Innovation? What a waste of time!

Gadi Amit, president of NewDealDesign, writes at The Fast Company Blog that Innovation (or Design Thinking?), as championed by the likes of Bruce Nussbaum (BusinessWeek’s Design Blog) and David Kelly (IDEO), is “killing” Industrial Design by forcing an “analytical structure” over something that is more intuitive. Very interesting, it sounds to me that this is very similar to what people often complain as the failure of most MBA programs. Has Design lost its way in the avenues of business plans and ROIs (return of investments)?
Gadi writes:

While innovation speaks of metrics and tangible features, design is usually defined by intuition and intangibles. It is far easier to explain metrics and tangibles. It is also assumed to be safer to make decisions based on numbers and engineering calculations. Yet the quintessential question about design is not “is it a ‘good’ design?”; it’s the other question: “is it the ‘right’ design?”
That’s where “innovation” fails. The innovation crowd makes a fundamental mistake: that a complex market problem can be solved by a good analytical design. If you build the “process” right, and put the right “validation” and “methodology” in place, using more technology with more investment in the “process”, you’ll get a better product–wrong!
In reality, winning a market battle requires a very complex equation of advance performance, marketing insight and appropriate design. We use the term “look & feel” often when talking about the right design approach. Both “look” and “feel” can not be quantified or learned in engineering schools. These terms are intuitive to the knowledgeable and obtuse to the novice. In reality the “look & feel” of a good product is a nuanced, multi-faceted approach to technical constraints, target demographics and trend-forecasting combined with a special sauce–the designer’s talent and intuition.
(snip…)
The question is essentially “how do we make decisions about design?” The answer is: “not by analytics alone!” The making of a good design–say a great mobile phone design–is so complex that the only way is by relying on the designer’s intuition in solving this nuanced formula. If the issue is the reliability of this method, the answer is the designer’s track record in resolving such challenges. Some people have more talent than others–that’s a fact of life.

Quote extracted from: Just Say No To “Innovation”.
This is quite a provocative post which I’m sure will ruffle a few feathers. Personally, I fully agree with Gadi’s insight, (check out my post: Can you Measure the Success of your Designs or Ideas?) and I’m glad to see someone else is on the soapbox tackling this issue.
However I may contradict myself, when I say this: for Design to be successful, its needs to better engage the Business. Trust and talent is one thing, but tangible numbers or dollar values is the most logical way to bridge the gap. I strongly believe the challenge going forward is finding a balance between justifying a Design and keeping the free form intuition flowing.

12 Comments
  • Shahar Klein

    March 29, 2009 at 4:20 am Reply

    Even the best experienced designer cannot “succeed” every time.
    The methodical system is a way of dealing with that- and a way to insure from failures.
    Problem is that no insurance company will pay when design fails.
    Gadi’s way of looking at design left “chance out of the system: when designer can’t take in account what’s not in his hand to decide.
    Succesful design is a mith that puts the designer as the only detail in the equation that matters.
    Experience is telling that while ego plays a great part in promoting design, design plays only a relatevily small part in making a “good” product (is “good” only measured by financial success? should be questioned these days, I think…).

  • David Locke

    March 29, 2009 at 4:23 am Reply

    So here we are talking about a great mobile phone design? It’s a commodity. It fits into the business notion of what innovation is, but it’s just art-based competition, something nice and continuous, incremental, sustaining. The category already exists. Cash is captured. But, yes-BUT, it doesn’t create wealth, so have at it.
    What is it about the art designer that they feel that they must knock the tech designer. Yes, they both design. They both make decisions on the road to realization.
    The real problem is that businesses can’t commercialize discontinuous innovation when they insist on using the same processes they use for commodities. On the rare occassion when an art designer does design something radical, it doesn’t work. They sell it into the wrong market. It falls on the tech designer to get the radical on the market, and even they fail with the standard business approach.
    The argument between art designers vs tech designers is just an effort to capture a few more jobs. The tech designers stand silent. The tech shortage and an art glut will take care of all of this. The art designers are loud. Doing both, I run into this argument all too often. When, will the art designer respect the tech designer? When will designers understand their place in Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle, which hints at the fact that they only have jobs, because tech designers created the companies, categories, and products in the first place. Design what you will, but without the tech designer, it would never get on the market.
    But, yes, that color of the week phone is hot! Next week, another color, and another opportunity to churn.

  • Wendren

    March 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm Reply

    This is a very interesting post that does bring light to a very important and most contemporary point – is design by numbers or is it by intuition. What is design and who is a designer are questions being asked by everybody. Design is something that almost every discipline has whether it is engineering or telecommunications. But what is REAL design – it’s intuition and not the design of a system. They are different but are called the same thing: design. Design, true and good design, come and are guided by intuition. That is what makes a designer.

  • gwen

    April 2, 2009 at 12:02 am Reply

    “the only way is by relying on the designer

  • Rob Jensen

    April 3, 2009 at 12:33 am Reply

    Thanks for this great reminder to not over think. We’re not called Artists, Engineers, or Marketers, but Designers. We’re not artists painting feelings or moods, and we’re not engineers calculating draft-pulls and die-tips. A designer’s responsibility is to blend the intuitive with the facts. To me a designer’s success is measured in each customer’s face and lifestyle. The customer’s face determines the amount of emotion we invoked; the lifestyle can measure how well our new product enhances their day.

  • DT

    April 5, 2009 at 3:38 pm Reply

    Hi all thanks for the kind replies let me get to it.
    @shahar: You are right, the designer is not the end all, and is not the only one responsible for a success or failure of a product. But you can look at it in a few ways, for one designers often get the blame if a product fails, and that has a link back to Gadi’s methodology that puts a designer central to the process. While he is right in certain sense, in other situations this is not the case. Don’t forget he is writing from a view point of a design consultant and they have a tendency for a “ivory tower” approach to design.
    @david locke: great comment, but to me personally I feel the idea of the tech designer vs the art or form designer is fundamentally flawed. There should not be a distinction and to think so is a grave mistake. The problem of splitting the two arises in the confusion and often further lack of creditability designers have in organizations.
    @wendren: Very true. But in recent years, and with the success of companies like Apple and Nokia, business owners start to try to understand design and what it means to their organization. The problem is business people cannot reconcile things like “intuition” as it is not quantifiable. As designer try to bridge that language gap, the issue of quantifying design has become a top priority.
    @gwen: Good point, and that is why experience designers are so highly regarded. It is this ability to make that right intuitive decision is the key. Thanks for the link I will check it out.
    @Rob Jensen: Absolutely, we are that bridge. But often that bridge is clear on one side but no on the other. We do need to get better in getting people to understand us, not always wondering why people don’t understand designers.

  • Tan Ah Kau

    April 11, 2009 at 2:55 am Reply

    Let’s talk about innovation where it is closer to home…
    Philips
    With all the champions and experts in strategic design, design management,business marketing and all that whatever bullsh!t, why aren’t Philips a household name in Singapore but rather Samsung…Sony…Sharp…etc (unless lighting appliances)…..
    Innovation? marketing? Branding?
    nobody knows….
    some product just sells….
    So,my question is this, how do we know if an idea of a product design concept has a great potential when everyone thinks they are an expert?

    • DT

      April 11, 2009 at 2:44 pm Reply

      Hi Tan Ah Kau,
      I’m a little confused with your comment, but I’ll have a go at your question.
      I think it is extremely silly and arrogant to think anyone is an expert at anything. Being an expert implies being at the top of the game and no one else knows more than you. The moment someone talks about being an expert, I switch off. The reason is I firmly believe in continuous learning, case in point, companies like Samsung and LG have realized this and have learned very well.
      There are a certain mix of requirements that needs to be in place to allow a product to sell well. Most people can guess what it takes, but you are right in that sense that nobody really knows. At the end of the day though, the market never lies. So it would be foolish to say that “yes this product will 100% sell”. Even Apple cannot would not say this for sure, but they should know their market well enough to make a good guess.

  • George I

    April 11, 2009 at 6:28 am Reply

    Come on – this guy is so full of crap, it’s not funny. Why does it seem every one who’s got 2 cents to say about design feels like ranting about something? Innovations is perfectly in harmony with the “complex” process he’s describing. Gadi dude, please just take a chill pill.

    • DT

      April 11, 2009 at 10:04 am Reply

      Hi George,
      Gadi is saying in basically, the innovation processes many companies have in place, is actually counter-intutive as it is about measuring the outcome of everything.
      I’m interested to hear what processes you are exposed to that works perfectly in harmony? Would be good if you can describe it?

  • George I

    April 11, 2009 at 10:45 am Reply

    Well, let me explain what I’m talking about: quote: “

  • Ahmad

    April 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm Reply

    When was the last time we saw an innovation or invention that change human life…….
    example: planes,computers,washing machine,handphone….
    The problem lies when mediocre designers turn gurus or experts in design management and capitalizing on a working formula with few changes or functions here and there….
    Which is why, innovation and inventions usually came out from nowhere, away from the corporate design strategist and gurus….

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