Thursday, January 19, 2006

To Create or Not to Create

Let’s face it…we really don’t need any more crap. Yes, there are “things” we want and there are “things” that could use an upgrade (video iPod, anyone?). But, as is in most civilized societies, the basics are covered.

So, why is Innovation the new boardroom buzzword? It’s because today’s consumer society is more likely to buy a new Swifer design than change the batteries in their old one. Microsoft has banked on this, well, all the way to the bank.

While improving on existing products certainly falls under the “Innovation” umbrella, that’s not what we’re going to talk about here.

This is about brand spanking new products.

Working closely with the New Products & Innovation team at my client, the subject of new products, new marketing methods, and new ways of thinking is prominent in everything we do. But moving beyond what we’ve learned working with my client, there are some other insights to be gleaned.

Historically, the development of new things has been left up to the corporations…the sellers. ACE Chair Company came to a designer of chairs and said, “If you design a new chair we will buy it, build it and sell it.” If the designer wanted to make rent or eat, they designed the chair, and everyone was happy...except the consumer who had to choose from the chairs the companies wanted to sell.

The Internet has flipped this process on its ear. Today, developers of new things aren’t merely looking for a paycheck. Designers like Massino losa Ghini ( and James Irvine ( are leading with a conscious. They’re taking into consideration society, the environment and the relevance of the product. Now when the chair company asks for the chair, the designer asks “why?”

This is the most important step when creating, and eventually marketing new products. By asking ‘why’, companies and marketers will be able to define who this product is for and why they need it.

Apple’s Jonathan Ive has succeeded by making Apple’s ( new products compelling and relevant to their target consumers. In succeeding, he has done what designer Geoff Hollington says is the toughest part of introducing a new product: creating desire more than enjoyment.

Without desire, there really is no true need. And without need, there will be no success. Sure, the large companies will force new products on distributors, who will force it on retailers, who will force it on consumers. It may sell, but that’s result of volume, not desire. It will become clutter. And worse, it will remain irrelevant. Designer Stefano Giovannoni ( states that, “Objects are not beautiful or ugly but are rather suited or not to their time.” It’s better to be on time.

Today’s consumer is taking relevance into their own hands, and the smart designers and companies are listening.

Elephant Design, founded by Kohei Nishiyama and Yosuke Masumoto, created the first interface that completely eliminated the input from any sort of brand or distributor. At the best designs are put on display for all to see. Once consumer demand reaches a point where production is viable, a manufacturer buys the design and creates the product. Talk about being relevant. Talk about addressing desire.

Recently, Kraft ( created an initiative called Open Innovation, led by Mary Kay Haben, in hopes of swapping ideas with consumers, outside partners, even competitors in an effort to improve products, packaging and business systems. Innovation is now coming from chat rooms rather than board rooms.

The new product development process will never be a science. There will still be more failures than successes. We must be honest with ourselves and our clients as we develop and introduce new products.

Hold these products and ideas up to some of the criteria discussed above…is it relevant? Where does it fit in our consumer’s lifestyle? Why are we creating it? If those questions cannot be addressed, then there’s a good chance the “hot new product” will just be another waste of resources and marketing dollars.

To conclude, something that Max Lenderman noted in his blog ( that I thought was really relevant to this subject. Artist and consultant Shepard Fairey, the guy behind “Obey the Giant”, noted this when discussing the doomed graffiti campaign for the Sony PSP (

“Corporations are much better off being very open and being proud enough to say ‘We think this is a cool enough product to stand up under the hipsters’ scrutiny, we don’t have to try and trick you. If it’s not cool enough for that, they need to rethink the product itself.”


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