I wrote this comment as a response to a article published in the business week by Bruce Nussbaum titled Technology Vs. Design–What is the Source of Innovation?
Well, the premise of this article seems grounded and I will support Bruce on the fact that Design could be a source of innovation and disagree with Don for Designers to get over ourselves. I had a couple of thoughts floating in my mind and would like to share with you all. Here is why.
It is true that advancement of technology is an indication of our progression (humans) as an intellectual species. Having said that, technology in itself is not an indication of innovation. Now, it also depends on how we define innovation in the first place. We innovate for humans and any invention or discovery to make our lives easy, happier and productive is defined as an innovation. Also, we could go ahead one step further and define it as the ability to affect society rapidly for a positive change is true innovation. An innovation is not innovation until it has benefitted us as a society. So, technology in context will be only considered as an Innovation. The greatest power of design is to put technology in context. Let’s look at an example.
Take the classical example of the iphone. The iphone popularized the muti-touch technology and diffused it quickly among masses than any of its predecessors. Now, multi touch technology has been there before the iphone came out. It was nothing new. Infact, it began when IBM started building the first touch screens in the late ’60’s. What Apple designers did was to put this technology in context with mobile users to create a whole new experience of using cellphones. This experience is unique and driven only by the process of human centered design and the iphone was conceived on what the user wants and not the traditional model of marketing suggesting what the market needs. This is what has made the iphone so unique and revolutionary and changed the way we look, use and define cellphones. And this is an innovation for us as we progress in our evolution as an intellectual society. We now have empowered substantial lives through this innovation. Did any of the previous devices using the same technology achieve such a high diffusion and acceptance rate?
Further research will suggest that the some of the best products ever made which have affected and disrupted our lifestyles (for the betterment) have been where design has simplified technology or used less of technology in a product. Let’s again look at the iphone. Nokia and HTC phones using 4G technologies have been in the market for years but could not break the barriers of redefining cellphones and their relationship with us. Neither were they classified as innovative as an iphone. The iphone uses obsolete technology when it comes to internal hardware and it is true when we say ’Less is more’.
Furthermore, the fact is that the definition of an innovation must be put in context with its target market. Quoting Everett Rogers from the book, Diffusion of Innovations, ‘An innovation often is not a product but the system in which it is placed in.’ The system in our case of the iphone was not the design (form/aesthetics) of the cellphone nor the technology that it used, but the creation of the Apps and iTunes industry and the experience of using multi touch which led to a successful ground breaking; revolutionary product. Again, these creations were based on principles of Design Thinking- a human centered approach on what the people want and not what the market needs! So, it will be fair to say that Design empowers Innovation.
Design brings down the cost of an innovation and makes it affordable to all- that is Empowering Innovation.