Innovation as a Laboratory Experiment


Duncan Watts at the MIT Technology Review, recently posted an article called ‘The Scientific Method in Business.’

He argues that business is frequently run on existing data or on the instincts of its leaders, both of which have drawbacks.

Replicating the conditions of a controlled experiment is often difficult or impossible in business or policy settings, but increasingly it is being done in “field experiments,” where treatments are randomly assigned to different individuals or communities. For example, MIT’s Poverty Action Lab has conducted over 400 field experiments to better understand aid delivery, while economists have used such experiments to measure the impact of online advertising.

One application he does not mention is in the development of products and services. 

The approach designers take to their work has a lot of the scientific method in it.  A designer might not tell that they go about creating a hypothesis and testing that hypothesis against other conditions, controlling for all variables except the one in which you are interested.  They do, however, conduct a great many experiments.

We do gather understanding about a space.  We also build a set of rules or an understanding of that space.  Then we start to make guesses about what would happen if we introduced something new to that space.

We build prototypes and test them.  We make models and put them in people’s hands.  We walk through a process or a job in a new way to see how it turns out.  Then, we act on what we learn—frequently by creating new models and trying again.

Learn.  Conceive.  Create.  Test.  Go back to step one.

This is the same king of thinking Eric Reis argues for in the Lean Startup.

As Duncan Watts points out, many other kinds of business decisions do not allow the luxury of that kind of experimentation.

Maybe that is why some companies avoid it in product development as well.

The Role of Storytelling in Innovation

Research isn’t enough.  You can observe your customer all day.  You can run dozens of focus groups.  You can conduct countless surveys.  But does having all of that information at your disposal really help you create a product that will make your customers instantly fall in love with it?

Not if the product doesn’t help them tell “their story.”

Storytelling is fundamental to human existence. Before we could write, we told stories (both as individuals and as cultures).  In fact, much of our tradition and known history was handed down from generation to generation through storytelling.

An engaging story has the power to transfix us, to move us, to allow us to see things from an entirely new point of view.

Stories also enable us to find common ground with people that are different from us. Continue reading

Design in 5D: Design Thinking in Action

Sami Nerenburg has a great post over at Core77 called Dimensions of Design.

Nerenburg argues that design is much more than graphic or industrial design.  Certainly, the rest of the world is discovering the value of thinking like a designer.  Arnold Wasserman said at his lecture a couple of weeks ago at Carnegie Mellon that ‘design is too important to be left to the designers.’ Continue reading

Failing to Succeed? The Fail Fast, Fail Cheap Deception.

When innovation professionals talk about ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ they’re really just trying to get your attention. Or, at least, I hope they are. I’ve heard the phrase used in the context of companies reaching failure quickly, before they burn too much money. I’ve also heard it used to rush products to market before they’re done, to get a quicker response–sometimes creating unnecessary failure.

Most often, in the field of product and service innovation, I hear it used to describe an iterative process of development.

If ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ sounds counterintuitive that’s because it’s not really about failing. It’s more about having a culture that gives permission to experiment–the ability to try ideas before really committing. Continue reading

Pittsburgh Art Institute and Bright Innovation

Team A

Bright Innovation designers were invited to the  Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  Brought in by Justin Adleff, who is teaching a first year design studio, Bright designers taught the class on how to create fast prototypes to test out product ideas. The task was to design a light emitting device for a particular user. Each group identified the needs of their particular user and brainstormed ways they could incorporate these needs into their device.  Bright gave each group a set of pose-able blocks to test out size and location of buttons and handles.

Coming Up Next: Videos of the group presentations. See who they were designing for and what did their prototypes look like!

Team C

Team B

Day 3: Design Refinement – Pittsburgh Design Competition

We’re in the final days of the martini glass design competition sponsored by the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka. For Day 3, the Bright Innovation design team has been narrowing down our ideas into 3 final concepts.  For the group review process, we pinned up our sketches and organized them into groups of similar features. Each designer talked  through their ideas and as a group concepts were evaluated.

Continue reading

Day 2: Design and Refine – Pittsburgh Design Competion

Day 2, of our martini glass design blitz!  We spent this afternoon refining some of our ideas from yesterday.  We pulled in some inspirations from vintage lamps that have unique material transitions.  Before tomorrow’s session, we plan to do some secondary research based on our refined concepts.  We will review each other’s sketches tom morrow and narrow it down to 3 concepts that we will develop and submit for Friday.

More to come….

Material Transition Inspriations - Lamps from the 1930's