Innovation & Design

Understanding Innovation & Design

I’ve been mulling over the content of this article for quite some time now. There are so many interesting articles being published every day about Design principles (ones that tie with what Dieter Rams so eloquently wrote about), and how those principles have become part of the reality of so many companies, not only software companies, but in other industries as well. One of those Design Principles is of course Innovation or the capacity to be Innovative. This article in particular sheds light on how Innovation lives and breathes within the context of different organizations, and it stands as my own digest of having worked through different enterprises.

Apple has become the staple of case studies of how a true Innovator and how the understanding of Design Principles can effectively take a well known company from a middling success to a market leader and to overall heights never before expected. Under the guidance and tutelage of the late Steve Jobs, Apple has made the process of creation, development and launch of products, something that is emblematic and iconic. This astounding success has of course been the result of many factors, but two of the main ones have been without a doubt “Innovation” and “Design”. As many other companies, both well established and startups, have taken upon themselves to embed those principles into their core philosophy, it’s interesting to recognize how those processes have had various results.

“Design” is a term that is undeniably popular. For the most part, if you ask any individual what they understand by that term, they will most likely respond that “Design” is the way something looks. The term has been used to convey for instance how Fashion Designers showcase their latest creations, or how different car manufacturers showcase new models every year at specific events, etc. The term has simply become deeply associated with how something looks, or more specifically with the aesthetics of a product. “Aesthetic” is a Design Principle, and is definitely something that is crucial when designing a product, of any nature, but it is solely one that sits alongside many others. The challenge for many years, and to a certain extent to this present day, has been to educate and truly expand the notion that “Design” is not just making “something pretty”. The discipline of “Design” in actuality factors a lot of different elements that go beyond “Aesthetics”: there’s economical, functional, cultural, demographic, among other factors that weigh in, when devising a Design solution for a product. For a lot of companies that have never had design as part of their core decision making process, the need to be “Innovative” and bring a “Design” process together is in itself a considerable challenge.

Being innovative and forward thinking is something that is constantly evolving, much like technology. Every day there’s something creative and unexpected coming up, that seems to revolutionize how we previously interacted with certain products or certain activities. There’s no denying the impact that a really great idea can have for a company or a business — ideas are game changers. However a question always remains: if a company never had “Design” or “Innovation” as part of their core process, how does this transition effectively occur — and can it occur.

Interestingly having been on both sides of the fences, one where “Innovation” and “Design” are part of the core mentality, and other where they’re struggling to adhere to it, here’s my perception of what can be potentially summarized in terms of successfully integrating those aspects into a company’s philosophy.

When bringing “Design” and “Innovation” to the table, make these elements peers of the conversation. Don’t relegate these elements to an invisible status, don’t be intimidated about it, and definitely don’t underestimate the impact they can have on the success of products and of the company itself. “Innovation” in particular is only as good as the team or ecosystems that supports it — for every great idea that exists, there’s quite a few environments that are quick to dismiss them as categorically wrong, which is toxic to the spirit of brewing new ideas. The challenge is to place “Innovation” not as an attribute owned by a specific group: make that part of every team and every team member. Incentivize group discussions, create workshops and specific events where new ideas can be generated, discussed and captured. This generates a sense of creativity, and also builds effective teams that are more integrated with the success of the company itself. The “Design” process shouldn’t be owned by a specific group or professional for that matter: it should be something that teams recognize as a thought process through which problems are solved. The figure of the designer, should become that of a catalyst, of someone who facilitates, and brings unity to what is brought forth by the teams. “Innovation” will become part of the DNA of a company when teams realize that in parallel with maintaining what already exists, the pursuit of excellence, and of becoming truly successful in their field, requires grooming ideas, establishing common grounds and being able to collaborate.

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