Is design different from innovation?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on November 21, 2005

Michael Bierut’s provocative blog item has unleashed a very thoughtful storm. Bierut argues that corporations are uncomfortable with the term “design” and prefer to call it “innovation.” I agree with Beirut. But Larry Kelley, founder of Doblin, certainly doesn’t. I predict that in time, Keeley will be known as the father of a new discipline of innovation. He’s done more research into what innovation really is than nearly anyone else. And he’s mad at the idea that anyone can conflate design with innovation.

Thanks to the folks over at CPH127, a terrific design and innovation blog, here are some of Keeley’s comments and more on their site:
“I contend that this (innovation) 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.”

Reader Comments

Shimon Shmueli

November 22, 2005 8:04 PM

Larry Keeley is right on target. I have been quite puzzled by how the field commonly referred to as "design" has increasingly managed to gain ownership of the notion we commonly refer to as "innovation". True innovation, one that achieves sustainable goals, may result from any number of design disciplines such as electronic design, product design, business design, marketing design, etc., preferably working in concert. If you wonder about what marketing design means, it is based on my definition of design: optimization of a related set of attributes under constraints and towards a defined goal. A great synonym for design, although not so sexy anymore, is engineering; but forget about that one, India owns it now. Larry is right that it is time to define a new discipline, one that reflects the complexity of today's product and services, and that combines the various
design fields and attracts people who can think holistically, using both hemispheres of their brains. By the way, if you are looking for one organization that gets it, it is the Product Development & Management Association (PDMA).

Georges de Wailly

December 3, 2005 3:11 PM

It sounds obvious that design is different from innovation. By essence innovation means something new. Digital cameras are new products. They introduce innovations like memory sticks.
If you draw a tribal tattoo on a tee shirt or a cloth. You may design a new product line without any innovation. Is it new? Not sure, a lot of people have got this idea.
If I may suggest one idea: Speak about innovation when there is no direct predecessor.

A levitating gyro stabilized digital camera is an innovation.
While a fashion shirt is a designed product.

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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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