Innovation? What a waste of time!

Design Leadership
Mar 28, 2009

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.

20 Tips for Designers to Beat the Recession

Design Articles
Mar 27, 2009

This article was originally published on Yanko Design. As I know some Design Sojourn readers don’t really frequent YD, I thought it might be a good idea to republish it here as well. I have also re-edited some of the text to make it more relevant to DS readers. Enjoy!

It is all around us, talk of doom, gloom, job cuts, job losses and recession etc. This is not what a young designer, fresh out of school, wants to hear. It is also not what an employed designer wants to hear. However it is not the end of the road, and as long as the Earth keeps turning, there will be a tomorrow. Personally, I like to believe a recession is a time of great opportunity for everyone. Especially for forward looking designers who have the right skills and are well placed to take advantage of a recovering economy.

When I first got out of design school, it was at the height of the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997. There were no industrial design jobs available. I was retrenched from my first furniture design job after 3 months, and it took me another 4 months before I found another design related job. It was definitely not an easy time in my life at all. If you are interested, I had compiled some of my lessons in this Pillar Article “10 Tips on Landing You an Industrial Design Job“. However I think it is the right time to expand and update these tips as, today’s economic situation is not only about getting a job, it is also about keeping it.

1) Be Flexible
In a time of recession, you need to be flexible. Not only should you do your best to chase down any design related job you can find, you should also be ready to be the one to do the “dirty” work. The tough jobs that no one else wants to do. In this time of crisis, employers look for people who are willing to do what it takes to deliver.

2) Can you sell Ice to an Eskimo?
The ability to sell yourself in interviews and all documents related to you is vital in winning in today’s job market. It is not only about getting your information out to people; it is about positioning yourself in the best possible light. Leverage on your achievements and strengths, but in a Design world filled with egos, soft sell goes a lot further than hard sell.

3) Know Thyself
Before you can sell yourself you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Time for some navel gazing and be very self-critical. Play up your strengths and look to improve your weaknesses.

4) Where You want to go Today?
Have a strong vision of where you want to go or what you want to achieve as a designer. It’s important to employers as it shows vision, passion and ambition. A strong personal vision also helps you make the right decisions when you need to deliberate on job opportunities.

5) Continue to Improve
You can always look to do a task better or improve a skill. Striving to do things better, is an important mindset to have.

6) Lifelong Learning
Not only look to improve, but aim to learn new things. One new thing a week is a good start. Industrial Design is a huge profession with many facets of which you only learn the basics in school. Once you are out of school, take it upon yourself to lean more by being proactive.

7) Take Risks
A young designer, fresh out of school CAN and should take risks in their career. Of course you need to be prudent if you have to put food on the table. However it is not the time to pick the “safe” job, but the time to pick the job that gives you the best exposure.

8 ) Personal Branding
No, it is not the personal logo or monogram that makes most people cringe. It is about an image you want to present, a public “face” that represent the principles you stand for. A well written blog is a very powerful tool for Personal Branding.

9) Passion
I have to say that employers HATE designers with little or no passion for their work. Nobody can be more excited about your design work or career but you. Passion is also about doing what it takes to get things done. Employers like that. This should also be demonstrated when you talk about your portfolio.

10) Build Relationship and Communication Skills
When I got out of school, it was in the time when 3D CAD started becoming big and every employer wanted a 3D designer. Unfortunately my hand rendered portfolio could never compete, but it did not matter, my eagerness to learn 3D CAD, and my ability to communicate that design was innate and not reliant on a 3D tool was what won the day.

11) Be Serious with Your Job
Young designers are just that, young. They focus on a quality life more than quality work. Some just don’t take their work seriously. Good Design is serious business, this means quality work delivered on time and on budget.

12) Work Like a Slave
To get good in design fast, you need to clock the hours to acquire the skills. Work hard, when you are young, but also work smart. In interviews, show that you are willing to put in what it takes to get things done. Quality projects with short lead times are worth its weight in gold in portfolios.

13) Always Shine with Good Work
Always, I say ALWAYS focus on good quality work. When in doubt, awesome designs will always make anyone’s day.

Be diligent, before you go for an interview, do your homework. No employer likes people who know nothing about the company or the work they do.

15) Network
Online AND offline. Enough said, don’t you think?

16) Polish your Portfolio, Again and Again
Portfolios are a historical document of you and your work. Make sure it is updated and presented in the best possible light. When I first started out, I updated or re-designed my portfolio every 3 to 6 months. Your Portfolio should become a living document that reflects your goals and vision. If you went back to a company for a repeat interview they would have new things to see and a good idea how you are developing as a designer.

17) Get Real Projects Fast
Student work is great to start your portfolio out with; however do aim to phase it out of your portfolio as quickly as you can with real design work. Real world projects give you the creditability you need. If you are stuck in a job that has very little design work worthy of your portfolio, try to get some extra freelance or temporary work to shore up your portfolio.

18) Deck out your CV with Results not Skills
In your CV you would probably have indicated that you are a “team player”, or “great at creating 3D models” etc. Well, so can millions of other designers. Make sure instead that in every past or present job listing in your CV you describe your contribution to the bottom line. So instead you should write that you “worked in global team that spanned 5 countries” or “you were responsible for the 3D database generation for this award winning product.”

19) Widen your Interests
The most effective designers can draw inspiration from their have very varied interests, that are often no design related. Share some of that during an interview or with your colleagues, it makes you a much more interesting person.

20) Be a Problem Solver
Last but not least, nobody likes a “Whiner”, and I can vouch that most employers don’t. You supposed to be a creative, so be creative and figure how to make the best of your limited budget or your reduction in man power. In a recession there is no shortage of work, just the resources to do it.


Well, there we go! I hope these 20 tips will get you up and going as a designer, or perhaps even solidify your position as one. Please do not hesitate to leave a comment or additional questions you may have or need feedback for?

Apple’s iPhone Strategy is Now Clear

Design Leadership
Mar 24, 2009

I’m sure many of us “poo-pooed” Apple’s first generation iPhone as sorely lacking in the technology department. However, no one can doubt the buzz the impending launch of the iPhone OS version 3.0 has created. On the flip side, if we can look through the marketing, we can see that there is a very clever strategy at work here.

Kontra from the very excellent Counter Notions blog has a great analysis of Apple’s iPhone Strategy and how it has evolved from a device into a platform.

Image Source: CounterNotions

In summary, the first iPhone generation introduced us to a device that could pull in all your Stuff in a logical manner. The 2nd generation 3G iPhone created a platform where, by leveraging on the iTunes store, you could download all your Stuff. Finally with the release of iPhone OS 3.0, (very apt don’t you think?) Apple plugs up most of the holes we have been complaining about and almost perfects the product. Thus making it

Kontra writes:

Apple consolidated its gains, marked its territory of 30M users+25K apps+800M downloads and built a very deep and wide moat around it. A moat so formidable that there’s not a single smartphone player capable of overcoming it.

…Apple also methodically eliminated the vast majority of iPhone’s “missing” features: copy and paste, landscape text entry, global search, notifications, MMS, voice memos, new calendar format, Notes sync, stereo Bluetooth support, extended parental controls, browser auto-fill and anti-phishing… pretty much anything else that may have given potential customers a pause previously.

Another thing I like to add is that great products do not have to be 100% right the first time. Getting a product shipped that 80% right but with a 100% intrinsic benefit to your user is a lot better in my humble opinion. Just make sure to reiterate and improve your product very quickly after you have launched it.

This strategy is like a good Tennis swing. You need to have a good follow through after you take your shot. Unfortunately the follow through is what many companies are just not good at doing.

I would highly recommend you read his analysis in full, both part 1 and part 2, to get the full course dinner!

Are Concept Products a Lie?

Design Leadership
Mar 20, 2009

You can find a boat load of Concept Products everywhere on the Internet these days. Every second news article seems to be a new concept mobile phone, PC or even a car. But are we fooling ourselves with Concept Products and patting our collective backs with a liberal round of “Mental Masturbation”?

According to Kontra from CounterNotions, this is the case, and the main reason why he thinks Apple, BusinessWeek and Fortune magazine’s “Most Innovative Company”, do not believe in “Concept Products”. He says:

Why hasn’t Apple, the most innovative and visionary company in computing, produced a single concept product or vision in over a decade? Because, to paraphrase Jobs, real artists ship.

What’s wrong with Apple?

Why would a commercial entity like Apple produce a concept product? Apple is likely generating more concept products and visions than any other technology company for internal use. When Apple wanted to get into retail stores, for example, Jobs had Ron Johson build a fully-functioning, real-size prototype and tore it down at the last minute to rebuild a new one. Why didn’t Apple release the “concept store” to the then-deeply-skeptical press in order to “demonstrate visionary leadership”? In a similar situation Microsoft likely would have.

Product design, above all, is a bet. Apple understands this better than any other company. In iPhone: The bet Steve Jobs didn’t decline, I explained just what a huge bet the iPhone project was to Apple in 2005. It was a bet-the-company kind of bet. One that Nokia, which has sold hundreds of millions of phones over many years, never took. Neither did Microsoft. They would just as well release annual concept products to the public in order not to go through the pain of taking a bet.

Apple bet the company to single handedly change the industrial design of mobile devices, how we interact with them, the balance between carriers and manufacturers, mobile application vending, etc. Indeed, it simply redefined what a mobile device is to become. Apple did this not with a concept product, but by betting its own billions on a shipping product. This, of course, is nothing new to the company that also gave us Apple II, Macintosh, iMac and iPod…all without concept products.

Doesn’t Apple get it? Aren’t concept products the ultimate sign of getting and shaping the future?

Real artists ship, dabblers create concept products

Pretenders don’t quite understand that design is born of constraints. Real-life constraints, be they tangible or cognitive: Battery-life impacts every other aspect of the iPhone design — hardware and software alike. Screen resolution affects font, icon and UI design. The thickness of a fingertip limits direct, gestural manipulation of on-screen objects. Lack of a physical keyboard and WIMP controls create an unfamiliar mental map of the device. The iPhone design is a bet that solutions to constraints like these can be seamlessly molded into a unified product that will sell. Not a concept. Not a vision. A product that sells.

It turns out that when capable designers are given real constraints for real products they can end up creating great results. In Apple’s case, groundbreaking products like the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone. Constraints have a wonderful way of focusing the mind on the fundamentals, whereas concept products can often have the opposite affect.

Concept products are like essays, musings in 3D. They are incomplete promises. Shipping products, by contrast, are brutally honest deliveries. You get what’s delivered. They live and die by their own design constraints. To the extent they are successful, they do advance the art and science of design and manufacturing by exposing the balance between fantasy and capability.

Extracted from: Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products”

What do you guys think? What would you consider the value of creating Concept Products? What about Concept Design Awards? Is it healthy that our whole design education seems to revolve around the research and conceptualization of concept ideas? I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

3 Seconds is all You Got for Your Designs to Sell!

Design Articles
Mar 19, 2009

Source: You-Did

Tic. Tock.

Tic. Tock.

Tic. Tock.

Three seconds.

That’s all you’ve really got to make the sale.

Source: The Irresistible Offer: How to Sell Your Product or Service in 3 Seconds or Less (Amazon Link)

In a blink of an eye, a potential buyer would have entered a store, quickly scan the different products on the shelf and then make a decision to engage with a particular product.

All this happens in just 3-5 seconds!

A product’s external housing is one of the first things a customer sees. This means for your designs to be successful, it will only have 3 seconds to capture the buying interests of your target customer. In today’s ultra competitive market landscape represented by information overload, saturated product offerings and competent competitors who can also do good design, ensuring that your design does this job well is no easy task.

So then how do you do it? Here is how I think it can be done.

1) Create a Unique Design Identity

Similar to a Brand, a unique design language or design identity is one of the strongest elements you can use to form attachments between your product and target consumer.

Key design details, such as strong silhouettes, unique button layouts and even materials or finishing can be “identity handles” that give your consumers anchor points to connect with your design.

BMW’s “flame surfaces”, the iPod click wheel and Coke bottle, are great examples of unique iconic designs that communicates what the product stands for without even the need for the brand’s logo to be present.

2) Strategic Designs that Communicate

Coming up with a great design identity is useless if the design language has no meaning behind it. It is not called a “language” for nothing.

A design language, in the true sense of the word, needs to be in a form that communicates what your product is all about.

You should aim for your design to communicate the product’s benefits to your target consumer. You should take this opportunity to visualize unique competitive or differentiation elements of your product may have. Best of all, you could take this idea to the next level by sculpting your language in such a way that it tells a compelling story.

3) Only Winning Designs may Apply

If all your great ideas for unique design languages don’t look good when they come together, you are probably not going in the right direction.

You need to continue to push your design work to ensure that it is the best work you can do, and what you come up with is truly a “winning design”.

The competitive marketplace is merciless and ruthless. There is really no space for design that falls into second or third place.

4) Not Just a Wow Factor, but a Meaningful Wow Factor

Coming up with a unique iconic language is only half of the story. It is important that it is meaningful to your target consumer as well.

Do your homework and to make sure that your design is a clear reflection of your market research and target market analysis. Make sure your target market’s needs and wants are accounted for in your design.

5) Consistency is the Key to Prosperity

Finally, to wrap it all up into that winning recipe, you need to add an ingredient of consistency.

Identifying the key design details or “identity handles” are important first steps, but the discipline to ensure that these handles are consistently executed over and over again is what will make it stick in the long run.

Repeated and consistent exposure of your design language to your target consumer, will allow them to slowly build a visual relationship with your product that will create a lot of design goodwill that can be leverage over and over again.


I hope you enjoyed this post? I look forward to all your feedback and comments, or perhaps a different methodology you have found successful.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about The Creative Genius at TED

Designing Designers
Mar 17, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gives a great little talk about creative ventures, the creative genius and how we are ruining it (them). Very interesting, especially the part about how each great creative venture “kills” us bit by bit, metaphorically that is!

Designers you can relate right? Heh-heh. Enjoy!

The New iPod Shuffle: I’m Sorry, but What’s the Point?

Industrial Design
Mar 14, 2009

Edit: I thought long and hard on whether I should post this or not, as I know anything perceived as negative of Apple will receive a lot of flack. And it has. However, let me set the record straight. I have full respect for the Apple Design team and by no means belittling any of their amazing effort. In fact I have recognized that they are almost 100% responsible for making business leaders recognize the power of design. So let me clarify, what I’m doing here is asking “Why?” and the reason for their strategy behind it all. I therefore would like to have a constructive discussion here and will not hesitate to delete comments that do not have any value add to this discussion.

I had a little shiver of anticipation when I heard from a colleague that Apple had released a new iPod Shuffle. What did the boys from Cupertino think up next?

When Apple’s homepage finished loading up, my immediate response was “What the hell is that?”

Also suitably confused I asked myself “Why”?

Why would there be a need for a super thin half a Mahjong tile that could talk back to you? Ok, so Apple decided to build a product around a great user interface that works with a technology that converts text to voice. Great! But tell me, what is the point of this product?

Later that day a friend SMSed me.

“What do u think of the new Shuffle?” He asked.

“Hmm…I’m starting to think what is the point of it all?” I SMSed back.

Beep. “The Apple brand is about great ideas and a company that innovates at all costs by pushes the boundaries. However such ideas with does not necessary make the Shuffle a better product.”

“Innovation for innovation’s sake?” I thought.

Beep. Another message came in. “But you are right, what is the point of having this product? When the rest of my iPods still work fine?”

Exactly the point of this post.

It has now come to a point where making a product smaller becomes a pointless exercise. How much smaller can you make it before the product becomes unusable?

Is having a device operating on pure remote control efficient? Don’t you think that this great technology could have been easily included in the next iPhone / iPod update? Then, is there even a reason for this product’s existence?

I think there will be a number of struggles ahead for Apple. With such frequent product updates, many of which are incremental, is there a point to even upgrade your already thin iPod Nano to the next new one?

Interestingly, it also looks like the world has finally caught up with Apple. With every product reiteration, Apple’s innovative application of technology in an easy to use framework does not seem to get them that far ahead of the crowd these days. With competitors getting better in creating equally compelling products, Apple’s impact just seems less and less exciting to me.

How to be a (Fill in the Blank) Superstar?

Designing Designers
Mar 11, 2009

Or: How to build your personal brand by blogging?


What a great evening meeting and interacting with hot chicks and cool guys, Bloggers are great!

As mentioned in my last post, I was invited to speak at a Bloggers only session called “Your Blog: How to Market your Blog like a Brand”. This little cozy get together was organized by Pat, Tania and Brian from Ogilvy’s Open Room.

I had an opportunity to be in the company of a number of great speakers including Jon YongFook, “The Dude” behind ToysREvil and Arti, a former journalist, from Ogilvy.

I was in two minds if I should post this presentation on Design Sojourn or not. The reason is my presentation’s focus was about “How you can build a personal brand by blogging?”. Not really Strategic Industrial Design related, however I think a lot of you may find this information valuable, well at least I hope so! On a side note, this presentation was built and based on my Pillar Article “How to be a Design Superstar.”

Enjoy and do let me know what you think?

How to Market your Blog like a Brand?

About Design Sojourn
Mar 05, 2009

The very lovely Pat Law from Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence Team, has invited me to share some of my thoughts on this theme. I will be thinking about what to present over the next few days, but at this time it looks like my presentation will be something along the lines of blogging, building your personal brand and getting ahead in your career.

It’s currently open to bloggers only and restricted to something like 30 spots. I’m pretty sure the spaces are filling up fast. So if you happen to be in Singapore and interested to attend, do email Pat at her email address above and mentioned you heard about this event via Design Sojourn.

See you there!