Thoughts and articles about design, digital era and more…
First in a series
The idea that incumbent businesses and even whole industries can be unexpectedly disrupted by newcomers to the market is a powerful one, and we have Clayton Christensen and his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, to thank for this insight. In the over 20 years since the publication of Christensen’s seminal work, however, we have seen violent disruptions that were not predicted by Christensen’s description of disruptive innovation. This article begins to explore how we might update our understanding of disruption in a way that is more useful to businesses desiring to either disrupt or ward off disruption.
Seeking a meaningful definition of “disruptive innovation”Professor Christensen says on his website:
Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.First Edition, The Innovator’s DilemmaBut ..
I admit, Anthony, that I am writing in bold strokes rather than nuanced ones. But I try to be careful not to be oversimplify in the process.
In my experience, there really exists an engineering mindset and a design mindset. In great companies, the leadership finds a way to cause these two mindsets (and others, actually) to work together to create great products. My article is about the disfunction that occurs when the engineering mindset takes over and the design mindset is diminished or squeezed out. Also in my experience, many more companies have this problem than the other way around, where the design mindset leaves too little room for the engineering mindset. But I fully realize that bother are needed in a great enterprise.
Then there’s Google. Ah, Google. Google’s search, with monetization through AdWords and other ad monetization, is a tremendous product. It is one of the most, if not the most, effective digital products of the internet age. And Google has the profits to show for..
You make great observations, Jonas, about UI/UX and the various other names used to describe design work. The frustration you describe really resonates.
Your discussion about design being one thing also rings true. I believe that the emerging idea (over the past half century) that design should revolve around human-centeredness has given designers a worthy banner to rally around and has been a major factor in unifying design as a discipline. This focus has given us principles of design that make sense whether talking about urban design, architecture, industrial design, service design, digital design, or many other types of design. I love that we can now talk about design as a thing across such a broad range of specialties and industries.
On the other hand, I strongly believe that although design is one unified thing, it is not carried out as a single skill. The design of any type of product or service requires distinct skills across a spectrum that covers:
strategic design: focused on ..
The word design is used in so many ways that you begin to wonder if it has any useful meaning at all. All of these may be regarded as acts of design:
Laying out a magazine adMaking an engineering plan for a suspension bridgeUsing A/B testing to improve user response to a websitePlotting an elaborate trapWireframing user interactions for a mobile appCreating the graphical look and feel of a mobile appPlanning the features of a product that solves a perceived user problemCollecting user feedback on a product or servicePreparing architectural plans for a beautiful buildingPreparing architectural plans for an ugly buildingSince folks refer to any and all of these examples (and many more) as “design,” the term design could be regarded as just a great big basket that holds many things that have no clear relationship to one another, except for the fact that someone, somewhere calls them design.
Why do people know what an engineer is, but not what a designer is?As a discipline, engineering is ..
Debunking design DarwinismProduct managers beware!In some reaches of the product development world there is a fascination with the idea that products can nearly design themselves through an iterative process of development, testing, and incremental improvement. This is what I call “design Darwinism.” Design Darwinism often enters the product development conversation as an extension of a Lean, Agile, data-driven, or A/B testing framework.
The prospect of products arising out of a primordial soup of nebulous product ideas and gradually evolving into great products without the need of designers is a stirring notion for some. The problem is, it doesn’t work. You can’t design by iteration and incremental improvement. There is no such thing as design Darwinism in the real world (except that which brings about the extinction of poorly-designed products).
Google: the grand experiment in design DarwinismGoogle has famously rolled out dozens of “beta” releases, apparently hoping that iteration w..
Should our quest for innovation in new products aim to be disruptive, or should we be satisfied with bringing about incremental improvement? Is there a qualitative difference between the two? Last week I was privileged to speak with a group of students at an Innovation & Entrepreneurship meetup at Davidson College, one of the nations top liberal arts colleges. One of the students asked me this great question, and I admitted that I did not have a great answer at the time.
I pondered this question more. From a design perspective, I regard an innovation as something new that is beneficial to some group or class of people; whether new technology is involved is immaterial. Naturally, innovations can be bigger or smaller. But then a lightbulb went off: the “size” of an innovation can be measured on two scales:
Innovation with big benefit to people >> great productInnovation with big impact on an industry >> disruptionBut the only scale that matters to users is the first, the benefit to them...
And why they may never have another one like it
The state of search, circa 1998Many of you whippersnappers are too young to remember search before Google. Well this is what it looked like (and there were a bunch of others too)…
What’s all that cruft? Search options, advertising, links to sponsored stuff, non-search functions, and who knows what all else.
Besides the clutter, there was another, bigger problem: the search results. Search engines of that era either “crawled” the whole web, like HotBot, but were unable to display the results in a useful order, or they were based on a human-curated directory, like Yahoo!, but were not at all comprehensive. And as the web exploded in quantity of content, the chaos of crawler-based search and the lack of completeness of human-curated search both became increasingly painful.
Along came GoogleWow! Clutter gone. (And even more-so in subsequent iterations.) Even more importantly, Google rolled out a search algorithm that sliced the Gordian ..
7 design thinking principles liberated from design thinking methods
Design thinkers were around a long time before “Design Thinking” was considered to be a discipline. These are some folks from America’s past that I see as design thinkers and the fields they impacted:
Benjamin Franklin — civic institutions: lending library, postal system, fire departmentFredrick Law Olmsted — landscape architectureHenry Ford — the automobile, manufacturingWalt Disney — animated films, theme parksSteve Jobs — personal technologyOprah Winfrey — personalized mass mediaThese design leaders followed principles that we may now regard as design thinking, though they never would have used that label. By their examples it should be clear that design thinking cannot be packaged into a fixed set of methods to be applied universally. If we try to do so, we may lose the spirit of design thinking itself. Rather, I think it would be useful to have two conversations that we keep separate:
To discuss the principles tha..
Proposing that design innovation — not technological innovation — is what disrupts businesses and industries.
The idea of disruptive technology has been with us since Clayton Christensen released The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997. Since then, we have seen not only major companies disrupted, but entire industries. We have observed incredible disruption in a very short time, but can we learn from this history how to reliably cause disruption? In this regard, I want to examine the premise that:
It is design innovation — not technological innovation — that causes disruption.I am using technological innovation to mean the use of engineering knowledge to create new processes and products and design innovation to mean the use of design thinking to create improved experiences using available technologies. If I am right, then those who want to innovate to disrupt must shift their focus from technological innovation to design innovation.
The real cause of disruptionConsider a few famous cases of d..