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Is New York The New Innovation And Design Center?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on May 5, 2008

I hear that San Francisco-based innovation consultant Stone Yamashita Partners is opening an office in New York City in a few months on West 12th street.

San Mateo-based Jump Associates, another innovation consultancy, is rumored to be heading to New York soon as well.

Palo Alto-based IDEO, the biggest of the innovation/design consultancies and most global, opened their New York office last year.

And while not in the “innovation” business, Yves Behar, founder of fuseproject, is a brand and product strategist, and he spends half his time in New York these days. So does Jeneanne Rae, co-founder of service innovation consultancy Peer Insight.

So what’s up with this eastward migration of design thinkers doing innovation strategy work? I think it’s the realization among big consumer goods companies such as J&J, Pepsi and Coke, plus the financial services folks on Wall Street and in Boston, plus the old-style media and marketing people on Madison Avenue that they really need

the tools and methods of the New Transformationalists to get them closer to their consumers where they live (social networks) and shop. The old mass marketing using focus groups, making products and services in-house and throwing them at consumers is dead. Nike's motto of Running Together is where it's at. Co-habiting and co-creating with people, not for them, is the new paradigm.

SYP, Jump, IDEO are in New York to do that. Boston-based Continuum is another big player in innovation on the East Coast.

R/GA, the hot interactive design company that did the Nike Plus site, has been in New York for years.

And Smart Design, also New York based, is buiking up and moving into strategy as well.

IBM is also emerging as a powerful innovation consultancy and it, of course, is New York state-based. It's work on social networking, collaborative innovation, user-based idea generating and more is making IBM is big player.

Something's cooking.

Reader Comments


May 5, 2008 11:06 PM

Working for $50,000 a year with no chance of buying property is not an innovative concept.


May 6, 2008 12:56 AM

interestingly, frog design reduced the size of their strategy group at the start of this year. so, all is not well in strategy/innovation land.

niti bhan

May 6, 2008 1:27 AM

apple pie? ;p


May 6, 2008 2:04 AM

Hey Bruce, your link for R/GA is leading to Continuum. Anyway for those that care, it's

RitaSue Siegel

May 6, 2008 2:30 PM

It's like a return to the old days when NY was headquarters to the pioneer and leading design firms of the 50s and 60s. Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, and Donald Deskey. It was also the center of corporate identity and package design firms when they were still privately held: Lippincott & Margulies, Sandgren & Murtha, Gerstman & Meyers. They were the forefathers of many of today's firms. There is an interesting "family tree" I once put together showing which firms begat the others. And of course all the major advertising agencies, also privately held, were residing on the ubiquitous Madison Avenue. I find the history of the design business fascinating.

bruce nussbaum

May 6, 2008 2:44 PM

thanks for the head's up on the link to r/ga. i corrected it. say hi to bob greenberg.
and why do you think nyc is attracting more design/innovation firms?

bruce nussbaum

May 6, 2008 2:47 PM

dear anonymous,
frog's core strengths appear to lie in graphics and interactive design. moving into strategy may have been a stretch.

Ian Schafer

May 6, 2008 4:21 PM

...and Deep Focus ( has always been here. Just a reminder :)


May 6, 2008 5:04 PM


I've always heard that innovation hubs focus around centers of learning. For example, Pittsburgh where I went to grad school, has a Google office now.

So, I agree with you about NYC becoming a design up -- but think it's for a few specific reasons:

Christa Avampato

May 6, 2008 5:33 PM

Hi Bruce,
This is really exciting news. I am based in NYC and have often considered moving west because I am so interested in design and innovation. However, my family and friends are largely on the East Coast so a 3,000 mile move wasn't something I was looking forward to. Great to know that East may be the new trend!


May 6, 2008 6:07 PM

NYC's got an inherent culture of looking for what's next. We're the OCD/ADD/BFF kids and we all found eachother here. Plus we don't judge those who ask the bold questions about a paradigm. This manifested in our art, music, cuisine, fashion, and finance most notably.

But not design. Recently New York has been trailing behind London, SF, Barcelona, and Amsterdam in graphic + product design and architecture. There are plenty of NYC businesses that wanna chug that kool aid if you're selling it tho so maybe that explains the movement.

Paradoxically, if you talk to any local here they'll tell you the NYC of yesterday is dead now. There are two reasons why this is probably true:
1. It's become too expensive for young, independent creative types to live here without having corporate jobs. The Kenneth Cole stories don't happen here anymore.
2. The internet has provided access to things that were previously only attainable by traveling here.


May 6, 2008 6:09 PM

umm. i wouldn't call deep focus a source of innovative work. sorry ian.

bruce nussbaum

May 6, 2008 8:25 PM

Maybe so but there's a huge number of designers living in the un-Manhattan: Brooklyn and Queens paying lower rents and doing design/brand/marketing strategy. More, I would guess, than anytime in the past 30 years.
As for the internet, yes that helps a lot. But you gotta be in the same room and see the same faces for lots of creativity and that means living in a New York, Barcelona, London, Shanghai or SF (funny, we don't mention Paris or Berlin, do we?).


May 6, 2008 10:26 PM

Sure, you can work in branding or strategy in NYC and live okay in one of the boroughs (BK aint cheap anymore tho Bruce!)

But I mentioned Kenneth Cole's story for a reason - I wasn't thinking of people who have intentions of working in branding or corporate design or advertising. Many would-be independent creatives have fled and a generation of consumers with few (if any) aspirations to set the next wave of trends (music, fashion, food, etc) have proliferated in their place.

Your post interested me as a hypothesis because everyone I know here is anxious to see if NYC is only in a slumber or if it's in fact dead. No doubt we could use more designers and artists to balance the ibanker quotient. For now, many former NY-based creatives I know have taken extended vacays in cities like Berlin, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, and yes even Shanghai or Beijing.

I hope they and the city return because we can only handle so many Trump buildings going up before we all just leave.

kathleen mazzocco

May 6, 2008 10:31 PM

Lisa Chamberlain has an interesting book out called "Slackonomics" in which she argues that mobility in the US is headed downward because the creative economy demands proximity to the kind of social networks you find in NYC (whether Manhattan or Brooklyn, I imagine). This seems to support what Bruce is saying here.

kathleen mazzocco

May 7, 2008 12:42 AM

Lisa Chamberlain has an interesting book, "Slackonomics", and web site of same name. She presents the research of Richard Florida and others on the subject of decreased mobility in the U.S. Chamberlain argues that reduced mobility in the US is linked to the creative economy. "As more people earn a living via the creative economy — art, music, media, technology, etc. — the more reliant they become on locational networks." Perhaps this point supports Bruce's statement above.

Samantha Holmes

May 7, 2008 1:27 AM

Hi Bruce-
Thanks for your post. Working for frog design in NY, I agree that NY is a hot bed for innovation. But it’s interesting that many of the design firms mentioned in your post are only just starting to invest in building a presence in New York. frog has had a studio in New York for the past 11 years, we were initially in Soho and recently moved to a bigger, 20,000 sq ft location in Tribeca that is home to more than 70 industrial and interaction designers, engineers, strategists and technologists. The majority of our projects have a strong strategic component and our strategy team continues to grow across all of our studios in the US, Europe and Asia. You should stop by sometime and meet the team- frogNY would be happy to host you.


May 8, 2008 4:44 AM

I am dubious of the idea that NYC is an innovation center. Yes, a lot of design happens in New York. But design in New York is dominated by media and advertising. Distinctly not innovative. It's also interesting that many of the companies you name (SYP, IDEO, Jump, etc.) are headquartered in SF. Yes, they want NY clients and are opening NY offices, but that doesn't make NY a *center*.

ravi Sawhney

May 11, 2008 4:35 PM

Bruce and others,

In only speaking for myself, being Los Angeles based, we find this exciting news. New York was the center of the design universe not so long ago. If what we are reading is correct, this will be exciting for all of us as innovation and strategy become the focus of design in North America.

I would suggest that while things are flourishing in NY, that this is a sign of the hockey stick adoption of designers as innovators and strategists. But, that's just my L.A. perspective.

As Bob Dylan said:" The Times are A-Changin.
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Michael Anton Dila

May 12, 2008 8:08 PM

Implying that the question of whether New York is an emerging innovation center is settled by equating New York design with media and advertising is way too facile. It betrays a bias, seemingly held by Merholz and certainly held by others in the Bay-area, that all innovation must track-back to SF or the Valley.

I think it is equally myopic to too strongly identify innovation with design (narrowly construed).

Whether the signs Nussbaum takes as evidence are the only or most important ones is a fair question. I would like to believe that not only do these moves indicate that innovation is starting to be taken seriously on Wall St. and Madison Ave., but that corporate America is awakening to the potential of innovating organizations beyond the model of the "firm" and of innovating strategy beyond the use of McKinsey binders as proxies for vision. On this point, however, while I like Nussbaums's optimism, I share Merholz's skepticism.

Ariel Muller

May 28, 2008 3:30 AM

Hello all,

I'm taking advantage of this forum to post an announcement for OVERLAP08 - hope this is acceptable...

Overlap08 is a unique peer-to-peer conference for those working at the forefront of sustainable innovation in design and business.

We have a some places left and plan on reaching capacity.

Limited to 50 people and designed with an emphasis on peer-to-peer discussion and resource sharing, Overlap08 will be held at the Trinity Conference Center, a rural retreat center known for it's location on the Houstatonic River in West Cornwall, Connecticut and it's healthy and delicious meals. The Trinity Conference Center is located 2 hours outside of New York and we are planning on arranging ride sharing from New York, Boston and Hartford. The nearest airport is in Hartford, Connecticut.

If you are looking for a place to vet ideas, theories, questions and challenges about the process and practice of sustainable innovation; appreciate the unique knowledge and experience gained from focused discourse with peers; and enjoy meeting and building a network with other dynamic thinkers and practionners - you'll really enjoy Overlap08!

(cost for the event is $500 includes lodging and food)

You can view website here:

Overlap08, with a focus on sustainable innovation:

Dick Lee

June 17, 2008 11:46 PM

With the help of Google Adwords we are able to track the Top 10, Top 20 etc Value Innovation cities and countries around the world.

Here's a sneak peek: 1. Singapore 2. Jakarta 3. Seoul 4 Sao Paulo 5. Bangkok 6. New Delhi 7. Bangalore 8. Milan 9. Madrid 10. Sydney

NYC is not even in the "Top 40" list.

For the latest, visit:

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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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