Design vs. Discovery: Which Way to Innovation?

By William Duggan

“Design thinking” is slowly but surely taking over the field of innovation. The result is terrific design.  But that’s not the same as innovation. Below, William Duggan argues the importance of “discovery”, a method that combines solved parts of a problem to arrive at true innovation.


I love designers

I really do.  There are lots of them in my neighborhood, Tribeca in downtown Manhattan. They make great friends and neighbors, and great guests at parties and dinners and gallery openings. Architects, product designers, graphic designers, film-makers, commercial artists – the world of design is filled with the most interesting people you can ever hope to meet.

I say this because I want to make clear that I have nothing against designers. As professionals, they are great at design.  But here’s the problem:  companies these days are so desperate for innovation that they hire designers to do it. “Design thinking” is slowly but surely taking over the field of innovation. And designers are flattered and glad for the work.  So they take it.  The result is terrific design. But that’s not the same as innovation.

The confusion arises from the word “creative.”  Companies think that artistic people are creative, so that’s who they need to help them innovate.  But innovation means something “new and useful,” and artistic people are no better at that than anyone else – except in their own fields of architecture, commercial art, etc.  And even there, most of their work is not innovation, but simply excellent design and execution of their artistic products.

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