"The Return of Innovation"

“return”? how about “Not Ignoring the Innovators”. i read this stuff and cant help but recall the times good ideas got ignored. shelved. filed away. pushed aside. bc it wasnt specifically what a buyer requested. or didnt fit neatly in a corporate template. and now they’re going to teach it? show people how to research and manage it? or whatever.

why does this sound like hype? the next fad? i’ve got old ID magazines and BusinessWeek’s lying around w eerily similar proclamations.

ID has been the ugly stepchild since its inception. In marketing ID the leaders (IDSA, major firms, etc.) have been desperate in trying to change the perception ID from a nice to have to a got to have. This article makes it seem that what I have been doing for the last 10 years is new and will change business as we know it. Personally, I hope this one finally sticks. I am tired of being pigeon-holed as someone who makes something pretty. I have been doing product strategy (and not design as strategy, that is only one of many strategic approaches) successfully with limited clients and would like to expand. IMO this is what ID is about, not sketching or CAD or any other tactical monkey work. It is something that should be promoted more and taught in the classroom. This site and IDSA’s site rarely have any article or info or discussion on a board on product strategy. It certainly needs to be pushed harder. And if I can be completely cynical, if it does gain acceptance, marketing will take it over and umbrella it with the product managers.

It is a little painful to respond to this for many conflicting and complex reasons.

Bruce Nussbaum has been writing about - nay, promoting the value of - design for Business Week for over ten years. He is one of the few voices in that oft-cursed (here at least) world of “bid-ness” who gets what design is about and sees the value of it and consistently does things to promote it. After all, he is one of the people behind there being an IDEA award in the first place and having the winners published each year in Business Week -where those who need to hear this message the most, get it- not ID, Metropolis or some arcane trade rag.

As for the “new” tag or the “return” of design, it is kind of like the phenomena of seeing one’s favorite cult band become a raging commercial success and then taking pot shots at it because one hates its new audience. I will thus always respect and perhaps even defend Bruce Nussbaum, though even he has to probably put up with lame editors who paste dumb headlines over his pieces.

On the other hand, I personally can do without the wronged-worker mentality that permeates the design profession. Good ideas do not simply succeed on merit and in a vacuum. They are packaged, sold and distributed into the world. Yes design has been an ugly step-child, but only because certain people in it regard it as such.

I apologize if my original post came off as negitive, it was not my intention. In my view, the problem with ID is that it has never communicated its value well in the overall product development/commercialization process. I think only recently we are starting to show how design objectivily adds value and can lead business stategically instead of being used to make a pretty picture. I think the above article is a step in communicating our true worth.

It was only a couple of years ago when the focus of the IDSA conference was about how to define cool. My experience has shown me to stay far away from selling something as subjective as cool and stick with making design as objective to an organization’s business strategy as possible.

I don’t mind negative. Negative can be positive. I like the fact that someone else worries about this stuff.

I would assert the heretic idea that design never communicated value over the course of those years because it did not really have any. Companies got along perfectly well and made handsome profits in the 80’s and 90’s through creative financing, mergers and acquisitions, the internet boom, technological innovation etc. There was plenty of crap design out there and the public seemed to neither hear nor care as designers sulked in the corner, muttering half-hearted and patently false statements like, “Good design is good business.” As time has now revealed, this was merely (and still is in some quarters) an excuse for artistes to do formalistic wanking.

It is only now that things are beginning to get desperate. Economies are stagnating. Companies are moving more and more resources into Asia. Where is the next source of growth going to come from? Ah. Yeah. the consumer. Maybe there are other ways of understanding consumers and their needs. Maybe newer tools and techniques are better suited to do this than those of traditional marketng. Maybe one often overlooked area of the design field does indeed have something to offer after all - that part that looks at the user.

Maybe even this is the bargaining chip that design can use to actually DEFINE business strategy rather than to simply follow it.

This isn’t just about exec’s and masters progs, it’s hitting undergrad design education as well. Check out:


I personally think we’re at the beginning of the next era in design.

“return”? how about “Not Ignoring the Innovators”.[/quote]

I think if you’re getting ingored, then you’re probably not being truly innovative, you’re forgetting or ignoring the business aspects of your concept, which is just as important as everything else.

I really can only speak to my experience but I don’t think a “desperate need” is what is driving companies to design, I think it is more a desperate ignorance. As soon as I start talking about the relationship between the company, customer and competition and using voice of the customer research to drive the the product strategy which in turn drives the design, is when they say, “You do all those things, that makes sense.” Lets face it, this is not rocket science but when you show them the methodology, how it inter-relates and how it makes sense for a single source to undertake the task, they have that look on their face of; why didn’t we think of that before? I tend to put the blame of poor communication on poor marketing, not the ability to ignore their customer.

As for defining business strategy, maybe its semantics but I would have we have the ability to drive product strategy, which I would put as a subset of business strategy (a business strategy might be deciding to spin-off your mature market products to focus on high-growth products or we have developed a new technology, in what market should we offer it).

BusinessWeek, Apr 11, 1988 - cover “Smart Design: Quality is the New Style”

After relegating design to the backseat in the 1970’s, US manufacturers are once again discovering that it is key to industrial competitiveness. Design, they are relearning, is more than skin-deep. It’s at the very heart of a product.

BusinessWeek, June 7, 1993 - cover “Hot Products: How Good Design Pays Off”

Leveraging the power of design is one of the hottest strategic games being played today. … In fact, design could emerge as the discipline that brings together the myriad parts of the modern corporation.

not bashing Nussbaum. he “gets it”. and has since at least that first(?) article in '88 afaic. but i AM saying that greater corporate America wasn’t listening then. may not really be listening now. headline is “Return” as if innovation went away. it didnt. it was imo ignored while numbers types took over decision making.

but my real issue is w this -

The Institute of Design recently introduced a > nine-month > Master of Design Methods (MDM) degree for management, engineering, and other professionals who want to be innovation leaders.

i went from engineering/management back to ID undergrad. i had aptitude and desire. enough to radically downgrade my lifestyle to return. took me 4 years to finally understand - to remove “innovation” blinders put on during engineering undergrad. and somehow people w less aptitude and motivation are going to really understand in 9 months? i’m skeptical and worry it sends a bad message.

why not just promote IDers into management? why not assume they can take 9 months to figure out how to run that business? i suspect there’s bias - “artists” aren’t suppose to understand business perhaps.

for Guest, here’s one i did right out of school that almost got ignored too (by a design firm VP trying to adhere to client’s rigid corporate guideline) - Folding Hosereel . inside the client company this would have been shelved i bet (lots of companies pay more attention when they are paying from a budget).

“ignore” business aspects? i left that firm and went to a big company. i call being forced to design “fantasy” product with 5x’s more parts and more complexity than predecessor - for less cost - ignoring business reality. wasted 6 months on that joke. even though i brought cost issues up day one. it died after Engineering. too costly! and it wasnt the only “fantasy” project. meanwhile there are some simple, cost-effective and worthwhile ideas filed away. not just mine. others too. some discovered cleaning out old files. decades old. probly never see the light of day.

would a company send me to 9 months crash business school? maybe. probly. but only bc of my aero undergrad, not if i was only ID imo. and not really my issue. but it is an ID profession issue imo.