Companies are finally listening to designers, writes Google Ventures’ Kate Aronowitz.
Are your products winning design, innovation, or breakthrough awards?
Dozens of companies and awards programs recognize new product innovations. The following five stand out. All five competitions are global with equal access. Any size company can afford to enter. Only products ready for commercial sale may compete. Achievement of any level of recognition is rewarded in the marketplace.
R&D 100 Awards: Since 1962, R&D Magazine has honored the top 100 innovations each year. The awards program encompasses five areas: mechanical devices/materials; IT/electrical; analytical/test; process/prototyping; and software/services. Additionally, a number of special recognition awards are bestowed for market-disrupting services, market-disrupting products, corporate social responsibility, and green tech. The key criterion for winning is technological significance. Judges from industry, services, and academia award points to each innovation, with the top 100 scores making the list. Notable among the 2017 winners and Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (9).
The International Design Excellence Awards: Since 1980, theIndustrial Designers Society of America has been giving out Gold, Silver, and Bronze IDEA awards. IDEA awards span many industries and disciplines including: commercial products; entertainment; home goods; and social impact designs. Additionally, there are personal recognition awards and special awards for individuals and companies, respectively, and several more. The key criteria to win are design innovation, user experience, client benefit, society benefit, and appropriate aesthetics. Nearly three dozen members of the jury make the decisions. There were 25 Gold, 52 Silver, and 64 Bronze Winners in 2017. Gold winners are housed in a permanent collection at the Henry Ford Museum.
Edison Awards: Since 1987, Edison Universe has been giving out Gold, Silver, and Bronze Edison Awards in 16 categories ranging from applied technology to consumer goods to health and wellness, and transportation and logistics. There’s also an Annual Edison Achievement award, which was won this year by the CEO of Lockheed Martin. The key criteria to win, each of which has three to four sub-criteria, are: concept, value, delivery, and impact. Nearly 135 people compose a nominations committee that makes recommendations to a 25-person steering committee, and it decides the winners. There were 45 Gold, 45 Silver, and 47 Bronze Winners in 2017 across the 16 categories.
Breakthrough Innovation Awards: Since 2008, Nielsen has recognized breakthrough innovations in consumer products. Only a few awards are given out each year. There were 18 Winners in 2017. Since inception, Nielsen has awarded only 110 U.S. products and 198 globally out of over 30,000 entries. The hurdles are quite high. First, the product must be distinctive and deliver a new value proposition to the market. Second, it has to have generated more than $50 million in its first year of U.S. sales. Lastly, it has to have generated more than 90% of year-one sales in year two. Both the size and longevity of achievement differentiate it from other new-product innovation awards.
CES Innovation Awards: Since 2015, the Consumer Technology Association has recognized innovative consumer electronics products. There are 28 award categories including 3D printing, cybersecurity, gaming, VR and AR, and smart homes and cities, and two award levels, Honorees and Best of Innovations. The key criteria to win include: engineering qualities; aesthetic design; intended use/function and user value, uniqueness/novelty; and comparative analysis to same-space products. Each category is judged by a three-member team composed of an industrial designer, an engineer, and a member of the trade press. Because everyone likes an award, there are oodles of Honorees. But, to win Best of Innovation in a specific category, products must exceed a minimum number of points. Thirty-six winnerswere chosen this year across the 28 categories.
Edison announces its award winners in the spring, Nielsen in early summer, IDSA in late summer, R&D 100 in the fall, and CES in January.
Are you planning to compete in 2018?
I just returned from a trip to China and wanted to write down a few reflections. The week began with a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing with whom we’ve partnered to develop a design-thinking curriculum, and ended with a stop at IDEO’s Shanghai studio.
The people I met were mostly young entrepreneurial candidates for the design coursework. There’s an enormous entrepreneurial vein in China, and it’s not all about technology. I was interested to learn about the vast array of ideas they’re spinning up, from products and services to renewable energy to real estate to social entrepreneurship. The culture there is very commercial, but there was huge enthusiasm about how design could make them better business-builders.
And the faculty are listening: the Vice President and Provost of Tsinghua University expressed interest in bringing the latest on design thinking to China and incorporating design thinking into Tsinghua’s engineer education. It’s an exciting prospect to think that these graduates may be the next business leaders of China. This is a long play—it may take a decade—but eventually there’s going to be more people who are trying to solve problems through the lens of human beings and there’s a palpable enthusiasm about that shift.
Part of it will require transitioning from a “Made in China” to a “Created in China” sensibility. There’s evidence of a new focus on R&D: The 5-year plans that are coming out of the central government place innovation and climate change high on the agenda. And not a moment too soon, as other nations have taken up mass manufacturing and Chinese brands have to distinguish themselves not just on price point, but also on quality and new ideas.
Take DJI, the drone company. China’s scale propelled their business initially, but they now own about 70 percent of the global world market, according to the Financial Times, because they’ve invested in innovation and international growth. Other major players like Huawei and Tencent know, too, that they can’t just be a domestic play. That global mindedness represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Chinese companies can’t be run algorithmically anymore, they need to get creative about expanding their market.
One thing that left me breathless while I was there was how China has the ability to leapfrog systems solutions. I rode high-speed rail from Beijing to Shanghai and sitting in the station on one of the pristine trains you look out the window and see a white polished marble platform that stretches to infinity. They travel at a ridiculous speed completely silently and run with Swiss precision. We had seats in a business class cabin that was more comfortable than any airline I’ve ever flown. Compare it to dark, dank Penn Station and it puts American rail to shame.
If the Chinese can do that with trains I can only imagine what hospitals and cities could become if the human-centered design is practiced at scale here.
From what I saw, and granted it was a limited view, the appetite is there to learn those tools of creativity. They don’t want to understand design to become more like America. They want to understand design to become a better version of China.
2017 was a year of reckoning for the design community. UX became a weapon, AI posed countless new challenges, and debate erupted over once rock-solid design paradigms. Even some of the industry’s leading lights suggested their revolutionary inventions have serious, unintended consequences.
The upside: Designers thrive on questioning convention–on unearthing solutions to seemingly intractable problems. If 2017 revealed anything, it’s that good design has never mattered more; it’s just the parameters of “good design” that have changed.
With a nod to Braun legend Dieter Rams–whose 10 principles for good design remain indispensable, though somewhat narrowly concerned with the particulars of industrial design–here are 10 new principles for good design.
User-friendly design has been the dominant paradigm in human-computer interaction for decades, and for good reason: It reduces complex code into a simple language anyone can understand. But today, amid a string of high-profile data breaches and opaque algorithms that threaten the very bedrock of democracy, consumers have grown wary of slick interfaces that hide their inner workings. “For years there was such a huge UX trend toward seamlessness and concealing as much as possible in the interest of making things user-friendly,” Ame Elliott, design director of the nonprofit Simply Secure, said earlier this year. “Now, as discipline, interaction designers and UX experts have a lot of hard work to do to think about how to expose those seams in appropriate ways.”
Another problem with user-friendly design: In focusing on the immediate needs of users, it often fails to consider long-term consequences. Take Facebook’s echo chamber, Airbnb’s deleterious impact on affordable housing, or the smartphone, which is literally changing people’s brains and has spawned an entire generation of teenage automatons.
Good design chases more than clicks. It’s mindful of potential impact–whether economic, social, cultural, or environmental–and it’s mindful of that impact over time. There’s one simple test, according to Rob Girling and Emilia Palaveeva of the design consultancy Artefact: “Don’t just ask ‘how might we?’” they write, invoking a common term of art in design thinking. “Ask, ‘At what cost?’”
For the past 20 years, tech has embraced a “move fast and break things” mantra. That was fine when software had a relatively small impact on the world. But today, it shapes nearly every aspect of our lives, from what we read to whom we date to how we spend money–and it’s largely optimized to benefit corporations, not users. The stakes have changed, the methods haven’t.
Good design takes time. It favors long-term solutions over quick fixes. As Basecamp designer Jonas Downey Downey puts it: “Now it’s time to slow down and take stock of what’s broken.”
This is one of Rams’s tenets, but it bears repeating at a time when dark patterns abound and corporations treat UX like a weapon. Uber is the most flagrant example. The company built its business on a seamless front-end user experience (hail a ride, without ever pulling out your wallet!)) while playing puppet master with both users and drivers. The company’s fall from grace–culminating in CEO Travis Kalanick’s ousting last year–underscores the shortsightedness of this approach.
Good design “does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is,” Rams writes. “It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”
“If you work in software or design… you also work in politics.” That was British designer Richard Pope writing at the end of 2016 after the surprise election of Donald Trump, but the point remains relevant more than a year later: Politics is about the distribution of power, and few things distribute power more broadly and rapidly in the 21st century than code and design. Facebook’s role in shaping the outcome of the presidential election is one obvious example. But subtler examples are all over the place, from ads targeting men for higher paying jobs to predictive policing software that indicts black people more than white people.
Good design is upfront about its potential to shape the political landscape.
Systems thinking is a lofty term for a relatively simple idea: Everything is connected, and designers and developers should strategize accordingly. Systems thinking has taken on even greater import over the past few years, as the world becomes more complex and intertwined. Consider that we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a year, more than 90% of which was created in just the past two years. Today, nearly half of all adults own a smartphone; by 2020, that figure is expected to rise to 80%.
Good design, then, is no longer about solving discrete problems: It’s about considering the sum of the parts. “The challenge is to rise above the distraction of the details and widen your field of vision,” writes Foundation Capital partner Steve Vassallo. “Try to see the whole world at once and make sense of it. It’s a heady challenge, but you either design the system or you get designed by the system.”
In his “2017 Design in Tech Report,” author John Maeda anointed writing as design’s newest unicorn skill. It’s easy to see why. With the rise of chatbots and conversational UI, writing is often the primary interface through which users interact with a product or service. (Siri’s dad jokes had to be written by someone.) But even designers who don’t work on interface copy should be able to articulate their ideas clearly. The better their writing, the better their chances of selling an idea.
The days of brands peddling a single identity are gone. The Emotional Intelligence Agency, a U.K.-based branding firm, analyzed the brands that more than 5,000 people said they sought out. The results were surprisingly consistent. Top brands, from Victoria’s Secret to Taco Bell, had four seemingly disparate traits: humor, usefulness, beauty, and inspiration. The takeaway? In an increasingly complex retail landscape, brands must adopt multifaceted personalities to connect emotionally with consumers.
Ideo studied more than 100 companies in an attempt to quantify innovation and came away with six key insights. Among them? Challenging the status quo has real business benefits. According to the study, chances of a failed product launch decreased by 16.67% when people felt comfortable acting with autonomy.
Historically, computers have been designed for human users. But as machines grow smarter and artificial intelligence takes root in people’s daily lives, designers will have to build for a new type of user: the human-machine hybrid. So suggests Normative CEO Matthew Milan, who argues that hybrids can do more than any person or computer could accomplish alone, like navigate traffic or compete in superpowered chess games.
Looking ahead, good design will help people trust a system–even when they know they don’t have much agency within it.