Work in Progress
by Ponto

Innovation & Design Co.

The 1990s was a controversial decade and has seen many determining scenarios in politics, economics and technology that have changed the way we live and perceive the world today. The decade was the host to the transformation and adaptation of Media since it was during the 90’s and 00’s that the general public started experiencing the Digital. It was a period of transition from the Analogue to the Digital, that seemed to pick up the pace as years went by and technology started evolving and being surpassed more and more quickly. This was a decade where the new media tools were brought to the masses. Technological innovation was introduced to the public on a daily basis — there was always something newer, something better than the previous. From VHS to DVD, from Pagers to Mobile phones, we became suckers for innovation[1].

This ever growing technological world has changed the way we consume information and has changed the technological and social demands of today. Participation and interaction are playing an important role in society today, reflecting on the relation Design and Designers within society. According to Andrew Blauvelt’s critical observations on graphic design we are in the third phase of design history “an era of relationally-based, contextually specific design” [2] where the work of the designer is gradually becoming more open-ended, interactive and user-centred. In this era design and designers gradually became more detached from form and function, and are more focused in applying “Design Thinking” to the “Design Problem”. These factors led to the emergence of a new discipline, Social Design, that hadn’t yet declared independence from other forms of design.

According to the Design Thinking Book [3], “Design Thinking deals with traditional business problems under multiple perspective, helping to solve them in a more effective way, leading to new paths”. In this sense, Design Thinking pretends to solve not a design problem, but a business one.  The authors refer that innovation is a key aspect that designers must offer in order to successfully address the problem and allow for their client to progress at the same time — “Innovating is a hard task and generally frustrating, but it is essential to be unique in the market”.

This idea that innovation is essential for progress led us to ask ourselves: what is innovation? Nowadays we tend to call ‘innovation” to the concept of increasing  growth and well-being, mostly associated with big corporations that everyday present us with a brand-new innovative product; a product that most of the times has poor technological improvement and has only became “innovative” by design. The product pretends to improve people’s lives under the conception of being “innovative” but the true intention is, most of the time, the profitability of the product to these corporations.

Design has so become a tool for “camouflaged innovation”. The product is intended to be an improved copy of a previous with a different —”innovative”— design. Recently a couple of initiatives, like the FastCompany “Innovation by Design Awards”, support the idea of innovation for profit, supporting the idea that innovation lies in profit-making and not in cultural, artistic or political progress. Instead of channelling this effort on the setting of more cooperative and collaborative systems, where designers can detach from the market and be more autonomous in their practice. Here, the innovative idea is presented to a board of judges/investors that award the work/idea based on the profitability and financial viability.

These initiatives for the defence of innovation in Design seem to follow the Design Council’s recent investment. According to the Design Council [4] for every £1 invested in design a businesses can expect over £4 in net profit, which reflects the mentality of perceiving Design as a mine for business and market exploration instead of social awareness and/or artistic expression.

We wanted to see how designers across industry perceived this concept of “innovation” and see if they find it relevant to their practice. We will be exploring how this concept of profitability, and even employability, that has been haunting Design work in recent years.

[1] Van Mensvoort, K, 2010. Razorious Gilletus – Confessions of a Sucker for Innovation. Design Mass, Published by Onomatopee.

[2] Blauvelt, A, 2011. Towards Relational Design / Para um Design Relacional. PLI, 1, 7 to 13.


[4] Design delivers for business, Design Coucil 2013

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24 May 2013

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