Innovation British Design Council weighs in.

Bruce Nussbaum

The controversy over whether or not innovation is design or a separate discipline--and should be separate--set off recently by Pentagram's Michael Bierut has resonance in Britain where the Design Council recently took a stand. If by innovation you mean the design thinking, strategy and planning that IDEO, Jump, Design Continuum, Ziba and StoneYamashita do and Patrick Whitney at the Illinois Institute of Design and David Kelley at Stanford teach, then the British Design Council says it is design. It's great design that can solve social as well as economic problems.

The Design Observer, where Bierut blogs, pointed out this great piece in the London Observer which says "The new stars of design work on rather nebulous, intangible things such as services and business models. They collaborate, so it's difficult to see where their authorship begins and ends. And their arrival has caused toxic shock to the design world, resulting in an awful lot of bad feeling."

The Observer then goes on to say that the British Design Council will undertake a 10 year project to use design thinking and planning to solved social problems in London. John Thackara, program director, will head it up.

The latest evolution of design into a powerful tool for organizational and social change apparently is a very controversial thing in London. They call it "New Design" and old designers don't like it one bit. There was a big outcry when the Council gaved an award to Hilary Cottam for her work in applying design principles to solving problems in health care and prisons. And Vicky Richardson, editor of Blueprint, has said that what people such as Cottam and Thackara do is strategic planning and should not be confused with design. 'Calling it that reflects the fact that design is very popular. It suggests to me an aspiration to be a certain kind of creative.'

I'm smiling. Sorry. I know from reading the thread of comments on Bierut's wonderful opening shot that lots of designers feel they should not be sullied with the tarbrush of "innovation." Innovation is a term too aligned with big business and corporations. But as a design advocate who fought for years to get designers to get over themselves and their obsession with framing their profession in terms of art, I can't help but feel haplass in this debate. Just when victory is near, when design is finally being accepted for what it can do, people are denying its power, whining about the nomenclature and clutching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The new designers and their new design thinking began in Britain with the likes of Tim Brown at IDEO when the country's manufacturing base disappeared. They took the methodology of product design and applied it to services. Now they are moving beyond that to systemizing design methodologies for all kinds of arenas, including social problems. What better way to deal with the health care crisis than to use design? And if some people want to call it innovation, that's OK by me too.

Check out Thackara's take on his blog. And look at Core77's analysis as well.

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