Innovation through design
_What is design? What is its relation with innovation? I am not talking here about design as the act of planning but rather in the sense of applied arts. That’s how the book Design Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti starts. After some discussion he quotes a definition proposed by Prof. Klaus Krippendorff on the article “On the Essential Contexts of Artifacts" or on the Proposition that "Design is Making Sense (of Things)” published on Design Issues in 1989:
“The etymology of design goes back to the Latin de + signare and means making something , distinguishing it by a sign, giving it significance, designating its relation to other things, owners, users, or gods. Based on this original meaning, one could say: design is making sense (of things). “
_The book discusses how the affective relations between the user and the product are an important aspect in the product value: When buying something you consider not only the utilitarian aspects of the product but also its intrinsic meaning. What is the meaning attached to a Porsche or a MacBook?
So, when talking about innovation we can now consider two possible dimensions: technological or meaning. Technological innovations occur when a company applies a new technological breakthrough in a product, improving its performance, price or other technical aspect. Innovation in meaning, on the other hand, happens when a company creates and introduces a different way to look at a product.
Simultaneous innovation on both dimensions has enabled companies to come up with products which are technologically safe from competitors and strongly resonate with its users even when the technology barrier falls.
Verganti states that the process of finding new meanings to products is similar to the process of developing technological innovations: both are push strategies. Companies that are recognized innovators ordinarily propose new meanings for its clients instead of asking what they want. He calls this process design-driven innovation. If companies just asked the clients what they want, they would receive requests for improving technical aspects evaluated over the current meaning of things.
For a correct development of new meanings, companies should know why people buy things and how they intend to use them. These reasons also change over time due to cultural changes, technological changes or even economy changes. Successful companies learned how to discover possible new meanings by leveraging the cultural know-how of interpreters, people which question the dominant paradigm and possess a different vision of the society.
The book has some intersections with Blue ocean strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. In both the goal is to differentiate itself by changing the rules of the game. However Verganti focuses on the language and significance associated with products while Kim and Renée give more emphasis on identifiable product features.
Verganti presents plenty of real world examples throughout the book, along with quotes that help us to understand how innovators (such as Jobs, Alessi and Gismondi )think. Some cases are really inspiring such as the case of the Swiss clock maker Swatch. The book is really great and a must read for everyone interested on innovation, especially if you do not have a social science/design background.
Assistant professor and entrepreneur.