have a “right to exist”

Sure, the 4 it is better, but it isn’t the wholesale innovation of the iPhone 1. The innovation of the first one was turing the phone into a mini computer… not that is done, there will be industry wide iteration for at least a decade, but there will still be tons of room for small innovations in the details. It is still progress, but the major concept might have been solidified for awhile… I have some solid ideas of what the next jump will be in this space based on some of the research we have been doing here at frog, but it may take awhile for industry and users to make the next jump.

And they’ll fix the “death grip” problem in the 5th iteration…therefore it will also have a right to exist :wink:

All I’m trying to say is that you need to start from a problem and then device a product that fixes that problem. Any product conceived for other reasons are (mostly) bad. Good design is about thinking up solutions. Making things better and more intuitive. Narrowing/eliminating the gap between machine(the product) and the user. So, yes, in a way even the smallest of details can be innovative if it makes the product/solution better.

Atohms, “right to exist” is a pretty strong statement! I know the passion of trying to innovate the hell out of a product, but I am imagining the world where every product was either A. completely stock and standard, so that resources were conserved and backward compatibility was maintained and consumer lust left un-tantilized, or B. every product was 100% innovative and justifying its right to exist by pushing every boundary.

Our commercial world is in the middle, different kinds of mops or toilet paper holders, each designed by different companies trying to get space on our homes to clean floors, or as traveling in Japan now, innovative ways to replace the function of toilet paper. I think of the term innovation as something a little bit radical, not necessarily a solution to make something cheaper, lighter or more _________ (whatever). Innovative is breaking the mold. Breaking the mold has to be done sparingly, not every product and product cycle, otherwise the consumer just ends up traumatized.

In a lot of cases the iterations in a product line are needed to keep the company profitable in order to make innovation and push the envelope when needed. Color iterations, style iterations, form iterations, as boring as they are, as little as they may challenge a designer, fit into the process of being able to do true innovation at the rate the market can accept.

I totally disagree.
There are plenty of reason for designers to only “restyle” things and not necessarily reinvent them or have innovation.
I’m looking around my room and seeing plenty of things.

A table: Is a furniture designer not a “designer” if they come up with a new coffee table? The coffee table is no different from old coffee tables, it’s only been restyled a millions times. Sure there are some new innovative coffee tables out there but most have 4 legs and a top.

A guitar: The acoustic guitar has not changed too much over the years and yet they still come out with “new” guitars. Should they stop unless they develop something new and innovative?

A Fan: I bought my fan because I liked the way it looked better then the others on the shelf. It doesn’t do anything better. But I have styling options because a designer or designers came up with various options.

A wrist watch: I have a lot of different watches, they all tell the same time.

Innovations is very important, but it’s not always necessary.

Atohms: I said this in the other post, but I’ll say it again: you’re being incredibly condescending. Just because you have no interest in it, doesn’t make it not important. Styling is a great art that’s incredibly hard to master (although easy to replicate). It requires a lot of knowledge of CMF, proportions, as well as manufacturing processes (how do I get the cheapest production for the most beautiful? How do I use parting lines as an aesthetic?).

Expanding on mrtwillis, you are dismissing fashion, furniture, housewares, interior design, and probably even more.

The difference between a market flop and a ground breaking product relies on many factors, including innovation AND styling. If the iPhone was aesthetically ugly (ID and UI), I’m sure it wouldn’t have sold as much.

Atohms, I looked at your portfolio and noticed your bird traffic camera. From what I can tell, it’s a traffic camera that has been styled into looking like a bird, so drivers don’t see it. Would you say restyling this is innovative? I think it’s a fine idea and has it’s place. But isn’t it just a restyled camera?

Wow! apparently I hit a sour spot :wink:

But please tell me why do we need a new coffee-table? A new acoustic guitar? shiny new coffee-machine? If its just the same product in a new jacket? We have a saying here: “He’s trying to sell old wine in new bags”
I find it very selfish in these days. It’s like running around in circles while we should take big strides towards a more sustainable future.
So why not solve something if you are given the opportunity to redesign something? Because the designbrief doesn’t allow it? Many of those stylish products are flawed and you know it. To me those products are bad design.
And do not think I’m condescending styling -or maybe a little). I still want my products to look good. But they need to solve something first. Function before form. Problem-solving before looks.
Sometimes its the other way around and that bothers me…(a lot)

And about the bird-camera: Yes, maybe styling can be innovative if it adds more than just changing its appearance purely for the look. The bird-like shape isn’t there for beauty it has a reason: to be undetected in plain sight. Although I must add that the bird-camera project is more of an art-social-experiment than a design-project.

Anyway thank you for the comments and reply. We must learn from each-other. Not agree, just tolerate others opinions. And yes sometimes I can be a bit harsh and drop a bomb. Mostly it’s not intentionally but since English is not my native language I sometimes find it hard to express my feelings.


Do you only have one style shirt and pants? Under your theory it would be selfish to own different styles, as they do nothing better than the others.

Variety doesn’t hurt the environment. There is no difference between 10,000 of the same coffee table, and 10,000 individual coffee tables with different styling.

I think what you’re talking about is basically designing everything with sustainability in mind which is fine. I believe that is what the designers accord is basically all about.

But I wouldn’t rule out someone as a “designer” because they are not constantly innovating beyond aesthetics which itself is a challenge.

Life would be boring with one coffee table, one guitar, one watch. We have a saying too, “Variety is the spice of life.”

I do like what Atohms has to say about innovation- I think there is no need to be offended by what he wrote earlier. Innovation provides value- at the very least it expands definition. These things have great value for mankind- even the biggest failures because they are then used as examples and reference of what to/or not to do in the future. The tricky part is defining function and trying to be serious about it. Appearance is a function too, styling has utility. Only to humans really, who seem to be the only things in the universe capable of arguing over what is or isn’t valuable. We assign value, but the universe itself doesn’t seem to care what our values are (until we create black holes?)

Not at all, the natural world is FULL of examples of animal life making use of aesthetic. The easy ones to point out are the way flowers functionally use form and color to attract bees, and the way some animals use color to blend, or to warn. Check out birds of paradise though. Since they have very few natural predators, they use elaborate color and form with fanciful nest making and crazy movement rituals simply to attract a mate… and isn’t that what so many things boil down to? Feeling good about oneself to have the confidence to achieve and be the people we want to be…

WOW :open_mouth: Are you referring to buying your happiness/personality/image? Maybe that’s why I don’t like merely shiny styled objects with nothing new to add. This buy-yourself-happy-behavior results in a more pollution and over-consumption. Because the rush of something new will fade faster and faster. And the dose needs to become bigger and more frequent. It’s almost comparable to a drug addiction :wink:

And yes I know it’s part of the economy. If everybody would stop buying things our system would collapse. But maybe we don’t need to buy as much things. I find it very amusing that the more years I’m a product designer, the less stuff I buy.

But I think we are getting of topic



Good call on that- I guess some of these styles in nature evolve too, looking to appear more colorful or more healthy and strong.

I guess the thing that still makes humans unique in the universe as far as we understand it is their self-awareness to where you can buy the most colorful and new looking blue jeans across the street where they sell distressed ‘vintage’ holey jeans (that are also brand new) and both can have the same purpose of attracting a mate, though I am unfamiliar with any other creatures would make themselves look nasty and dirty to compete with other similar gendered rivals that are stronger and healthier in appearance- usually functional appearance in nature seems to be on a linear/polar scale - (healthier better or stealthier better, etc.), and humans come up with things like irony, retro design, and branding. Animals respond to novelty too, and synthesize, but don’t usually create art for arts sake

But I guess the last line of your quote may sum it all up as a philosophy

As for innovation, I think it is one consistently valuable aspiration - it will always have value and I would like to think that striving for innovation is a key value for designers- if there is such thing as value or nobility (which there certainly is as a synthetic proposition to us humans) then it is somehow attached to innovation, and maybe other so-called values are based on fabricated moralities.

Quite the opposite. If you make more conscious purchasing decisions, I think you actually take care of things more, and want to keep them. It is never a good idea to point to yourself as an example, as designers, we are not typical consumers… but I will do that now. My Dualit Toaster, my Audi TT, they don’t perform tasks any better than other toasters or vehicles that cost less than half… but I love them, they make me feel good, they help me to be in the moment and enjoy my day, and I’ll keep them as long as I can… the both are 10 years old and look almost new.

“When I was starting up in business it was the late 1960’s, a time of change. Man had landed on the moon, young people wanted to change the world, we all wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make people smile. If you can make people smile and get them excited, thy enjoy life better. A person driving a Porsche has a different feeling from someone driving a sheet metal box. If you build emotional value, people will keep the product longer and take more care of it; this of course also saves energy and materials.”
Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design 1999

As soon as I give my dog a bath, he loves to roll around in the mud and get dirty and stinky again to be smelly for the other dogs. There is not functional reason for him to smell like nature, he sleeps in a feather stuffed dog bed… he just likes it, and apparently his doggie buddies do too!

Define innovation. Define good design.

Did you mean it in the Dieter Rams meaning of Good Design?

I see the discussion doesn’t differentiate between various kinds of innovation. An innovation is so ONLY if it reaches the market (so something you design and is very cool, fresh, new and awesome but stays in the “drawing board” is not innovation).

There is incremental innovation and radical innovation. Product innovation and process innovation.

A design of a coffee table that looks like every other table but weights less and can be disassembled for shipping to save cost, reduce pollution and create better convenience for the user can be innovative but is not at all related to how the product looks. (Ikea?)

Designers tend to be too focused on the product but don’t forget that a regular product with an innovative business model or innovative distribution can make a huge difference (maybe even bigger than the product itself). (don’t underestimate the power of the dark side (marketing))

I see ID becoming more and more a comodity. What makes a difference is the User Experience and we need to work with a holistic approach to discover innovation opportunities that create value for stakeholders. A good design not only should support and enable a good user experience but should also satisfy the requirements from the different stakeholders affected during the product/service lifecycle.