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Beach Reading--Design and Innovation.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 9, 2007

I took a few days to hit the beach and think about innovation and design after my RCA speech. One of the best things I read was this analysis by Kevin MuCullagh on Core77’s site. It’s called Riding the Flux: Design is Changing in a Myriad of Ways. Are You? It mirrors my thinking about innovation in general.

A favorite quote: “The era of product design as practiced by a small band of gurus in Milan, London, Munich and New York is long gone. There are now thousands of competent product designers around the world able to ‘give good form.’ Design as ‘styling’ or ‘form-giving’ has become commoditized, and competing at this level is already a tough low-margin slog.”

And here’s the killer stuff: “Hidden Assets
A big mistake designers make when evaluating their career options is to focus too narrowly on their most obvious and tangible craft skills, such as sketching, software skills or styling abilities. Widening their focus to include more indefinable cognitive talents can broaden horizons.

For example, here are four intangible assets that good designers tend to share:

1. Interpretation
Many designers are multi-lingual in different fields, they are fluent in consumer trends, marketing, manufacturing, and technology—designers as corporate polyglots if you will. This familiarity with functions across the organization and the ability to translate and make connections between them is a much-underrated talent.

2. Tangibility
Many firms are plagued by articulate and persuasive ‘smart talkers’ who sound good in meetings, but get bogged down in abstract complexities. Whether it be by capturing a thought in a meeting with a sketch or quickly lashing together a physical or digital mock-up, designers are good at ‘making it real.’

3. Synthesis
Not only do designers specialize in being generalists, they tend to be good at making new connections, pulling together threads from different fields and integrating them into a new whole. These latter day renaissance men and women are in demand by strategy departments, who prize the ability to tackle complex problems through synthesis and expert assumptions.

4. Resolution
Some of the smartest execs get bogged down in the messy process of implementation. Good designers are smart at turning knowledge into action—they solve problems, resolve tensions, draw tangible and practical conclusions, and hit deadlines. Designers live by real world limits. As Charles Eames famously stated, “Design depends largely on constraints.”

It should be noted that these assets come into sharper focus within the context of cross-functional teams.

I like to hire folks with a broad range of interests and who have switched fields at least once. Just as learning a foreign language gives you the confidence and knowledge to learn others, switching fields gives people the assurance and tools to tackle new problems.”

This is what I call Design Thinking. And that’s why I think Design, with a capital D is the core of a new managerial methodology.

Thanks Kevin.

Reader Comments

Georges de Wailly

July 9, 2007 5:14 PM

You have probably forgotten a very important point:
The action to associate things, ideas, concepts which may have absolutely no relationship between themselves. Exemple: What may be the relationship between an egg and an iceberg? The relationship between a flower and a leather jacket?
A good designer will find dozens of relationships.
The worst case scenario is probably the relationship between the designer's ideas and the market needs.

Georgia Peterson

July 11, 2007 3:19 AM

Its funny that you mention how "learning a foreign language gives you the confidence and knowledge to learn others" But what of designing input methods for foreign languages?

Indian languages have been on the short end of the stick in terms of computing because of no easy input methods - keyboards! Bet that doesn't cross people's minds too often.

Well there is a solution now and it is all part of good design. In the end good design will save the day!

Jason Kay

May 5, 2011 7:08 PM

I find it interesting that you like designers who are "multi-lingual". One job dinged me hard for "dabbling outside my area of expertise... being a generalist" (which I am not, not really anyway).
Yet another job I was praised for taking on anything that was needed to get the job done, doing work outside my area of expertise, and asking the critical question that made the program a success.
It's nice to see other people feel more the later than former.

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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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