At the crossroad of Design and Innovation

At the crossroad between innovation and design in digital industry, Remy Bourganel kindly accepted to go more in-depth into this topic.

Remy is Head of  User Experience  & Design at Orange Vallée, and professor in charge of interaction and service design at Ensad. Previously, he contributed in the definition of Nokia UI DNA and structuring of Nokia Design User Centred Design practices.


1) What is the relationship between design and innovation?

ICSID  provides the following definition of design:

Design is a creative activity whose aim is to establish the multi-faceted qualities of objects, process, services, and their systems in whole life cycles. Therefore design is the central factor of innovative humanisation of technologies and the crucial factor of cultural and economic exchange.

From this definition, several principles unfold:
  • Design is a creative synthesis activity, as such it builds on the idea that the whole is bigger than the sum of it’s parts.
  • As a synthesis activity, Design aims at providing a creative synthesis:  at the junction of feasibility/viability/desirability, of top-down (ethos) and bottom-up (usage), through purposefully balancing practical/cognitive/sensorial/emotional qualities.
  • Design proceeds of an abductive thinking, building on hypothesis, experimentation through prototyping, building principles bottom-up.

So Design is a way of thinking innovation.

It is catching attention for various reasons, which include:

  • Deductive thinking aiming at building replicable theoretical models only succeeds poorly at predicting future (20-25% as from Steven Schnaars).
  • We are entering a new renaissance period from the digitalisation of the world.

It manifests from:

  • Less dependance on established forms of authorities.
  • Convergence of business (example: media/telecom/web).
  • Opening bottom-up innovation.
  • Accelerating innovation cycles.
  • Enabling co-creation, adaptation, diversion, hacking.
  • Provide power to doers.
We are switching from a modernist to post-modernist word, where collective thinking prevails, and within which Design is well equipped to animate.
From this perspective, Design is very central to an business’s success if raised not a function but embraced as a holistic process.

2) What progress have you noticed in the evolution of Design management?

In recent years, Design has been making significant progress in being valued as strategic:
  • Nike’s CEO is a designer, Apple, Nokia, among others have a designer at the company’s board.
  • A european report on the value of design reminds that there more changes of success for those companies who integrate design.
  • This year, Carrefour has hired a design director, this is a significant sign.
  • The ‘lieu du design‘ in Paris, funded by Ile de France, is experiencing a massive success.
  • There is a maturation in the understanding of design beyond aesthetics in companies, although marketing on engineering functions are willing to lead design activities still.
  • As Research and Innovation units have dried all modernist myths, in a post-modern time, we see more demand for designers to inspire directions. This being said, very few designers are prepared for such roles.
  •  Cap Digital, the innovation cluster of Ile de France does have a design community.
  •  San Francisco has seen announced some start-up funding focused on design led initiatives. Some design-led funds are appearing.

3) What do you think of the acceleration of innovation cycles?

Try fast and fail fast is part of the design way of thinking. In this perspective, it is about breaking a linear/cascade style, and iterations.
I do not think that speed in the digital industry brings any value in innovation, it is just an industrial consequence of production cost reduction in software development, opening possibilities to which traditional marketing combined with cheap engineering are not prepared to forcing them to try and fail faster, confused by the expended amount of design decision options on the way.
I’m fascinated by the analogy from today’s software development+rapid iteration and the car industry as transformed by Japanese in the 80’s.

Japanese built their car industry on trying to reduce production cost, allowing a larger portfolio, leaving unanswered the question of what to produce. They built their portfolio in an organic fashion: they multiplied models, and from those which worked, they developed variations. It has been a success, business wise, but they largely failed to build cult products as italian cars could be, designed with an assumed strong positioning. I’d argue Apple is an actual italian car maker while Google/Android is Toyota.

Haste is one thing and speed another. Since I see successful brands not following an accelerated innovation model, I’m wondering if  innovation haste might be a consequence of a lack of sense of identity/what you stand for as a brand/your DNA/your innovation ethos. Fast innovation’s value is only relevant if it fits your brand’s values, leading the innovation style.

Apple does craft their products obsessively. And I’d argue, Apple moves slowly, creating a smoke mirror through various releases to get more time to craft. I’m still fascinated by the objectification of Apple products you can’t open, almost transformed as totems, and the exceptional sense of engineering craft. In essence, Apple is a counter-example of hasted innovation. Apple’s strength is in a streamlined product line, very focused, not developed in a quick and dirty fashion. And a significant part of the innovation risk is externalised to start-ups or innovations Apple is buying.

Apple’s model combines design excellency with fine timing and meets spectacular success:

  • a leader with a vision, trained partly to design (typography);
  • very integrated team, hard working, all hands-on, even management;
  • a passion for excellence, and a strong will to transcend status-quo, and redefine the rules. (did you know that the very first Mac was built hacking another system?);
  • integration strategy (buy techno/services/products from outside to integrate and assemble one offering).

In Apple there is only the desire to make totemic/magic happy minimalist hardware through design/engineering excellence, integrating simple to use and theatrical interfaces and a closed eco-system. They try to reduce their portfolio to it’s essence, allowing them to focus on creating/selling what they want to become icons.

Note: To complement Remy, I would add: Apple products are not only “user friendly” anymore, they are just “friendly” now!

4) What design & innovation trends are you going to focus on this year?

San Francisco has seen in recent weeks the announcement of a design-led investment fund. This is a symbolic time of a maturing experience led business while marketing and business functions’ importance might be in decline. I’ll follow-up on this since some people want to build the same in France.

Remy Bourganel, @epourkoapa, May 2011


8 responses to “At the crossroad of Design and Innovation

  1. Nice article, I liked the version of the three circle Venn diagram, was that developed for the article or more generally somewhere else.

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