11 January 2011

Design research and innovation: an interview with Don Norman

Be the first to share

Donald Norman
Jeroen Van Geel of Johnny Holland interviewed Donald Norman about innovation, design research, and emotional design.

Earlier this year you wrote that design research doesn’t innovate, technology does. This caused quite a discussion. What were the main counterexamples you got back?

No, that’s not what I said. And indeed, that is the main problem with the reaction I got: many people never read my post or listened to my talk: they simply reacted. (The people who did consider it thoughtfully were very favorable; in fact, I was invited to give it at several places, like Delft and the Copenhagen Business School).

Innovation is a very complex topic, very thoroughly discussed in academia, which is not something most designers follow. The important points are these: There are many forms of innovation–process, product, radical, incremental, and so on. I considered two forms of product innovation: radical (e.g., the invention of the telephone) and incremental (e.g., releasing a new version of a mobile phone, automobile, or kitchen appliance). Radical innovation in the products, I argued, always comes from the works of inventors, excited by some new technology and anxious to explore its potential. I do not know of a single radical innovation that has come from the people who do design research. Not the telephone or automobile, not Facebook or Twitter. Not 3D television nor, for that matter, high-definition television. Not hybrid autos. Not the Internet itself. Market studies, market research, design research, field observations (ethnographic studies), etc., do not yield radical innovations. They are very important in finding new uses of and improvements to existing products, but these are incremental innovations, not radical ones.

Incremental innovation is very important. Over 90% of the radical innovations fail (some of my friends say 99%). Yes, when they happen they change lives, but think about it: how many radical new product innovations have you experienced in your lifetime? One? Ten? Even if it was 100 that is still relatively infrequent compared to the thousands of incremental product innovations every day.

Moreover, radical innovation almost always starts off being inferior to what already exists: it takes good design research to transform that radical idea into something that is appealing to the world.

Alas, we train our design students to do radical innovation, even though in the real world, these radical ideas will almost certainly fail, even though they will be asked to do incremental innovation in their practice, and even though the evidence says that the radical innovations come from anywhere, and often take years or even decades before their worth is understood and appreciated.

In other words: we are not facing facts. We shy away from truth. We are delusional.

Read interview

Be the first to share
4 August 2017
The human side of autonomous cars — with Nissan Research’s Melissa Cefkin
Reposted from Medium Beyond the engineering challenge of creating cars that drive themselves lies the social challenge. Before autonomous cars are ready to navigate our roads, they must be able to navigate the vastly more complicated …
29 July 2017
“Where the social sciences and business come together” – Alexandra Mack on ethnography
In this episode of the Change Management Review Podcast, Theresa Moulton interviews Alexandra Mack. Alexandra is a senior fellow at Pitney Bowes, the e-commerce services provider, and a Board Member of Ethnographic Praxis in Industry …
29 July 2017
Data ethnographer: the most crucial design job of the future
Data inside of algorithms is incredibly symbiotic with the algorithm itself. In product design, the data fed to algorithms determines the characteristics of a product. This implies radical transparency and giving consumers access to an …
29 July 2017
Nesta as an innovation move for Turin, Italy
A few months back we wrote about the ongoing negotiations between Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation, and the [Italian Foundation] Compagnia di San Paolo to set up a Nesta Italia in Turin. These negotiations have …
6 June 2017
Developing a mobile chatbot for a Pittsburgh museum
The people at Studio, the design, development and workflow laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, are working on the design and the development of a "new kind of mobile museum experience". Because they would like the …
31 May 2017
IoT seeks to remake the fundamentals of our everyday lives
Murray Goulden writes in The Conversation that smart homes, wearables and the Internet of Things are indicative of the development of an entire class of technologies seeking to remake the fundamentals of our everyday lives. These …
31 May 2017
A cultural approach to wearables (and the design opportunities it provides)
In January of this year, Sakari Tamminen and Elisabet Holmgren of the Finnish/USA innovation agency Gemic, published a paper on EPIC entitled "The Anthropology of Wearables: The Self, The Social, and the Autobiographical". A wide …
31 May 2017
 Intervista a Todd Harple di Intel sul tech-fashion
Ripostato da Medium - English version Il mondo del fashion sta diventando sempre di più digitale — e non si tratta solo di dispositivi da indossare, ma anche e soprattutto di abbigliamento, realizzato con tessuti in cui sono …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

4 August 2017
The human side of autonomous cars — with Nissan Research’s Melissa Cefkin

Reposted from Medium Beyond the engineering challenge of creating cars that drive themselves lies the social challenge. Before autonomous cars are ready to navigate our roads, they must be able to navigate the vastly more complicated nuances of human behaviors and interactions — from that friendly nod that says “You first” at a four-way stop, to the […]

31 May 2017
 Intervista a Todd Harple di Intel sul tech-fashion

Ripostato da Medium – English version Il mondo del fashion sta diventando sempre di più digitale — e non si tratta solo di dispositivi da indossare, ma anche e soprattutto di abbigliamento, realizzato con tessuti in cui sono effettivamente integrati dei sensori in grado di misurare e monitorare il corpo di chi li veste. Dato che la […]

8 May 2017
Why service design is the new black — Intel’s Todd Harple on fashion tech

Reposted from Medium – Versione italiana The world of fashion is becoming increasingly digital — and not just wearable devices, but with clothing made from fabrics that actually integrate sensors and technology that can monitor and measure the wearer. As fashion starts to go beyond outward appearance, fashion designers need to broaden their skillsets, to make sure […]

31 March 2017
Experientia guide to Milan Design Week 2017

It’s that time of year again – Milan’s don’t-miss event for the design community is here. If you’re looking to get inspired at Milan Design Week, then check out our top picks for the latest edition, from Experientia’s designers, strategists and partners. Milan might be best known for its busy streets, traditional cafés and world […]

12 January 2017
Experientia’s CITYOPT project awarded prestigious French award for its sustainable development design

Following the 2016 Smart Innovation Award at “FIMBACTE Trophées du Cadre de vie”, the CITYOPT project has once again been recognized, this time in the prestigious French design competition: “Observeur du Design 2017”, in the Service Design category. In June 2016, CITYOPT won the first stage of the Observeur du Design. Now the project has […]

1 December 2016
More on upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities

Last month Putting People First announced the upcoming conference on design & sustainable innovation for smart cities in Nice France. Meanwhile we are pleased to announce the full event agenda (see below). This event will feature professionals from leading research institutes and industry gathering to present key initiatives which combine Energy Efficiency and Service Design […]

See all articles