Designers are very Important in Breakthrough Innovation
Clive Thompson, in his column on Wired, dispels the myth that innovation comes as a surprise and is difficult to predict. He writes:
The assumption is that breakthroughs are inherently surprising, so it takes special genius to spot one coming.
But that’s not how innovation really works, if you ask Bill Buxton. A pioneer in computer graphics who is now a principal researcher at Microsoft, he thinks paradigm-busting inventions are easy to see coming because they’re already lying there, close at hand. “Anything that’s going to have an impact over the next decade—that’s going to be a billion-dollar industry—has always already been around for 10 years,” he says.
Buxton calls this the “long nose” theory of innovation: Big ideas poke their noses into the world very slowly, easing gradually into view.
Makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If we study paradigm-changing products, such as the Nintendo DS or the iPod, the technology within them is really nothing new, just the application.
This is why truly billion-dollar breakthrough ideas have what Buxton calls surprising obviousness. They feel at once fresh and familiar. It’s this combination that lets a new gizmo take off quickly and dominate.
If you want to spot the next thing, Buxton argues, you just need to go “prospecting and mining”—looking for concepts that are already successful in one field so you can bring them to another.
So that’s the trick! Innovation happens when we reinterpret or reframe familiar technology in a manner that people will find refreshing. But wait a minute? Is reframing not the role and key value of designers?
I think it is time to share one of my all-time favorite quotes with you. A quote that perfectly compliments this discussion as well as succinctly describes what designers do:
Thus the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860
Synergies, my friends, synergies!