Just Because You Can Innovate Doesn\'t Mean You Should

6 Aug 2009 - 4:32pm
5 years ago
11 replies
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David B. Rondeau
2003

In a recent blog post, Hugh Beyer raised an interesting concept. He
said, "Innovation is easy...the hard part is actually acting on the
innovation." http://incontextdesign.com/blog/innovation-is-easy/

I work with Hugh at InContext Design, and based on my experience
working with many design teams, I think he's right. After reading
his post, it got me thinking about how this impacts our work as
designers.

At InContext, it affects how we run our design projects and the
design solutions we recommend. For every project, we adjust the
*scope* of the design and the *degree of innovation* to match our
client's capabilities and business goals. We've learned that even
though the Contextual Design process makes it fairly easy to generate
innovative solutions, they aren't always the *best* solutions. Just
because you *can* innovate, doesn't mean that you *should*.

Some companies don't *need* to innovate, they should improve the
products or services they already offer. Other companies *can't*
successfully innovate because they don't have the capabilities or
resources (as Hugh pointed out in his blog post).
As designers, we need to recognize when our clients *don't* need
innovation, when they *do*, and *how much* they can handle. Yes, that
means we sometimes have to pull back on the design throttle and
deliver something that isn't innovative and cool. Designers
naturally want to create the ideal, "best" designs they can, but
that isn't always what's "best" for the client. In the end, if
the client doesn't *implement* the design—how *successful* is it?

Do you think innovation is easy? How do you gauge a clients ability
or need to innovate? Have you ever delivered an innovative design
that wasn't implemented? Have you ever tried to convince a client
not to innovate? Or are you frustrated by clients who won't let you
innovate?

-dave

David B. Rondeau
Design Chair
InContext Design ( http://www.incontextdesign.com )

http://twitter.com/dbrondeau

Comments

7 Aug 2009 - 10:09am
ambroselittle
2008

I agree. Seems that, as you put it, the degree of innovation needs to be
factored in as a design constraint. It seems to me that a
successful/ideal/best design is the one that best fits the context and
constraints. It may not be the most admired, but I think that's often
because the potential admirer is not aware of all the goals, constraints,
and so on that were factored into it.
-a

7 Aug 2009 - 1:17pm
jrrogan
2005

To innovate or not to innovate is a decision that should hinge on the
innovation adding value to the business/product.

Measuring "adding value" is a little tricky, for a business it seems to be
simply does the innovation move business objectives forward or not.

I've been involved in many projects with massive "innovations". Sometimes
the "adding value" was not very straight forward at all.

For example I worked on one project where we designed prototypes that were
so impressive, the company was able to gain massive amounts of financing and
scare the hell out of their competitors. In the end they acquired their
competitors and now are the leader in their field. From an engineering
perspective, this company had real trouble executing on these innovations.

PS. Successful innovation is never easy, unless you're very very lucky, at
least that's what I've experienced.

Rich

--
Joseph Rich Rogan
President UX/UI Inc.
http://www.jrrogan.com

10 Aug 2009 - 1:35pm
jasonrobb
2009

Awesome ideas, David and Hugh!

I'll run through and answer your questions, since I generally agree
with everything you've said...

Q: In the end, if the client doesn't implement the design%u2014how
successful is it?
A: It's only successful if the innovation is pulled off the shelf
some day and implemented.

Q: Do you think innovation is easy?
A: Designing innovation is not easy. Implementing it can be easy. But
it has its own difficulties.

Q: How do you gauge a clients ability or need to innovate?
A: Not sure, would love to hear the kinds of questions others are
asking to extract the "innovatability" of a company at a given
time. (Yea, sorry, I know that's not a word!)

Q: Have you ever delivered an innovative design that wasn't
implemented?
A: Yes, plenty of times. In the case of the first question, we
acknowledged that we didn't have the resources to implement the
idea, so we shelved the idea. Then a few months later, once we had
more time/money, we pulled out the plans, refreshed out memories, and
continued with the innovative design.

Q: Have you ever tried to convince a client not to innovate?
A: Typically, I have to convince MYSELF not to innovate. My blue sky
ideas of a utopian web site frequently end with my realization that
I'm only 1 person, and if I want to get anything done, I need to
break off a smaller chunk.

Q: Or are you frustrated by clients who won't let you innovate?
A: Not any more. I used to be frustrated, but sometimes they're just
not convince-able. Would be interested in hearing war
stories/ammunition against the "won't let me innovate" case.

Thanks for sharing, great food for thought!

Cheers,

Jason R.

--
Jason Robb
Experience Design & Implementation

jason at jasonrobb.com
http://jasonrobb.com
http://uxboston.com
http://uiscraps.tumblr.com

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10 Aug 2009 - 2:16pm
jasonrobb
2009

What if we think of innovation in terms of potential and active
states?

If you have an innovative idea, but don't have the resources to
implement it, it still may be innovative. But if it's not
implemented, it's just a potential for innovation.

If you put that great idea into action, and implement the design,
it's active innovation.

Does this change anything? Am I just stating the obvious?

Jason R.

--
Jason Robb
Experience Design & Implementation

jason at jasonrobb.com
http://jasonrobb.com
http://uxboston.com
http://uiscraps.tumblr.com

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10 Aug 2009 - 3:56pm
Adrian Howard
2005

On 10 Aug 2009, at 13:16, Jason Robb wrote:

>
> What if we think of innovation in terms of potential and active
> states?
>
> If you have an innovative idea, but don't have the resources to
> implement it, it still may be innovative. But if it's not
> implemented, it's just a potential for innovation.
>
> If you put that great idea into action, and implement the design,
> it's active innovation.
>
> Does this change anything? Am I just stating the obvious?

Yeah - I sort of feel that way too. You don't actually have innovation
unless you make something and it works.

Dunno.... I don't really think of my work in terms of innovative
and... erm.. whatever the antonym of "innovative" is... "traditional"?

Innovative in comparison to what?
Innovative for whom?
Is that a binary distinction or a continuum?

Some folk seem to apply the word to anything new/different even if
it's not actually a good/appropriate solution. Is it really innovative
if if it doesn't actually work?

Some clients see some solutions as new and scary because they've not
encountered them before. Does that count as innovative?

Mildly puzzled.

Cheers,

Adrian
--
http://quietstars.com - twitter.com/adrianh - delicious.com/adrianh

11 Aug 2009 - 10:18am
David B. Rondeau
2003

I don't think there is any one way to answer the question "What is
innovative?"

I view it more as a continuum where you have on one side things that
are "not innovative". They are traditional, not risky, or they've
been done before. On the other side is "innovative", which are
things that are new, experimental, risky, or never been done before.

When thinking about how innovative your design solutions should be,
you need to understand where your design should be in that continuum.
By that, I mean what is most likely to be implemented by the client
and what will make the product or service the most successful. If it
is too innovative and the client can't implement it, it won't be
successful. On the other hand though, if it isn't innovative enough,
the product or service may not be successful%u2014even if it does get
implemented.

To complicate it a little more, I think we also need to factor in
*what* aspect of the product or service is being innovated. Is it a
new interaction design, a new technology, a radical change to the
core business model, or all of the above? Each of these will impact
implementation in different ways and more importantly, the impact
will vary depending on the abilities of the company implementing the
design.

I'd also like to respond to some of Adrian's questions. He asked,
"Innovative in comparison to what?". I agree that you should
consider how innovative something is in relationship to your
competitors, *but* in the end, if it doesn't get implemented, it's
a failure. I would argue that instead, you need to balance what is
best versus what can get done.

Adrian also asked, "Is it really innovative if it doesn't actually
work?" This might sound strange, but I don't think it really
matters. What if you create something that is *not* innovative and it
doesn't actually work either? It doesn't matter where on the
continuum of innovation a design lies%u2014if it was implemented and
it doesn't "work" or achieve it's intended goal or solve a real
problem%u2014it's a failure.

Instead I think we should be asking: What is the *best* design we can
create that will *work* (for users as well as business)%u2014that can
and *will* be implemented?

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12 Aug 2009 - 1:05am
jasonrobb
2009

First, this is awesome, David:

"Instead I think we should be asking: What is the best design we can
create that will work (for users as well as business)—that can and
will be implemented?"

Your consideration for business, technology and people is
consistently spot on. Keep rockin', it's really hard to do that
right.

Second, thank you for chiming in Eric. That is right, an idea no
matter how great, isn't worth much if it's not executed properly. I
heard (read?) someone tweet something along the lines of "but if
it's not implemented correctly, you shouldn't dismiss the idea
entirely."

Good stuff,

Jason R.

-- Jason Robb
Experience Design & Implementation

jason at jasonrobb.com
www.jasonrobb.com
www.uxboston.com
http://uiscraps.tumblr.com

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12 Aug 2009 - 3:09am
dszuc
2005

Hi:

Somethings I think we assume innovation needs to translate into
something big or mind blowing or revolutionary. Perhaps, those who
innovate and improve "micro interactions" to help delight us is
already a good start.

For example - Auto saving in gmail :)

What other "micro interactions" could we improve?

rgds,
Dan

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12 Aug 2009 - 9:39am
David B. Rondeau
2003

Eric%u2014Your point about innovation being clearly distinct from
invention is a fantastic one. This is something that was bothering me
while I was thinking about innovation, so I'm glad you raised it.

This is why innovation just for innovation's sake isn't a good
idea. It's not really innovation%u2014it's invention.

Is there a further definition of what makes invention distinct from
innovation? It seems that invention can also be used to try to solve
a problem (like Edison creating the light bulb). Obviously Edison was
an inventor and the light bulb was an invention. Was it also an
innovation?

-dave

David B. Rondeau
Design Chair
InContext Design ( http://www.incontextdesign.com )

http://twitter.com/dbrondeau

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12 Aug 2009 - 2:40pm
Alan James Salmoni
2008

Trite answer for design: What is best for the user?

Seriously though, the OPs quote is very true. Ideas are very common
and easy to get hold of. The problem is implementing them and getting
them to market. It's similar to the famous quote that "genuis is 1%
inspiration and 99% perspiration".

It seems to reflect a lot of what we do. We might have the occasional
brilliant idea, but most of our work is just not that way (e.g.,
understanding & contributing towards business requirements, testing &
research, fitting in with existing styles etc).

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12 Aug 2009 - 7:41pm
j.scot
2008

I couldn't help but think of Jared Spool's comments regarding (and
case studies on) "embraceable change" as I read through this
thread.

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