Innovation vs.design--the British Design Council weighs in.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on November 30, 2005

The controversy over whether or not innovation is design or a separate discipline—and should be separate—set off recently by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut has resonance in Britain where the Design Council recently took a stand. If by innovation you mean the design thinking, strategy and planning that IDEO, Jump, Design Continuum, Ziba and StoneYamashita do and Patrick Whitney at the Illinois Institute of Design and David Kelley at Stanford teach, then the British Design Council says it is design. It’s great design that can solve social as well as economic problems.

The Design Observer, where Bierut blogs, pointed out this great piece in the London Observer which says “The new stars of design work on rather nebulous, intangible things such as services and business models. They collaborate, so it’s difficult to see where their authorship begins and ends. And their arrival has caused toxic shock to the design world, resulting in an awful lot of bad feeling.”

The Observer then goes on to say that the British Design Council will undertake a 10 year project to use design thinking and planning to solved social problems in London. John Thackara, program director, will head it up.

The latest evolution of design into a powerful tool for organizational and social change apparently is a very controversial thing in London. They call it “New Design” and old designers don’t like it one bit. There was a big outcry when the Council gaved an award to Hilary Cottam for her work in applying design principles to solving problems in health care and prisons. And Vicky Richardson, editor of Blueprint, has said that what people such as Cottam and Thackara do is strategic planning and should not be confused with design. ‘Calling it that reflects the fact that design is very popular. It suggests to me an aspiration to be a certain kind of creative.’

I’m smiling. Sorry. I know from reading the thread of comments on Bierut’s wonderful opening shot that lots of designers feel they should not be sullied with the tarbrush of “innovation.” Innovation is a term too aligned with big business and corporations. But as a design advocate who fought for years to get designers to get over themselves and their obsession with framing their profession in terms of art, I can’t help but feel haplass in this debate. Just when victory is near, when design is finally being accepted for what it can do, people are denying its power, whining about the nomenclature and clutching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The new designers and their new design thinking began in Britain with the likes of Tim Brown at IDEO when the country’s manufacturing base disappeared. They took the methodology of product design and applied it to services. Now they are moving beyond that to systemizing design methodologies for all kinds of arenas, including social problems. What better way to deal with the health care crisis than to use design? And if some people want to call it innovation, that’s OK by me too.

Check out Thackara’s take on his blog. And look at Core77’s analysis as well.

Reader Comments

csven

November 30, 2005 6:28 PM

"Innovation" - the term - is only useful when it has meaning. As a dual ID/Engineer, I'm far from being one of those having an "obsession with framing their profession in terms of art". My concern is in seeing a useful term become watered down to the point of uselessness through abuse. I'd say it's well on its way to becoming meaningless.

jkh

November 30, 2005 10:35 PM

great post.

...

Steve Portigal

December 1, 2005 1:20 AM

Bruce, there's a new forum on Core77 devoted to "Design and Innovation" (we haven't got the "vs." in the title :) ;) - I'm the moderator and the forum is at http://boards.core77.com/viewforum.php?f=32

Tom Guarriello

December 1, 2005 9:44 AM

I agree, Bruce, that designers may very well end up alienating broader business leaders just as their work is poised to gain unprecedented regard. I wrote about this in a post which, unfortunately failed to trackback to yours. Here's the link.

http://tinyurl.com/create.php

rushikesh

December 24, 2005 9:42 PM

There are various measures of organizational innovativeness. A simple way to find is to look at the product, process, system, service, or an environment the organization developed in one year and ask the following questions:
Are there 5 new products that did not exist in the world before?
Do these 5 products fundamentally change?
• The way company makes business?
• The way company manufactures distribute or market the products?
• The way it is used by the end user?
Have these products created a wave internationally?
Have the products solved the problem that was lasting for over a decade?

Some designers think that a good design (example an ergonomically better mouse) is also an innovation. The exact difference between a better design and innovation can be explained if you look at the following briefs to given to designers
Design a better mouse (Would definitely be a mouse)
Design a hand held input device (Can be any input device)
Design a way to give input (may be device, may be process)
Design a input system to do the task (May be one or many device)
Design a environment to do the task (May be one or many device or none)

Not many organizations give their designers the last two briefs which have high probabilities of getting close to an incremental innovation.

A radical/disruptive innovation is still much ahead of these briefs, these may cater to unsolved problems in areas where there is no existing product. In those cases the briefs are made from extensive trend analysis, market research, and socio-psychological and ethnographic studies. There are many different ways that organization can adopt or deal with this fussy front end and develop a strategy for Innovation.

rushikesh kulkarni

December 25, 2005 8:16 PM

There are various measures of organizational innovativeness. A simple way to find is to look at the product, process, system, service, or an environment the organization developed in one year and ask the following questions:
Are there 5 new products that did not exist in the world before?
Do these 5 products fundamentally change?
• The way company makes business?
• The way company manufactures distribute or market the products?
• The way it is used by the end user?
Have these products created a wave internationally?
Have the products solved the problem that was lasting for over a decade?

Some designers think that a good design (example an ergonomically better mouse) is also an innovation. The exact difference between a better design and innovation can be explained if you look at the following briefs to given to designers
Design a better mouse (Would definitely be a mouse)
Design a hand held input device (Can be any input device)
Design a way to give input (may be device, may be process)
Design a input system to do the task (May be one or many device)
Design a environment to do the task (May be one or many device or none)

Not many organizations give their designers the last two briefs which have high probabilities of getting close to an incremental innovation.
A radical/disruptive innovation is still much ahead of these briefs, these may cater to unsolved problems in areas where there is no existing product. In those cases the briefs are made from extensive trend analysis, market research, and socio-psychological and ethnographic studies. There are many different ways that organization can adopt or deal with this fussy front-end and develop a strategy for Innovation.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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