Know when to kill bad ideas, says designindustry head

An unwillingness to rigorously evaluate and kill weak ideas is but one indication that many New Zealand companies don’t fully understand the role of design in taking products and services to market.

Dorenda BrittenThe managing director of designindustry Ltd, Dorenda Britten, says that in general Kiwi companies are good at the technical side of creating new products or services and we can always be relied upon to make improvements on existing ones – cheaper, better etc.

However, we don’t tend to be good at standing back and evaluating the opportunity, costs and benefits, such as whose needs are we aiming to satisfy, when and how?

“We tend to lack a holistic view of both our business and its opportunities,” says the Christchurch-based design champion.

“The often-solitary, do it myself kiwi way tends to preclude sharing and this means we frequently fail to pick up vital information at critical times in the decision making process.”

Britten is familiar with the IDEO design ethos as she is with a number of other high profile international consultancies. While she agrees with much of IDEO’s thinking, she believes a New Zealand-centric approach is required, taking into account our character, resources and markets.

IDEO’s processes have been largely developed for organisations much larger than most of ours and subsequently have much more ‘fat’ in them than New Zealand has a taste for, Britten says. Also, IDEO can safely assume some design awareness and a preparedness to invest in something where the value cannot be guaranteed up front.

designindustry, on the other hand, has always kept New Zealand’s approach to business firmly in mind whilst working to enhance product and service design standards and increase a company’s return on investment she says.

“Preparing well for design is an essential ingredient for success, rather than adding a designer and hoping for a great result,” says Britten.

Design starts with establishing purpose – that is, understanding the impetus for action. Why are we setting out to do this? What sort of result are we seeking?

Other questions are equally critical. Are we committed? Can we resource it? Who should be involved? Who are we designing the solution for? What need are we solving? Can we substantiate that evolving need? Are we able to deliver on time?

“Successful design must answer these and other ‘soft’ questions and cannot be rushed,” she says. “We’re talking ideas here, not technology. If you don’t share ideas you can’t test. If you don’t rigorously test an idea you cannot know its true potential – or lack of.”

While much has been written about the celebrated solitary man in his shed, Britten says, he or she might be clever but also highly likely to be deluded about the value of what he or she is working on.

According to Britten, it’s easy to delude ourselves if we are isolated.

“Sometimes I’ll ask an inventor when they expect to be able to deliver,” she says. “They’ll say six months. Eighteen months later they’ll still be struggling along ignorant of a changed world and evolved customer requirements.

“It’s not just about clever technology but about solving a problem for customers. It’s hard, but killing less than optimum ideas is a skill that has to be learned or we’ll sink without trace.”

When developing designindustry’s own services, Britten – who is trained and experienced in several design disciplines – draws from science, technology, law and finance – whatever will ensure stretched thinking and fit the budget.

designindustry has developed an overall design methodology and specialist tools to assist in the process from initial ideation to a highly evolved level – ready for integration into a product creation and launch system – and a trademarked Ten Design Principle template.

As a means of lowering the cost of (unsuccessful) innovation and speed of delivery, Britten’s creed of less doing, more thinking makes plenty of sense.

At the same time she’s somewhat wary of a propensity to import outsiders’ views of design when the New Zealand environment needs a different approach.

“Why import somebody else’s ideas, when we already know what we should be doing?” she says, and quotes our past love affair with Michael Porter, Tom Peters, Tim Brown and others who fail to make a cultural connection and therefore a lasting difference.

“Outsiders can’t solve our design dilemma,” she says. “But we can ourselves, and should back our ability to attack design and innovation from a home-grown perspective.”

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs.

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