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The Backlash Against Innovation--Fad And Function.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 16, 2007

I just spent two days with CEOs and designers from Sweden and Finland and they were all amused, if not astonished, at the notion of a backlash against design and innovation in the US. The overwhleming consensus of the group was that most corporations are so far from implementing any serious program of design thinking/innovation that moving away from it at this point in time doesn’t make a lot of sense. They seemed able to distinguish between fad and function and don’t take a backlash seriously. Now don’t forget this is from people who live in a culture of design—say Scandanavian design and you think simplicity, modern and ergonomics. The idea of a backlash against design strikes them as absurd.
Check out the new blog by Dominic Basulto, Endless Innovation, who comments up on the theme. Dominic used to run the Fortune innovation blog and did a great job. Endless Innovation may prove to be a great source as he builds it out.

Jeffrey Philips points out on Innovate On Purpose that it’s a good thing for a trend to become a fad because at that time, the real work begins. That was true for the quality movement. It will be true for innovation.

If you look at the type curve, one of my favorite visualization tools, design and innovation appear to be over the peak of inflated expectations and heading toward the trough of disillusionment. The next step is back up the slope of enlightenment toward the plateau of productivity. Niti Bhan hit on this hype cycle idea on her blog Jugaad.

Fun, huh. Check out the next Inside Innovation when it comes out in two weeks. We do the hype curve thing for social networking. Guess what, it’s peaked out too as a fad. Doesn’t mean social networking is not going to be huge. It will be huge.

Is Business Week responsible for the hype about design and innovation—and the backlash. A couple of comments on Reena Jana’s great piece on the backlash throw that at me. My response—naw. Well, maybe putting Hartmut Esslinger of frog on a motorcycle on the cover in 1991 was a little over the top. But reporting out the winners of the Industrial Designer Excellence Award every year doesn’t constitute hype. The cover on IDEO—The Power of Design—was well-deserved and way after it had placed first on the list of top-winning design consultances in those IDEA awards for over a decade (and after it did that shopping cart program on ABC). Building More Creative Companies wasn’t frothy either. And the IN cover on Jonathon Ive was solid.

So move over form over function. We now have fad over function—and that’s frothy.

Reader Comments

Carl Turner

February 18, 2008 1:59 AM

Every promising new business process goes through a period of hype before the reality sets in. Significant process change requires more effort than most managers realize, hence the disillusionment when the new process doesn't give them a silver bullet for every problem the company faces.

I don't think the expectations over design and innovation have peaked yet; the best is yet to come. I blogged the connection I see between design and the Gartner hype cycle at

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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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