It is common knowledge that most new products and services fail when brought to market. Charles Kettering, Board Member of GM (1920-1947) famously noted that when it comes to innovation: “You don't know when you are going to get the thing, whether it’s going to work or not and whether it’s going to have any value whatsoever." And even as things may have improved a bit since Kettering’s time, thanks to today’s attention to innovation processes and user-centered development practices, there’s still uncertainty that haunts all innovation attempts.
This high fail rate of new products and services stands in interesting contradiction to the flood of “Best Case” studies you will experience if you happen to attend a lot of business and innovation conferences. Best Case studies are certainly great stories and we all love to tell them, but I’d argue that in real life failures give you much more of a learning experience and motivation for improvement then success would ever do – think about the road to excellence if you do sports, think about how your kids grow up etc. And certainly this is also the case when it comes to business. So shouldn’t we hear much more fail stories and learn from them?
Peter Frumkin, a Professor of Public Affairs and Director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community, organized the seminar; we had talked before in some depth, and he had told me he was interested in learning more about design thinking. He had been carefully listening to the lecture, and he approached me at a break to discuss the role of sample size – “how can you be sure your sample isn’t biased?” he asked. Of course, it’s entirely biased; I described how design is provocative instead of predictive, and how marketing focuses on making sure a small insight represents a larger behavior, while design explores the possibility of what might be. Peter’s response was that it seemed like design is about supply, while marketing is about demand. Design, he said, looks at what they can best supply to a given market, while marketing judges what the market demands.
Can the Wii teach playground rules? Is an e-book the answer to the literacy challenge? What are today’s children learning from playtime and what do toy and game developers need to know to create play experiences that foster 21st century skills? As new technologies and media are embraced by younger children, it is crucial for designers to create tools and toys that will engage them while fostering creativity, education, and, of course, fun.
While reflecting on the IxDA 2010 conference, I’m trying on various lenses of evaluation, and coming to a conclusion that the profession of Interaction Design is reaching an interesting and critical divide. The divide seems to break down around two forces of gravity, loosely identified as:
A. Design, as a discipline. A locus of study, similar to science or art in breadth and depth, and focused on criticism, behavioral change, craft, empathy, humanism, and reflection. B. UX, as a form of applied design in the context of marketing, and focused on consumption, speed, innovation, and often, apparently, compromise.
I've just returned from the IDSA conference in Miami, and I'm both convinced that, in ten years, there won't be an IDSA conference to go to - and that isn't a bad thing. I don't mean this in a disparaging sense; I enjoyed the conference, caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a bit. But a trend that I've observed at past conferences is only more evident this year, and it's patronizing to continue to skirt what is becoming increasingly obvious: the IDSA has served a valuable role in the evolution of design as a professional discipline, and has helped advance the field to a point where the IDSA is now essentially irrelevant. Design has outgrown “Industrial Design”, and a professional organization cannot exist only in the form of self-maintenance.
Design seems to behave in a reactionary manner; a trend towards minimalism will find a reaction in emotive expression, while a push toward digital might be met with a return to analog. This makes sense, as design – as a human phenomenon – is as dialectic as politics or economics. I’m aware of trends that are happening right now, because I’m helping push those trends with my day to day work.
Those of us who work at design consultancies often attend conferences, like the IDSA conference or the IxDA conference, in an effort to learn new methods and techniques and to catch a hint of the "buzz" - the various themes that are occurring within our field. I've spent the last two days in a conference room in Boston getting an intimate view of how these conferences come to life.