What has IDSA done lately - Part 2 Case Studies

Recently Ravi Sawhney, FIDSA worked with a group to redevelop the IDSA Catalyst Awards. For those who do not know this award is based on building a case study of how a design project made major positive changes in business. It has been around for a long time and used to just be another page in the IDEA Awards printed materials.

Some of the big changes that have occurred are:

  1. It is now a quarterly award instead of annual.
  2. It is open to everyone.
  3. There is no fee…Yes you read it here - No Fee to enter.
  4. The review committee is comprised of professionals from across business, design, and academic disciplines.
  5. Case studies will be published and sold online by IDSA and also recorded as podcasts. Eventually, compilations of case studies will be printed and sold hardbound. Select case studies will be presented at an annual conference.

Check it out at http://www.idsacatalyst.org

Very interesting. In the past it was only open to IDEA winners correct?

This is huge!

I thought “Catalyst” with the old function of being an image showcase that anyone can submit to (which is also a great feature–kind of like a projects blog.) Or is that something else?

It’s just a name, probably to maintain some continuity… come up with a new one… worth a try.


Yo - Yes it used to only be for previous gold IDEA award winners.

CG - I think you are thinking of something else.

By the way, Ravi volunteers his time to do this.

so it’s free to enter, but IDSA sells the results? any benefit aside from exposure to someone who takes the time to compile such a case study? some profit sharing I think would make sense and be an encouragement to enter…

EDIT- just also noticed “All materials submitted to this competition will become the property of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and will be considered in the public domain.” talk about getting something for nothing! I would think a professional org like IDSA would be more considerate of IP.


Hi Richard, hope you had a good trip to China. Let me see if I can try to address both of your valid points:

I think the whole notion of “selling the results” kinda undermines the intent here. Somehow there’s a perception that IDSA is some sort of for-profit business where there’s somebody “getting rich” from the hard work of our volunteers. But the reality is that running a professional organization does require a good deal of money. Money to pay the staff in Northern Virginia, money to pay for the office space, money to finance the design competition and events through the year, etc. All of that takes money.

So, when you say, “share the profits”, I’m all for that, as long as we determine what the true cost of these programs are to IDSA and the fair and equitable exchange in value on behalf of the author. I don’t think anyone want to be made to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, or that somebody’s “making money off them”. But the fact is that we as a design organization are immensely dependent on the efforts of our volunteers and contributors of content. Yours and my posts here on Core77 is, in a sense, work for free while the owners of Core (like Stu) are making a living off those efforts. They’re making money off us.

Now, personally speaking, I contribute to Core because I find it interesting and feel like I’m giving something back to the design community, much like I do with IDSA. I’m not planning to send Stu a bill anytime soon.

However, I am not so naive to think that someone who spends hours, days, weeks and/or months writing case studies or other types of reports (like the one CG did to show the value of design) doesn’t somehow expect to be compensated. The question is: Compensated how? I know that there’s a lot of folks out there who create tons of content to little more than some credit on a website. Some are trying to develop a reputation or credibility within a certain discipline. Or, (perish the thought) they might just want to contribute to the greater good.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they sign away their rights to the content they created. Which brings up the second point you made regarding IP. I have been asked to work with Cooper Woodring to help develop a better framework of policies regarding copyrights and ownership of all the content that are volunteers and contributors create. Somehow we need to strike a balance between outright paying our volunteers (they wouldn’t be volunteers then, would they?) for content and outright taking what they created without any consideration at all. One ways too expensive, the other just pissed people off because they feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

But I would like to return briefly to the first point, which is to say that IDSA really should be viewed as a business in as far as it’s generating money hand over fist (trust me, nothing could be further from the truth). I’d rather folks want to help IDSA, and in return, we will help you. What form that “help” takes is what’s up for discussion.

So we doing the IP ownership issue research and are open to your thoughts on the matter? What’s fair and equitable? What’s reasonable?



Hi Warren,

Thanks for your very considerate and thoughtful post. I can certainly see both sides of the coin. I for one, contribute to core forums not for profit, but because of the value I get in return from the dialog. I also run (though not so frequently updated) my own blog (www.firstpullover.com for reference) a site which I hope to spread education and ideas an get nothing in return aside from perhaps a small bit of notoriety and the satisfaction of sharing knowledge. The difference is though, that in the IDSA catalyst model, someone else is profiting and and I would get nothing in return aside from, as mentioned, some exposure. A website which one produces content and nobody profits is wholly different than a case where someone contributes and everyone except you profits, even if the profit is not so much. It’s more a case of principles.

I do understand IDSA business model (or lack therof) and realize that nobody could expect to get rich or make a quick buck off submitting case studies or any other participation. At the very least however, what perhaps could be equitable is that anyone who submits a case study could download any others (or some set amount, but there doesn’t seem to be that many anyhow) for free. Or get a discount on membership. Heck, even small compensation and IP rights I think would go a long way.

One idea could perhaps be to grant a case study contributor with a limited time membership. Say 6 months. That way, you also get to have a tease of what IDSA could offer and have the opportunity (if IDSA is a good as it is purported to be) to hook someone for longer. The costs are probably nominal as from what I understand IDSA membership doesn’t really give much out aside from perhaps as discount on some conferences or a mag here and there. Sort of a free limited trial in exchange for contribution. Not sure if this would be enough to encourage more participation, but I think you need to look at it this way-

Someone can spend the time and $ to make a good case study and give it to IDSA for 0$. Or, with todays webpublishing, they can go to lulu.com, create it themselves and make x$ for each one they sell. They might even sell more than IDSA if well marketed and posted here on core. Why would anyone give away that value for free, not to even retain IP rights?

The thinking that a big org like IDSA is the only one who can sell/distribute content like this to me seem to be very out of date with all the new media tool and self-publishing things on offer. As an example, a book like Yo’s would in the past only be able to be published by a traditional publisher or someone like IDSA. Now, he can publish it himself and reap the rewards alone. (note- see my other comment in some other thread about how IDSA could even get a piece of this kind of action via sponsorship or IDSA stamped approval publishing).



I don’t know what would stop anyone from self/publishing and distributing their own case study, as you suggest as a way around the IDSA Catalyst program. The “value added” that IDSA Catalyst gives that would be difficult to replicate is the peer review and “authenticity” that is provided by: Ravi Sawhney, CEO, RKS; Arvind Bhambri, Ph.D, USC; Robert Blaich, FIDSA, Former Design Director and Board Member, Philips; Tim Brown, IDSA, CEO, IDEO; Sam Farber, H/IDSA, Founder, OXO; Chuck Jones, FIDSA, VP, Whirlpool; Lorraine Justice, Ph.D Hong Kong Polytech; Steve Kaneko, FIDSA, Design Director, Microsoft; Guy Kawasaki; Sam Lucente, Design Director, HP; Tom Matano, IDSA, Exec Designer and Gen Mgr, Mazda Design; Imre Molnar, Dean, CCS; Ken Musgrave, IDSA, Design Director, Dell; Elie Ofak, Ph.D, Harvard B School; Bob Schwartz, FIDSA, Gen Mgr, Global Design, GE Healthcare; Linda Tischler, Fast Company; Lorrie Vogel, Gen Mgr, Considered Design, Nike; Helen Walters, Editor, Innovation and Design, BusinessWeek;
Patrick Whitney, Dean, Illinois Institute of Technology.

I don’t know if you consider that value added but if I were buying a case study I would give it a lot of credence.

George McCain, FIDSA
Affiliate Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Design Division, School of Art
University of Washington
President-Elect, IDSA


I think you are missing my point. I’m not saying that everyone should go around the program and self publish, and I certainly see the peer review value and you’ve got quite a list. What I’m saying is that again, you’ve got perception working against the IDSA as it seems that IDSA is the one making the money and owning the IP from the catalyst case studies, and it is a very closed program.

Again, instead of just justifying the current model, why not look at new opportunities? If IDSA is truly not making tons of cash from these case studies (which I believe), why not offer some profit sharing? Why not co-sponsor self publishing with a IDSA stamp of approval? Why not become an aggregator for even more content and distribution? An iTunes like shop for all things design? As it is I see very little incentive for anyone to submit anything and very little for anyone to even purchase a case study.

“We are the professional organization, you give us things, we charge someone else for it” is an old model. Why not explore the possibilities of new ideas?


Richard: I think the price is arbitrary. I think it’s only there to make sure the people looking at the package are really interested and not just lurkers, kinda like magazines. A magazine is paid for by advertising, but they charge a small rate for subscriptions just to validate the subscriber as truly interested in receiving the ads.

At first, I had the same reaction to Catalyst: “What…I need to pay???” When I read about how much time and money cg put into his presentation, I can see what value Catalyst is.

Well, from the looks of it, I don’t think the price is arbitrary. I can’t see how anyone would be interested. You can’t even see a preview or know anything about the case study (how many pages, what’s included, etc.) before you buy, so why would you risk any $. If it was free, at least you could try it out with no risk.


I agree with you there…I wish we could see 1 sample to know what we are buying. Warren: any thoughts?

I’ll check to see… Thanks for the suggestion.


12 issues of Harvard Business Review is $80/year.

The latest Apple case study by Harvard Business Review is $6.95, if I don’t have a subscription.

Why would I buy a case study from IDSA?

because Harvard business review is a bit general. For example, if you’re in the medical and analytical instrumentation market you buy similar publications from SRI for $1800± per year, and they have lots of subscribers drinking in the market segment $ data.

I generally agree with Richard in principal, but disagree with some specifics.

Today, if you generate information, the only way to sustainably raise interest and revenue is give it away and advertise you’re giving it away and get others to trumpet and defend that you’re giving it away.

The model of holding information private, for ransom, to investigate, is the old model held onto by dusty old grey hairs. The world at large will just pass you by, forget you, as they look into and reference the free stuff.

Now then, there is the case to sell information in specific examples. The fact is large corporations buy information including common sense. Take any Big Inc.: 3M, Apple, IBM, GE, Siemens, Hyundai, they are not going to go after free technical and market information, exceptions for contributory industry specific consortia, when they have billions dependant on decisions based on it. These Big Inc. will buy studies, publications and the private consultants who come in and explain, adapt and implement. The auctioneers hyperbole applies “The more you spend the more you like it”.

I would see a perfectly acceptable application of IDSA and similar developing specific business case studies, making them available at nominal cost to members and friends, and premium selling to Big Inc., perhaps with some addendum such as private accounting numbers. However today even this is anachronistic business model.

As said, new ideas require new techniques.


How exactly do you know that? HBR has an absolutely rock-solid reputation, what does Catalyst have?

HBR has over 200 hits on Apple alone, Search apple/ 81 of them are case studies, Search apple the latest called “Design Thinking and Innovation at Apple”, Design Thinking and Innovation at Apple .

Catalyst has 4 case studies only. One on Apple is called, “Apple iPod-iTunes-iPhone” http://idsacatalyst.org/store/index.php/apple-ipod-itunes-case-study.htmlSID=10c066f65b3bd4d90adfba22227e974f

Have you read both articles? I read the HBR case and although there was nothing earth-shattering in it, it did provide many interesting nuggets. If you have read both, why is the Catalyst case better than the HBR case? Why would the single case from Catalyst provide more insight than the over 200 by HBR?

Also, you shouldn’t limit yourself to design case studies alone. You would be surprised what you can learn from other industries.

And what SRI medical publications are you referring to? I am familiar with the IMS market share data but a set of those books will run you $100K. $1,800 would be a bargin.

Hey guys, I’ve got an update from Ravi. He’s traveling and hasn’t been able to respond directly (where’s the Core77 app when you need it?)…

He said to stay posted as he develops a way to get samples of the Catalysts out. He thought a lot of the ideas posted seemed reasonable and he’ll be discussing these and any others with IDSA shortly.

So stay tuned…


Talk about public relations. Warren, you deserve a raise! hehe

Thanks, I’m trying. We all are.