Solving a 1976 or 2012 Problem

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The year is 1976, Dieter Rams, who is most renowned for his innovative design work for Braun and Vitsoe, is on stage in New York talking about the importance of design as part of the business strategy: (source)

“… design is a popular subject today. No wonder because, in the face of increasing competition, design is often the only product differentiation that is truly discernible to the buyer.”

– Dieter Rams

    Rams was one of several designers heading up a new era of thinking around design where businesses would see the benefits offered by design as a strategic, not just an aesthetic tool. But, for businesses to benefit from the possibilities offered by design it wasn’t enough that companies started using design, it also demanded the creative industry to start thinking about business. Something which quickly happened; terminology like strategic design, design thinking etc. describes models, approaches and mindsets giving the communication industry a business toolbox outside their creative instrument.

    This creative product, which Rams indirectly was one of the initiators of, four decades ago, is still the status quo in much of the communication industry. And it is more popular than ever. There are a range of agencies around the world having achieved great success in the process and cultivation of this product.

    But, if you want things to stay as they are, they need to change. We have to ask the question; is the design-business problem solved correctly?

    In her Fast Company article “What Both MBAs And MFAs Get Wrong About Solving Business Problems

    Melissa Quinn writes about her experience as a judge in the Rotman design Challenge. Which, despite its name is a competition about business challenges. This year, from a total of 23 teams, 16 represented business schools and only seven represented design schools. Quinn writes that even if the business teams did rather bad (not one of them reached the final) the design teams should not automatically receive much honorary remarks. Only one of the teams in the final produced a solution that had a concrete idea of capitalization (demanded fees).

    In my mind this is a consequence of how we decided to solve Rams problem in 1976: The design and creative industry adjusted – but the creative product stayed the same. We added a business solution outside the creative instrument, we did not integrate the two.

    To many people this may sound very sane – but I like to play with the thought that it isn’t.

    The creative product is treated today in the same way we have treated it since Rams went on to that podium in New York; as a craft, an message, form, content and semiotics. The creative product is there to create an idea, and influence. And this worked in 1976, when designers and creatives task was to design communication that wanted to convey.

    But, in 2012, in the Rotman Design Challenge, creativity is there to serve a broader purpose; earning money, being a tool. It should have behavior, think, include interaction, be a meeting place – to be precise; communication is not there to sell the product, but to be the product.

    In other words, it is different now. And the challenge we are left with is that today the creative industry has a hard time adapting or expanding its core product – we are still thinking and talking about solving Rams anno 1976 and not Quinn 2012.

    Image via flickr

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