An Alternate Approach to Product Innovation: the Lombardy Design Cluster

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By: John Caddell

Tired of reading about open innovation? According to Professor Roberto Verganti in this month’s Harvard Business Review (link to article), the Lombardy design cluster–a closely-linked group of furniture, lighting, and kitchen products companies in northern Italy–uses a different method to create their innovative products: what he calls "innovation through design."

Dr. Verganti is a favorite of this blog (here’s a prior post), and I really like that he mines the industries of his native Italy for lessons that can apply world-wide.

In this case, he studies radically fashion-forward companies such as Alessi, the home furnishings maker famous for the Michael Graves teakettle pictured above. Alessi and its Lombardy cohorts don’t try to poll users to see what they need, nor do they rely on new technology to push their products forward. Instead, they ask designers, frequently architects, to come together in intense dialogue to create products that are leaps ahead of today’s products.

The designs in some ways appear to be dreams of the future–creating products so new and fresh that they can remain fashionable for a generation or more (that teakettle design is more than twenty years old). See the Kartell Bookworm moldable bookshelf for another example. Products created this way, by this group, aren’t only interesting. They’re also profitable. According to Dr. Verganti, furniture companies in this cluster outgrew the average European Union furniture maker by nearly a factor of seven.

Here are other companies in the Lombardy cluster as cited by Dr. Verganti:

(Picture: the iconic 9093 teakettle from Alessi)

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