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Here is the speech I gave at the Design Korea 2009 International Conference from December 3-4 in Incheon. There were some great talks by Continuum’s co-founder Gianfranco Zaccai, SeymourPowell’s Nick Talbot, Frog’s President, Doreen Lorenzo, Core77’s Stu Constantine and others. The Mayor of Incheon, Ang-soo AHN, showed us his plans for a 20-million person new city, that included a Central Park and a Milano Design City.
Here goes the speech—
“Designomics: How Design Navigates A World In Change And Creates Global Economic Growth And Prosperity
Bruce Nussbaum 2009
Thank you very much for inviting me to Korea. This is my first visit and I have been waiting a very long time to come here. My fascination with Korea began long ago when I was a young man in college in New York City studying Political Science. There I was shocked to learn about the Pottery Wars of the late 16th Century, when Korea was invaded and its potters taken away. Now, we all know that human history is full of wars over land, gold, oil, slaves, and food but the Pottery Wars is the only conflict I know of based on the high economic value of artists, design and design technology.
At that time, in the 1590’s, much of Korea’s prosperity was based on its design and production of the highest quality ceramics in Asia, and probably the world. Designomics was already being practiced in Korea four centuries ago. That tradition of economic growth based on design is very rare in world history. Today, it gives Korea a significant global competitive advantage because I believe we are returning to design-based economic growth.
My personal connection to Korean design did not end with college. In the 1980’s, I began collecting Asian art, including Korean ceramics. Five of our most beautiful bowls and plates are made by Shin Sang Ho. They are examples of his early work in celadon and quite beautiful. What this told me was that Korea was keeping its art and craft alive through the centuries. And as the work of Shin Sang Ho has evolved, it is clear that Korean fine art is evolving to blend both traditional and more modern styles.
I realized that design was again becoming a major driver of economic growth in Korea in the mid-90s when I had dinner with a group from Samsung at one of the annual Industrial Design Excellence Award ceremonies. At that time, I had persuaded my magazine Business Week to sponsor the IDEA design awards and I personally presented the awards for nearly two decades. Samsung and LG started entering and winning these prestigious design awards and began attending the ceremonies. So every year, I found myself having dinner with a group of very conservative Korean businessmen and designers in black business suits. They were all very nice but looked identical.
But one year the Samsung design group came to the design awards with three very young designers with wild hair and no ties and great shoes. Wow. This was a big breakthrough. Ah, I thought, Korea is beginning to get serious about designing its consumer products for a global marketplace. If conservative Korean companies, such as Samsung, are willing to go outside their own level of comfort to hire young people with different aesthetics and ways of using technology, then they have a chance at becoming global, not just local and regional, brands.
Of course, we now know that Samsung, LG and other Korean companies took that chance. And today, Korean auto companies are following Korean consumer electronics companies as global brands in the US, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere in the world economy. They are taking their place in the world economy among established European, Japanese and American brands and they will soon face new competition from rising Chinese, Indian and Brazilian brands.
Now we come to the heart of my talk on Designomics. Designomics is a beautiful term because it conveys the meaning of design driving economics. Who came up with that term? Is that person in the audience? Great language!
Designomics is important because both parts of the word—design and economics—are undergoing vast change as we speak. The global economy is emerging from the Great Recession, the worst recession since the Great Depression, with a very different shape, a very different trajectory and a very different set of growth engines. Design, with a capital “D” is also emerging from the recent crisis, with a different form and function. A design-based business model and a design-based economy provide the best new opportunities for creating value, growth, revenues, profits, jobs and wealth for the decades ahead. Why do I say this?
? Because we now live in a world of constant, cascading change. That constant, cascading change is eroding our business and social institutions, reshaping our careers and remaking our lives. Powerful geopolitical, demographic, technological, and economic forces are disrupting life as we know it. Old behaviors and methods of generating growth no longer work as well as they once did. Traditional business and economic models based on making efficient choices among existing options and maximizing efficiency within stable business and economic systems are starting to crumble.
Increasingly, people are turning to Design and creativity as a new paradigm to understand the needs and desires of changing cultures and create new options that never existed before. It is the ability to generate new concepts today that lead to new products, services and even social systems of great value. In an era of cascading change that doesn’t pause or end, Design is providing a pathway to the future.
This speech, Designomics, will examine the major forces changing our lives today and show how Design provides a package of tools, methodologies and perspectives that can generate new economic value.
First, I will discuss three of the five most powerful global forces at work transforming our lives--geopolitics (the relative rise of Asia and fall of the West); demographics (the rise of the Gen Y generation (which is the demographic group between 16 and 27 years old) and the decline of the Baby Boomers) and technology (the rise of social media and the spread of new digital cultures). If you invite me back, I will discuss the other two global forces at work—urbanization and global warming.
Secondly, I will examine the rise of Design Thinking and explain how it is the most appropriate means of generating economic growth today. I will explain how the tools and methodologies of Design have evolved so that Design has moved from creating artifacts to shaping human interactions; from focusing on materiality to shaping social systems. I will end the talk with a suggestion that the organic, generative, culture-based model of Design may well surpass the mechanical, engineering model of current business organizations for the 21st Century.
Let’s begin with the forces behind the cascading change sweeping through global society. First, the relative—and I repeat relative-- rise and fall of nations and what it means for culture and commerce. Last month, the internet regulator called ICANN announced that it would allow web addresses to be written in non-Latin languages. In effect, it reflects the end of English dominance of the web. Chinese, Korean, Hindi and Arabic speakers will be able to address their email in their own language. I predict this move will go down in history as being as important as the dollar going off the gold standard in 1973. In fact, they are two data points on an historic arc representing a trend—the rise of Asia vis a vis America and Europe.
So what does this mean for the future? When one or two nations have the economic and political strength to lead world society, the cultures of those nations tend to dominate much of world culture. Music, education, economic models, art, political systems. We know this. What we sometimes forget is that the homogeneity of world culture makes it easier for world commerce. You only have to worry about a handful of cultures that you do business in—your own, the dominant one, and the others that copy the dominant one.
Today, with the rise of Asia, Brazil and other countries, if you do business, you have to know many, many cultures. We live in a growing diversity of cultures, a heterogeneity of independent societies and you have to understand them all.. But you need to understand each and every one of their cultures to do so. We are moving from global cultural homogeneity to diversity as we move from economic and political hegemony to multiplicity. This makes doing global business a lot harder. Old tools and methods won’t work. We need new ones.
The second trend, the rise of the Gen Y or Millenial generation and fall of the Baby Boomer demographic is perhaps even more important. Each Millenial generation in every country varies somewhat, but most share a distinctive culture that is very different from older generations. In the US, Gen Y has a unique and powerful culture—urban, collaborative, participatory, green, generative—it likes to use tools and make things--,public, pan-ethnic, trans-gender and trans-national. Millenials in China share many of these traits—except they are very nationalistic and are pro-ethnic. I don’t know what are the cultural characteristics of the Gen Y generation in Korea, except that the gap between them and their parents is probably much wider than the gap between their parents and their grandparents.
Millenials live in a culture of free information that is instantly available, with constant communication with friends that is global in scope. They live on digital platforms that are ever changing. They inhabit a participatory media that gives them the tools to create, share and reappropriate content, including their own fluid identities. I believe Millenials live in what I call a Learn-Share-Make culture.
In the US and elsewhere, the Gen Y generation is already changing how businesses and society shops, brands, communicates, educates, delivers health care, transports itself and even raises families. I believe the rise of this Gen Y generation is so important that I am launching a new Gen Y research institute at Parsons School of Design to study global Gen Y culture.
The third transforming force in our lives is digital social media. For the first time in history, it is now easy and inexpensive to create our own communities, our own cultures, anywhere, anytime. We can belong to cultures that we aren’t born into, cultures that we choose to enter and leave easily. Social media is creating tens of thousands of digital cultures every year—cultures you need to understand and engage if you want to sell them products or services. You know there are 40,000 villages in India that you may want to do business in, but now there are also 40,000 digital villages every week on the web that you have to follow if you want these “villagers” as customers.
These three global forces—the rise and fall of nations, the rise and fall of generations and the spread of digital social media—are combining to transform our world and especially our global economy. The first 50 years of the 21st century will looking very different from the second 50 years of the 20th century. We are on the cusp of a New Normal. This New Normal situation in the world will need a new paradigm and fresh tools and methods to generate economic growth and prosperity.
Which brings me to Design. During the time that big political, demographic and technological forces of change have been reshaping the global economy, the field of Design has been evolving into a serious discipline that can help us navigate today’s economic uncertainties and generate value for tomorrow’s products and services.
Design has made a revolutionary journey in the past decade from a narrow field able to focus on artifact and aesthetics to a broader space that has the ability to engage and interact with social systems in culture. Design has expanded its tool kit and methodologies to be able to move beyond materiality and the making of stuff to the design of social systems and the transformation of healthcare, transportation, education, shopping. Today, corporations are asking designers to design brand strategies as well as the products and services composing the brands themselves.
Building on the user-centric roots of industrial design, Design has an ethnographic core that allows businessmen and others to connect with any and all cultures, real and digital, anywhere around the world. And Design’s ability to learn from these cultural connections and translate that data into new concepts for products and services gives it the power to generate revenue and profits in a global economic environment of deepening uncertainty. If Six Sigma and management thinking were our guides to efficient choice-making and profit maximization in yesterday’s era of global hegemony, stability and homogeneity, then Design is our guide to deep consumer understanding, generative option-making and strategic brand finding in an era of global heterogeneity, instability and diversity.
So what does this mean for Korean—and all—global corporations, especially as the world moves into economic recovery? Technology used to dominate innovation. Today, technology is everywhere and accessible to all. Design is far more important to innovation than technology. There were many touch-screen cell phones available in the world when Apple came out with the iPhone. Motorola had a good one in China. But Apple designed the touch-screen platform to make it so easy to use and opened the platform to developers who created 100,000 amazing applications that millions of consumers just love. Love. Emotion. Connection. Engagement. Interaction. That’s Design. Finding relevance and meaning to consumers living in a multiplicity of real and digital cultures is the new key to business success. Co-creating, designing with people, not just for them, will generate new economic value in the future.
Take the Kindle, the electronic book delivery device by Amazon. The Kindle is the first online technology platform embraced by the elderly in America. Why, it was designed to do just one thing very easily—it delivers and presents books cheaply and easily online in a way that people in their 60s and 70s can use. There’s no interaction, no color, no video. The Kindle provides print on an electronic page, exactly what the elderly, book-reading elderly demographic wants. Designing for specific demographics and their own cultures is crucial when generations are so far apart in their use of technologies.
Of course, young Millenials hate the Kindle because it doesn’t deliver what their generation wants—video, interaction, sharing—on their social media platforms, such as the iPhone or Facebook. They await the Apple tablet. That’s their culture. I believe Korean Gen Yers live online in social media as well. Within the marketplace, this cultural preference translates into what I call the “iPhonization of service.” Young people want service delivered over Facebook or iPhone or MySpace where they can instantly access it, share it, change it and use it. That means designing games, tax-advice, healthcare, movies and educational curricula so they can be delivered on a social media platform. This is the new field of Design.
Korea’s fast broadband allows such companies as SK Communications and others to understand that the cell phone business is now a service business based around applications. The next challenge is to go beyond Korea and learn to understand cultures all over the real and digital world in order to deliver what people want, wherever they live, and on their platform of choice. That could mean designing applications that deliver current crop prices in Hindi to Indian village rice farmers using cheap ugly cell phones or providing movie-making tools in Portuguese to Brazilian teen-agers over expensive, beautiful smart phones.
Design means designing the entire customer experience, from discovering what people really need to shaping interactive solutions for them and finally creating a hard product package such as a cell phone or car that is both aesthetically pleasing and useful to people.
This is the where companies create economic value today. This is heart of Designomics, where Design drives Economics to generate growth and prosperity in the world.
I would like to end on a philosophical note. One reason why people are turning to Design today is that it is essentially optimistic. Design has a future-facing perspective and a tool-using core competence. The whole purpose of Design is to make the new. In a world of uncertainty and cascading change, Design can be our navigator. We should embrace it.
What do you think about the issues raised here?
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.