by: Design Translator

Gadi Amit, president of NewDealDesign, writes at The Fast Company Blog that Innovation (or Design Thinking?), as championed by the likes of Bruce Nussbaum (BusinessWeek’s Design Blog) and David Kelly (IDEO), is “killing” Industrial Design by forcing an “analytical structure” over something that is more intuitive. Very interesting, it sounds to me that this is very similar to what people often complain as the failure of most MBA programs. Has Design lost its way in the avenues of business plans and ROIs (return of investments)?

Gadi writes:

While innovation speaks of metrics and tangible features, design is usually defined by intuition and intangibles. It is far easier to explain metrics and tangibles. It is also assumed to be safer to make decisions based on numbers and engineering calculations. Yet the quintessential question about design is not “is it a ‘good’ design?”; it’s the other question: “is it the ‘right’ design?”

That’s where “innovation” fails. The innovation crowd makes a fundamental mistake: that a complex market problem can be solved by a good analytical design. If you build the “process” right, and put the right “validation” and “methodology” in place, using more technology with more investment in the “process”, you’ll get a better product–wrong!

In reality, winning a market battle requires a very complex equation of advance performance, marketing insight and appropriate design. We use the term “look & feel” often when talking about the right design approach. Both “look” and “feel” can not be quantified or learned in engineering schools. These terms are intuitive to the knowledgeable and obtuse to the novice. In reality the “look & feel” of a good product is a nuanced, multi-faceted approach to technical constraints, target demographics and trend-forecasting combined with a special sauce–the designer’s talent and intuition.


The question is essentially “how do we make decisions about design?” The answer is: “not by analytics alone!” The making of a good design–say a great mobile phone design–is so complex that the only way is by relying on the designer’s intuition in solving this nuanced formula. If the issue is the reliability of this method, the answer is the designer’s track record in resolving such challenges. Some people have more talent than others–that’s a fact of life.

Quote extracted from: Just Say No To “Innovation”.

This is quite a provocative post which I’m sure will ruffle a few feathers. Personally, I fully agree with Gadi’s insight, (check out my post: Can you Measure the Success of your Designs or Ideas?) and I’m glad to see someone else is on the soapbox tackling this issue.

However I may contradict myself, when I say this: for Design to be successful, its needs to better engage the Business. Trust and talent is one thing, but tangible numbers or dollar values is the most logical way to bridge the gap. I strongly believe the challenge going forward is finding a balance between justifying a Design and keeping the free form intuition flowing.

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