Over at the Red Dot website there is a summary of a recent presentation by design and business expert Professor Dr. Peter Zec “Return on Ideas – Better by design”. I'm repeating a fairly long extract here:
The main message of the talk:
“Design serves to give form to good ideas and is indispensable in distinguishing oneself on the global market”.
Zec moreover stated that “Design is of extraordinary importance for the economic success of a company. Luckily, many companies have come to realize this—a progress that can be credited in part to the increasing prominence of design competitions such as the red dot design award”. Referring to case studies, Prof. Zec showed that most businesses belong to one of two types: companies that have recognized the added value they can gain through design, and companies who continue trying to forgo the integration of design, and who eventually fail on an international level for that reason.
In the past, many good ideas became successful only through design. “The best idea is useless if it isn't well executed”, according to Zec. As an example he mentioned the Apple iPod: The idea of offering music files in a portable form was not new. Yet it wasn't until the idea was realized with the ground breaking design of lead designer Jonathan Ive and the bold strategy of CEO Steve Jobs that it became a worldwide success. This confirms, so Zec, that “investing in innovative ideas pays”.
However, selling good design relies on the appropriate and targeted communication of the design concept. “Good communication is indispensable for business. Often, good design is not even recognized because it doesn't speak the language of the entrepreneurs. Thus, a design concept only sells if it is well formulated. For that to happen, the concept must plan for as much integrative communication as possible in addition to ensuring that design factors into all decisive company processes.
Having belonged to groups that over the years entered various design competitions I feel that they are measuring sticks for the excellence, or otherwise, of one's entry but only in terms of the wisdom of the judging panel at that moment in time, and may not reflect what the actual users feel about the artefact. The best prize my team won was a special prize at the behest of the chairman of the panel , who sent individual prizes to each member for creating an enabling process that underpinned most of the other candidates for the official prizes. That meant more to us than the real thing... we felt it was authentic!
Having made that point Peter Zec does make some good points about that design needs to cover more than just the product itself.
As our work moved from being locally informed to regional and ultimately global... in response to the accelerating changes in the world about us... we realised that the soft tools (tools for thinking, for taking 'things' apart and reassembling them) were woefully inadequate. We created, modified or appropriated some tools that would reflect a new way of working which hadn't fully emerged at that time (has it yet?) .
All these tools are relevant to facilitating the integration of design behaviours into the strategic DNA of an organisation. Of particular relevance here is the Design Pyramid. Let us define 'product' as the result of the innovation process... a work product in the form of a product or service...
The Design Pyramid helps us to build a vision for closing the gap between what is out there now and an excellent product; it provides us with a definition of the innovation opportunity in terms of consumer insights and first ideas for technology, external form and communication. It connects (brand) strategy to the total product. Design Pyramid facilitates active exploration of two questions:
What does the consumer need and want?
and, Does the product deliver on its promise?
or more expansively:
Where are we?
Who is it for?
What do they need?
What do they want?
How could it be better?
Peter Zec talks of the importance of Return on Ideas.; my experience is that Return on Insights yields a more strong sustainable advantage. Insights may be difficult to recognise, but are worth the effort. Apple's insight that potential music entertainment users would like to have their music collection at hand wherever they were, at home, on the move or in a far off place. That insight has been worth a great deal to both iPod users and Apple itself.. they have shared in the value created. Sony et al have created better MP3 players, completely missing the point that it is the ease of creating, mainatining and listening to an individual's music collection that makes the iPod (+iTunes+iTunes Music Store+industry permission) a winner. A stand-alone product doesn't stand a chance!
To quote Phil Dusenberry of BBDO talking about great insights when creating advertising:
"That's the power of great insights. Insights, not ideas. There's a difference. Ideas, valuable though they may be, are a dime a dozen in business. That's certainly the case at ad agencies, where even the mailroom people spit out ideas as if they were candy from a Pez dispenser. Insight is much rarer -- and therefore more precious. In the advertising business, a good idea can inspire a great commercial. But a good insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand commercials. The notion of the New York Miracle was an insight, and the six spots took on a life of their own. We got people feeling good about New York again as a city of possibilities. Tourists came back in droves.
Another example on the centenary year of the Model T is blogged by sig here:
"Buick and the Dodge brothers had some "ideas" when they followed the crowd and added engines to their "coaches".
Henry Ford had an insight when he grasped the "individual transportation for the masses", then acted upon it as he installed the first moving assembly line at his Highland Park plant in 1913, lowering the time-to-produce a T Ford from 70 to 7 hours in half a year enabling "anybody" to purchase a car. His car.
Then he doubled the daily pay and installed a profit sharing scheme - creating a potential customer base as well (especially if it spread to other companies as well - as it would)."
So life is getting even more challenging.. but the challenge is that we need to do things differently....because, as Abraham Maslow put it
"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
and that is one of the reasons why there are three more tools at our disposal enabling us to connect Steve to Jonathan... strategy to design project; to recognise the sort of project we are tackling; and the journey we will all need to go on to prevent a descent into mediocrity. To quote Phil Dusenberry again:
There's no point in having an insight if you can't protect it from being radically altered by compromise, or rejected by a client who doesn't get it, or stripped of its original insightfulness by committee groupthink. The way to keep your insights out of the clutches of the people who try to reduce the insight to something familiar, or the copycats, is to build relationships.
And what happens when we build unfamiliar relationships?
Helen Storey, started her career a fashion designer, now heads a foundation that bears her name. The Helen Storey Foundation is a not-for-profit arts organization promoting creativity and innovation. It intentionally spreads a global net to collaborate with diverse practitioners – both new and established. The team, led by Helen Storey and Caroline Coates, is agile and open, able to bring together ideas and minds to create truly innovative artworks and more recently, new ways of learning..
One exploratory project elicited this response
"Lever Faberge became involved in this project because it aims to unravel and explore the world of creativity - something that lies at the heart of our business. We constantly innovate and expect our people to drive sustained innovation, but where do these ideas come from and how are they nurtured? In interacting with Helen and Rachel Hazell on Amygdala, we have been able to directly ask ourselves these questions. The answers, for many individuals, have been surprising and they have illuminated insights into how people work best, where they need to go to be most creative and in which environment are they most creative. All this has come from working on Amygdala. She has turned into our oracle"
- Alistair Creamer
Helen Storey, at a workshop in which I took part, said
This makes for an alarming journey if we are not prepared for change , or prepared to change ourselves. Are we ready to undertake that (Design) Journey?
Picture uploaded by Express Monorail. Used with thanks under CC.