Innovative design needs a new definition

Innovative design isn’t all that important

Innovative design isn’t all that important

In a recent article titled What is innovative design? Fast Company explored the topic through the opinions of a number of designers on the judging panel of the 2014 Innovation by Design Awards. A couple of the responses were great including this criteria from Bradford Shellhammer:

Did this design change the world and change it for the better?

And this from Dan Gardiner:

Does the design affect behaviour in a meaningful way?

I thought I’d attempt to answer the question myself.

Innovative design is design that is better for us all. Originality and newness are irrelevant.

But apparently my understanding of the topic is incorrect.

The article is linked to the results of the 2014 Innovation by Design awards. These awards “bestow honours on designers and businesses that have worked together to solve the problems of today and tomorrow, achieving outcomes that neither could do alone.” The winner in the product design category in 2014 was a soccer boot by Nike. The design was chosen as most innovative product because the boot allows for greater comfort and ball control. Is that really innovative? Is that better? And, if so, for whom?

A new soccer boot solves neither the problems of today nor the problems of tomorrow. Because these problems include inequality in schools, domestic violence and skyrocketing carbon pollution. Yet, according to the design jury of this particular competition, a soccer boot changes the world for the better and affects our behaviour in meaningful ways. I find this difficult to comprehend.

Innovative has to mean better for us all. The more innovative question then, is: what is better design?

When we move away from innovation, as a criteria for success, we can reframe competitions around new criteria that help to rate designed solutions to problems such as: What does an equitable school system look like? How can we eradicate domestic violence? How can we slow or reverse the release of carbon pollution?

Stuart Karten’s response to the innovation question is perhaps the most adequate:

It’s when…functionality is driven by people and connects to human needs that innovation occurs.

As far as I can see, there are no links between newness, originality and betterness.