I gave a speech at Innovation Night at the Royal College of Art in London on Tuesday and here it is. It’s my latest thinking on innovation and design. There are a number of bottom lines in it but perhaps the most important is that I now believe that CEOs and managers must know Design Thinking to do their jobs. CEOs must be designers and use their methodologies to actually run companies. Let me be even more precise. Design Thinking is the new Management Methodology. There are a growing number of insightful folks with great blogs who are saying the same thing and I’ll be linking to them and having a deep conversation with them in the future.
But for now, here’s my RCA speech. Let me know what you think.
“Thank you Jeremy (Myerson). It’s great being here. London is like New York on steroids. It’s so exciting! London is clearly the global city of the moment. It is the center of things.
Tonight, I bring you news from America on the state of design. In preparation, I talked to the most thoughtful and important American designers and design educators I could contact. On Friday, I chatted up Tim Brown who runs IDEO, the biggest design and innovation consultancy in the US. Oops. Tim is a Brit—and a graduate of the RCA. I tried Jonnie Ive at Apple. He was busy polishing up the iPhone. But, as you well know, he too is a Brit. I called the founder of ZIBA design in Portland, Oregon. Sohrab Vossoughi. Sohrab was born in Iran. I just had dinner with Paul Thompson, the director of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Yep, he’s British. I emailed Patrick Whiney at the Illinois Institute of Design and—darn—he’s Canadian. I spoke with Yves Behar at Fuse Projects in San Francisco. And he’s, well, Swiss-Turkish.
You get my point. I’m not sure there is a specific “American” design point of view today but there sure is a global perspective coming out of America thanks to its global designers and design thinkers. That’s a good thing. Design has many enemies and parochialism is perhaps the worst. In an era when all of us, journalists, business people, and designers are making the transition from being leaders of thought to curators of conversations, I believe the field of design is best served by viewing it in the broadest of terms. Industrial design was born by cross-pollinating graphics, fashion and even window display with the demands of product marketing. Post-industrial design is evolving out of the interplay of new and exciting global and technological forces as well. More of that later.
Let’s get up to 30,000 feet for a bit to see what big forces at play around the world are shaping design. Let me begin by saying that we don’t know !#@*! I’m sorry but it is true. There are moments in history when the pace of change is so fast and the shape of the future so fuzzy that we live in a constant state of beta.
I mean, let’s face it, our business models are melting down around us, our personal careers are morphing—or disappearing-- and there is less certainty about tomorrow than at any other time in our lives. Every industry, every company and every one of us is swept up in this veritable flood of change. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I used to be The Voice of Authority at Business Week, the editorial page editor. Now I’m the curator-in-chief, coaching a brilliant team of people in creating a new online innovation site called Innovation & Design and a new magazine called Inside Innovation. That’s very far from writing editorials.
Before we continue, let me take a moment to talk about the banana. In the US, CEOs and top managers hate the word “design.” Just believe me. No matter what they tell you, they believe that “design” only has something to do with curtains, wallpaper and maybe their suits. These guys, and they’re still mostly guys, prefer the term “innovation” because it has a masculine, military, engineering, tone to it. Think Six Sigma and you want to salute, right? I’ve tried and tried to explain that design goes way beyond aesthetics. It can have process, metrics all the good hard stuff managers love. But no, I can’t budge this bunch. So I have given up. Innovation, design, technology—I just call it all a banana. Peel that banana back and you find great design. Yummy design. . The kind of design that can change business culture and all of our civil society as well.
OK. Back to the theme of nothing is the same anymore. Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation. That’s what Web 2.0 is all about.
Innovation, design, and technology are all flowing into one another to form a single river of roaring change radically altering our culture, and especially business culture. The sudden advent of social media—blogs, MySpace, Second Life, Facebook, mommies with twins and millions of other digital communities is the strongest manifestation of this change in culture. And behind this convergence of innovation, design and technology are even greater global forces at work. The commoditization of knowledge and tools around the world is leading to a Do It Yourself culture. The democratization of design and innovation is allowing both the wisdom and folly of crowds to directly shape products, services and brands. And the rise of Web 2.0 tools is leading to an explosion of new social networks that allow consumers—people—to be actively engaged in the conversations that shape their lives. The 22-year old founder of Facebook, recently said that “the other guys think the purpose of communication is to get information. We think the purpose of information is to get communication.”
Which is great for design. Designers are the sherpas of culture, the guides to community, the empathizers of the odd and foreign. Globalization and the spread of the market into each and every traditional village at the bottom of the pyramid opens up ancient communities that we now need to understand. Social networking creates entirely new communities, each with a distinctive new culture, that we need to understand as well. The empathetic tools of design can bring business people, educators, urban planners, hospital managers, transportation developers—everyone-- into these communities to understand their values and rules, their needs and wants.
That’s Design As Margaret Mead, Design As Anthropology. Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design. If you are in the co-creation business today—and you’d better be in this age of social networking—then you have to think of design. Indeed, your brand is increasingly shaped and defined by network communities, not your ad agency. Brand manager? Forget about it. Brand curator maybe.
Then there is Design as Peter Drucker or Design as Management Methodology. Design is popular today also because Design Thinking—the methodology of design taken out of the small industrial design context and applied to business and social process—is spreading fast. Hate me if you will, but I am a believer in Design Thinking. In the world of business, there is no value proposition left for most companies in controlling costs or even quality. All that outsourcing has leveled this playing field. Cost and quality are commoditized today, merely the price of entry to the competitive game. Design and design thinking—or innovation if you like--are the fresh, new variables that can bring advantage and fat profit margins to global corporations. In today’s global marketplace, being able to understand the consumer, prototype possible new products, services and experiences, quickly filter the good, the bad and the ugly and deliver them to people who want them—well, that is an attractive management methodology. Beats the heck out of squeezing yet one more penny out of your Chinese supply-chain, doesn’t it?
Let me emphasize this. I think managers have to BECOME designers, not just hire them. I think CEOs have to embrace design thinking, not just hire someone who gets it. I think many business schools have to merge with design schools, not just play poke and tickle with them.
What are the biggest social trends that will have an impact on design in the future? I’ll give you the obvious first—sustainability. Sustainability will be a prime driver of economic growth in the years ahead. Green will move from the realm of corporate responsibility to the space of revenue expansion and profit generation. I see it sprouting everywhere in the US. I’m assuming that Europe is way ahead in this.
By sustainability, I mean something more fundamental than just saving energy. I mean the reinvention of the chemistry of industry. I mean Bill McDonough will finally be proved right—that cradle-to-cradle capitalism is the next stage in the evolution of our economic system. Forests grow and fast. They just don’t pollute. Increasingly I see companies changing the chemistry of their manufacturing processes to build things that do not pollute. I see business people and designers beginning to mine the vast “new” resources of waste to create new things. Your own Richard Liddle, who is currently one of the Cutting Edge Designers on our Innovation & Design site, is a leader in this. So is John Thackara, organizer of DoTT 07, Design of the Times, 07, a fantastic event that has no equal anywhere.
One thought on this. Food is going very local in the US. People are eating locally grown food because it tastes better and you save on energy. Waste mining and cradle-to-cradle chemistry can create a more local manufacturing system as well. And perhaps bring back industry to Britain and the US. If you’re out there Thackara, go talk to Al Gore about this and help him put some substance on the frame of his vague global warming message. Bulk it up as much as he has ….well, you know what I mean.
The second great trend that will soon have an impact on design is social networking. Social media is upending relationships between customers and corporations, brand owners and brand creators, consumers and producers, centralized authority and anarchistic periphery and—pay attention here—designers and their audiences. People want to design their own experiences, or at least have a big voice in it. With Web 2.0 technology and blogs, they get that voice. People are increasingly designing their own shoes and clothes, their own screen pages, their own interfaces, their own homes. And when they’re not, they want designers and managers to really understand what they have to say. Nike is changing the way it designs and manufactures because of social networking. So are dozens of other companies. Yes, we will always have our brilliant geniuses who intuit their audiences and create wonderful experiences for them. Ive and Jobs at Apple. Bang & Olufsen and its incredible designers and designs. But even Apple is getting hit very hard on the sustainability issue because it isn’t listening to its social networks. Brands have ideologies. They stand for things. People believe in those things. When the culture of Apples’ customers changes, as it is happening today, it has to move with it. You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore. You have to join with those you’re observing to be in their culture and create with them.
So is design education preparing designers for the future? Are they learning to be truly empathic and understanding? I don’t know. When did students last journey to a village in southern India, a Navajo reservation in southwestern New Mexico or a fading industrial town here in Britain?
How much do they know about materials? How much chemistry have they studied? Are students really familiar with cradle-to-cradle or do they just read about it in Business Week and the Economist? Do they understand social networking? Do they participate in it? When was the last time their avatars bought something with Linden dollars in Second Life? Do they have a Facebook page? Do they have a blog and do they it link to Thackara’s Doors of Perception and my NussbaumOnDesign?
Of course, when it comes to design education, the very old and very boring question is whether or not designers and their teachers have ended their distaste for commerce and business culture. I have nothing to say about this except that this debate about art and commerce is so last century. If you are even discussing the issue, you are way behind. If you haven’t fully integrated your design, engineering, business and marketing students and faculty into teams on a regular and systemic basis, you are behind. I know the RCA is on the cutting edge here thanks to Jeremy and others with the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Innovation RCA and the new Design-London centre at RCA Imperial. A design MBA, now that’s hot.
But I ask—is it enough? Does it scale so it matters? Because scale is critical now. There is an enormous demand for designers and design thinkers today. This is the moment to prove to decision-makers in business and civil society that design is game-changing. Yet there are relatively very few talented and trained designers in the marketplace today. Schools in the US are scrambling to reform their curriculum and their teaching methods to turn out these students—but you can count the best schools on one hand. Indeed, there is a nice little war going on in the US between those design educators that want to stress strategy and those which focus on form. It’s a silly argument to me. Design should not give up its special ability to visualize ideas and give form to options. Design should extend its brief to embrace a more abstract and formalized expression of how it translates empathy to creativity and then to form and experience. Be broad, not narrow. Global, not parochial. Do not deny the powerful problem-solving abilities of design to the cultures of business and society. China graduates some 40,000 designers each year. A growing number of them are very good and they are finding jobs in the US. They are getting the form-making part down and are learning the design thinking stuff. Demand for designers will be met, if not by you, then them. Designers and design schools are in a global game, not a national one. Global scale is important.
There are two great barriers to innovation and design in the world today. Ignorant CEOs and ignorant designers. Both groups are well-intentioned and well-dressed—in their own ways—but both can be pretty dangerous characters. The RCA is clearly in the forefront of battling this ignorance.
I’ll end now and open it up to a broad discussion with all of you.
Oh, by the way, did I tell you we just hired Helen Walters to run our Innovation & Design online site? She writes for Creative Review. Yes, of course, she’s British."
What do you think?
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.