Why is The New York Times So Dumb About Design And Innovation?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on September 30, 2007

There is a sad, apologetic story about process innovation in The New York Times today that makes me want to cry about how one of the great Mainstream Media companies just cannot cover design and innovation. It’s under “Technology,” with the cute “Ping” word online to signify it, but the piece, “The Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward” constantly apologizes to the audience for being there.

It’s not that the article is bad—it’s a nice discussion about how back-end process innovation is often key to the success of products. The problem is the rarity of this kind of piece in the NYT. Design in the Times is still mostly about style, aesthetics and fashion. Glitzy, cool stuff with skinny models and empty, but beautiful homes. Coverage of design in the Times is a throwback to, what, the 50’s? The entire evolution of design out of simple form to process, methods, strategy and more just isn’t in the newspaper. Even the business side of fashion, which is huge, is barely covered. Ditto for architecture. The best business story of 15 Central Park West, the new Robert Stern-designed building in Manhattan that every mogul wants to get into, was best done by The New Yorker.

Part of the problem is that the business section of the Times doesn’t get innovation. Doesn’t understand the true and changing nature of innovation (beyond the speed and performance of technology). The Zachary piece in the Sunday Business section is a rare exception.

But mostly, the problem is with the editors at the Times who don’t understand the discipline of design and what kind of power it has. For example, if we really could design a better health care system from the patient up, how could we do it? If we could design a better voting system, how could we do it?

These are big questions that design can answer. But the Times has to ask them.

Reader Comments

Jonathan Baldwin

October 1, 2007 6:34 AM

I think the 'blame' lies squarely with the design industry and educators (of which I'm one). This is an argument I'm having with a lot of people at the moment as we try to develop the way we teach design from simply being about the craft, the art direction etc, to focus more on the process.

I've responded more fully on my blog in the link...

Karen Hegmann

October 1, 2007 5:09 PM

It's surprising that the Times doesn't have a better understanding of the business of design. Before any concept was even written down on paper, that idea had to exist in someone's imagination.
It's possible to design a business or system, just as it is to envision a product. Perhaps the problem lies in the as of yet unsealed gap between the way businesspeople and "creatives" think. In the businessworld, creativity still seems to take second place to tried and true processes and procedures.
I too wrote about this in my post at http://karenhegmann.typepad.com/tellingthestory/2007/09/business-and-de.html.

Bill Ross

October 2, 2007 6:55 AM

(Hey, Bruce,
(If I could have found an e-mail link, I would have written this to you directly, but --)

In the last paragraph of your post, it looks like a change was left incomplete:
>> These are big questions that design can answer. But the Times has to asked them.

...I'm guessing you were in the middle of changing that to "has to ask them."

(Please feel free to delete this message once you've fixed it; I'd rather have been able to send it quietly, since I make little slip-ups like this like the Times prints editions -- daily.)

It's always something,
Bill Ross
Manager/contributing author,
http://www.ideachampions.com/heartofinnovation/

David Nordfors

October 2, 2007 7:20 PM

Thanks Bruce,

First - I like Gregg Zachary's piece in the NYT.

Second, I agree fully with your point about the main stream media.

The problem is that the traditional newsrooms are conventional vertical production organisations. They produce news stories as commodity along various established product lines, the traditional newsbeats: science, tech, business, politics, culture. The process of innovation crosses these lines. Innovation is not about tech OR business OR politics OR culture. It is very much about how they co-develop, drive each other and depend on each other. Stories that cover the process of innovation are usually either chopped up to fit into the traditional newsbeats, missing the bigger picture, or fall between the editorial chairs.

You have solved this issue by introducing an innovation section in BW.

It is constructive to talk about innovation journalism as a horizontal beat, or at least a mindset in journalism, and make a distinction between it and tech journalism, in order to liberate reporting on innovation from the restrictions of the traditional newsbeats.

This is the rationale behind the Innovation Journalism Program at Stanford: http://www.innovationjournalism.org

laurent

October 3, 2007 4:51 PM

Although i tend to agree, The times' coverage of design at large is glamour and sleek, for an audience that gets mote and more glamour and sleek considering Manhattan's square footage real estate prices. The new super luxury condo owners, sipping $5.00 coffees want to read about their " peers" or like minded esthetic driven heroes. It s a sign of Times or of The Times to follow the current trend of its readers profile. I don't say it is right, but it is still a much larger coverage than any other newspapers i can read locally or even abroad, where in Europe, Design is featured and voluntary kept very ellistic, and targeted to " The Happy Few"

Ben

October 4, 2007 12:39 PM

Bruce, you've linked to something I wrote about Design Is The New Management Consultancy before.

On this topic, you might like this talk I gave yesterday: http://noisydecentgraphics.typepad.com/design/2007/10/im-a-designer-u.html

gowri

October 27, 2007 10:30 AM

The stock has gained 150% from Oct 8, 2007 to Oct 22, 2007.
By the way check this company MDFI. Their stock is set to increase because of their association with Apple iphone and Complete Care Medical. Find more about this company and stock http://www.growurmoney.com/medefile/

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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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