Design is strangled by innovation. Some people (including my wife) say “If there is no innovation to a design, it isn’t design, its craft or folk art. Innovation is thereby not a progressive act for a designer; it is in the nature of design. Since we are neither folk-artists nor craftsmen, we are driven to innovate,”

I do not agree, and argue with my wife about it frequently. I think designers are much too focused on the innovative. Innovation has been the collective obsession of the design world throughout the last century. I think we should let go of this obsession in order to make more objects of quality. Because quality does not necessarily equal innovation.

I think the role of designers in the innovative process is over-estimated. If we look closely at a lot of innovative design, the innovation is not the work of the designer.

Innovation can emerge at different stages of the design process. For example it can be part of the assignment. If that is the case the designer is often held responsible for the innovation, whereas actually the commissioner has called for it and thereby caused it to be a design factor. This was the case with both Nespresso and the Ipad. It was primarily the brief, released by the commissioner, that led to these extraordinary and innovative products.

Who did the innovativion: the designer or the commissioner.

Closely linked is the type of innovation that arises from the function of a product. The product is then able to do something that could not be done before. Skype is one example. We can not say it is brilliantly designed, but its functionality is brilliant. The same is true for car navigators or twitter. Any designer would have made these products into an innovative product because the functionality called for it, and hence the design brief must have as well. We tend to honor the designers in all these examples, whereas I believe the commissioners have done their part to make these designs innovative.

Production method and techniques


New technology enhances design innovation

When a new technique or production-method comes along a whole field opens up, look at lighting design. Because of the prohibition of the light bulb we have been converting to LED lighting, which can lead to completely different shapes and typologies. Due to this conversion, there has been one innovation after another. Dieter Rams showed the new producing techniques among the Braun products. Eames demonstrated what we could do with laminating. Le Corbusier and Tadao Ando showcased different ways of using concrete. Using the new possibilities in a creative and useful way, this is the core of innovative design work.

I believe innovation is the collective obsession of the design world: designers focus too much on it. Imagine what would happen if-only for one year-the whole design world stopped trying to innovate? What if we paused the innovation? A lot of good products would be made in that year, because if we didn’t put energy into trying to make the new. We might put energy into trying to make the good. Quality does not necessarily require innovation.

In architecture the turn-around is already visible. The renovation and restoration departments of universities grow bigger everyday. There is more work in these fields than in new developments. It requires a different attitude towards designing (because the product already exists). The stars of innovative architecture are not the stars of restorational architecture. More ‘new stars’ are emerging outside the innovative field. In product design there is not yet truly an equivalent yet, but the underlying development is the same.

Less innovative design can rock!