innovation as an independent field

looks like we’re gonna have a new position in design profession

Consequences for design and designers
Most designers can do nothing and still benefit from this trend–so long as your skills are great, your firm is distinctive, and you are able to work well in teams. A lot of the background interest in innovation is mostly hunger for distinctiveness and stuff that is on the edge (witness the meteoric rise of the signature architects Gehry, Koolhaas, Calitrava, Hadid, and others). The great news for designers about the rise of a corporate interest in innovation is that it recognizes, more than ever before, the strategic contribution of design to product, service, information, and environmental offerings. At Doblin we see this as a trend likely to persist for at least the next decade.

But it is also possible to do more than nothing… If you want to actively participate in the base ideas of the emerging innovation field then you have to develop a keen interest in what works in marketplaces. Of course great designers always have solid instincts about what is likely to work in marketplaces (and these instincts, for my money, are FAR more important than any known form of evaluative research). But the innovation field per se needs to use MANY forms of design, carefully orchestrated and integrated, to get beyond some threshold level of activity–enough to get noticed, to make a difference, to be strategic. Think about it: how many kinds of excellence would Sears or Wal-Mart need to develop to be as cool as Target? How likely is is that they will develop these skills spontaneously? How will they learn what to do and do it with any quality, subtlety, freshness, or uniqueness? It is easy for designers to simply say: “they won’t.” And odds are, you’d even be right (at least about those two firms).

But here’s the deal, and it is novel, important and unprecedented: nearly every firm needs to be smarter about this now than ever before.

I contend that this is a NEW field, not just a new word. I further contend that it has its own methodology, complexity, and professional demands. It will be VERY GOOD for the design field, but is not the same as the design field. It is my fond hope that the better practitioners, design firms, schools (including a rapidly growing number of business schools), and desigers, will help to create the broad new capabilities and professionalism that will actually meet the underlying need for stuff, places, clarity of messages, and distinctive experiences that human beings crave–and enterprises must increasingly learn to deliver.

Is it a new profession, or is it a new collaboration between existing professions? It’s interesting to think way ahead. Industrial design wasn’t always a profession - it was set decorators and others. Then it developed into a speciality. Interface design was an application of psychology (usability testing), software engineering, graphic design. Then it became it’s own thing - now it’s divided into many sub-disciplines or sub-professions.

I believe that the cultural/contextual research part of innovation/design will eventually get folded in as the process matures and becomes more established but clearly there’s precedent for things splintering rather than unifying. Will innovation be part of the schools of business? Or schools of design? Or schools of anthropology?

Or will the discipline be formed without the support of the educational system (and only be fully recognized when the schools start fully recognizing this widely)?

usually they start with things like “innovation labs” set inside comapnies or schools who want to experiment with the issue.

as for the educational system i think there will be schools which would have interest in it just as they did with ID.

but i think you first have to have some potential tools, and in this regard there’re a lot of common tools between design and innovation because those tools that have been developed by designers, engineers, etc for design can also be applicable to innovation.

second you need the individuals who already have a grasp of the situation. those who like to think different yet are not totally blueskied and/or out of focus where realization becomes either unimportant or something low-end.

third technology. infact without this element you’re initially in a tough line for advancement because as designers we know it’s cool to design something new without any high technology but we also know how much easier if it’s available as an option.

fourth environment. not all environments are productive. this brings up the question: what exactly is a productive environment for innovation. and then its quality just like an assembly line where you check for certain return on production. alot of things are learned actually when the design process is over inside the factory. is there a similar space with regard to innovation.

fifth is research and strategy. i don’t know where this fits in design, schools, business, or anthropology but i’m sure in each format/instance you find innovative reseach and strategy based on creative solutions that spring out of the creative minds. this is probably the most active part since it brings together the concept as a piece of work that has structure and planning. the more innovative this creative mind then the better the possibilty of an innovative product. so there’s also innovation within innovation. one is the process the other the end result.

I recently met with Jonathan Cagen at CMU and he suggested renaming my design group the “Innovation Group.”

That’s not entirely fair because we still need to be associated with design and human factors, not just the fuzzy front end. But it’s an interesting sentiment. If business leaders are looking for innovation, and designers can offer innovation, we might need to add a few new words to our vocabulary and think carefully about how we position ourselves.

…i don’t associate innovation with the fuzzy front end only…some of the most innovative problem solving comes about in the convergent phases.

i think cg is talking about research as mentioned here:

This seminar takes a deep look at corporate innovation initiatives—what makes them succeed and fail, and explains how design research can be practically integrated into the product and brand development process. Darrel shows how both design and design research can play a leading role in the “fuzzy front end” of development, where corporate intent is clarified and where both incremental and breakthrough concepts are generated.