Innovation through representation
Innovation through representation

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Innovation through representation

2.1 Visions of innovation

Visions set the direction of innovation and help enrol key actors in the process. For example, visions of an innovative new housing development may give financiers a sufficient basis to begin to invest and other actors, such as local planners, an interest and reason to be involved. In the context of innovation processes, visions can be defined as

collectively held and communicable schemata that represent future objectives and express the means by which objectives will be realized

(Eames et al., 2006)

Representations are used to develop and communicate visions to others, to initiate the design and innovation process, set direction, enrol key stakeholders and help to create tangible outputs to assess and modify the scope of the vision.

Activity 4 Communicating visions for innovation

The following video is an excerpt from an episode of Design for Life, a TV show which followed UK design students competing for a place at Philippe Starck’s School of Design. In this episode the students have been asked to develop an innovative project. Watch Starck’s presentation of the design brief, and the students presentations of their projects, and consider the way that the students communicate their vision to Starck. Answer the following questions:

  • What representations do the students use?
  • Which of these are effective in communicating the vision or concept?
  • What does Starck say about the projects?

Use the textbox to record your impressions.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2 Design for life
Skip transcript: Video 2 Design for life

Transcript: Video 2 Design for life

PHILIPPE STARCK
It's a project that helps the earth and that shall be part of the big story of our limitation.
NARRATOR
To clarify, Starck delivers his version of Darwin's theory of evolution.
PHILIPPE STARCK
We was bacteria and after-- we become fish. After-- we become frog. It's not exactly the real story, but it's close.
And perhaps I was some years ago like that. And after, I am like that. And perhaps tomorrow, I shall jump on that and fly.
NARRATOR
On an overpopulated world with diminishing resources, Starck has come to believe the first job of design is to help humanity achieve its potential.
PHILIPPE STARCK
That's why I ask you to make a project which is deeply in the history-- in our history-- of our limitation, but something which does have to exist because it fits in the big image like that. That is the challenge today.
NARRATOR
It's a tough brief. Starck's given the students free reign to design anything they like so long as it's of benefit to humanity. For the 10 students, all that remains is to stand and pitch to one of the world's most famous-- and most particular-- designers.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK, now we work. I shall love the guy or girl who'll bring me the right project. I shall hate the person who will give me the bad project because I waste my time. OK? Come on. Ilsa.
NARRATOR
27-year-old design lecturer Ilsa has gone down the environmental route with what appears to be an item of clothing that's made from fabric she's recycled out of tumble dryer lint.
ILSA
My project is about constant change, intervention, and adaptation. Everything that we need in life has the ability to be renewed-- to adapt. What I've produced is this object that I'm wearing-- this garment. And it's a regenerated item of clothing made from the lint out of a dryer in the launderette.
PHILIPPE STARCK
Hello. I'm sorry. To be sure-- this wool is made with the reject. The thing is a sort of dust from the dryer.
ILSA
No, no. This is a scarf that I've bought.
PHILIPPE STARCK
Oh, you bought it?
ILSA
This isn't the actual fabric. This is the fabric.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK.
ILSA
And that is the actual stuff that it would be made from. This one here.
PHILIPPE STARCK
That means the project is not what you wear. It's this material with this thing.
ILSA
Yeah.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK.
NARRATOR
It's a big error from Ilsa. The garment she is wearing isn't made out of recycled tumble dryer lint. She bought it. After all her hard work, a lack of clarity in her presentation may have cost her dearly.
PHILIPPE STARCK
You must understand your life can change because of a detail like that. If you don't know how to present it, you can be one more time Leonardo da Vinci finally then go to garbage.
ILSA
It's disappointing that he thought I made a mistake with the presentation, but I thought about how he would interact with it. That's why I produced the tactile boards. But when you've only got a second or about two minutes to impress, a little thing like that can be a disaster like he said.
NARRATOR
It's only increased the pressure on the next to present-- 32-year-old Rob Richardson. He firmed up his idea only two days ago. But he's come up with a practical solution to tackle the problem of land shortage-- build floating communities on the sea, leaving the land for crop growing.
ROB
This is a concept, a model. This would be the land. This is the ocean. I think we need to build communities to live on the sea.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK. Well, it's a nice idea. It's nothing really new. But finally, you just reproduced the same building which was on the land on the water. And you don't take the opportunity to reinvent something in architecture.
ROB
For me it's more been about the whole concept of reusing.
PHILIPPE STARCK
But on the concept, you can do that in [INAUDIBLE]. You can just say that I think it's better to now go on the sea, better than the land. But in one week of work, you can explore a lot more. All the opportunity is this gift to you.
ROB
Believe me, I've never thought so deeply about a project than this one.
PHILIPPE STARCK
You answer the question, but you don't apply it very well.
NARRATOR
It's another damning response from Starck. And now Mike has to pitch his idea for improving communication between strangers via the novel medium of personalised t-shirts.
MIKE
It's about starting this conversation with someone like that. And that leads on to me. It leads on to learning about another person. And once you start learning from other people, you can start to take knowledge from that other person. Then you generate your own opinions.
PHILIPPE STARCK
But this type of message was done 15 years ago in Japan. It's a very, very low tech. OK, OK, OK, OK. It's not very ambitious. But why not?
NARRATOR
Three students have presented. But no one has made a positive impact on Starck, a trend that continues when 27-year-old product design student Trevor pitches a machine to engrave information onto everyday, readily available materials.
TREVOR
So I was thinking what you could do is take a medium-- clay, or mud, or papier mache, or plastic-- and you transcribe your message. It can either be a restaurant recommendation or it can be a message about malaria. Or it can be whatever you like. And then that can be passed around from hand to hand by people in different countries.
PHILIPPE STARCK
Where is the progress? For me it's a regression.
NARRATOR
Next up is Jess, who's taken a far more conceptual approach to the brief and come up with a radical idea to help create a worldwide sense of community.
JESS
I'd like to help the earth by giving it a break. So that's my idea. My idea is to turn off the power once a year, for the next four billion years, for two weeks. So I'd like to unplug the world and unite all the people.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK. OK. Why not? I love the way to think, just to make an abstract action. OK. OK. I understand.
NARRATOR
It's a lukewarm reaction at best. Freelance brand designer Robert Meredith is next to try his luck.
ROBERT
The concept is based on a sensory kit containing objects designed to celebrate the bonding process between a mother and her future child. So I've selected these objects that are based around smell, touch for relaxation. And I've got light and dark, and music, and nutrition. And the idea is that you'd have a kit of these objects together.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK. (FRENCH). It's my fault. I don't speak good English. But I understand everybody else. But you I never understand. You are dead.
NARRATOR
Robert's inability to express himself clearly could threaten his place in the school. 21-year-old Polly is up next. She struggled the most with this brief and was one of the last to come up with an idea.
POLLY
After breathing, water is the second most important element for human survival. And the UK is part of the lucky 10 per cent of the world that actually get treated water. But because we never have to monitor our water levels, we're quite ignorant towards water usage.
My idea is to bring the water meter into the house, make it a beautiful object. And the fascia, it actually lets you read your usage on a day-to-day basis. But not just for how many litres you're using, but how much you're paying.
PHILIPPE STARCK
I love this project! I think it's a really good idea, and you must propose that to the government. Good. Perfect. Perfect.
POLLY
For him to say to me that this project was good and that I should actually propose it to the government-- it's really surreal actually hearing someone of his stance say something like that to me.
NARRATOR
Polly has been the first to grasp the real essence of Starck's challenge. While some students have lost themselves in abstraction, she has linked a global problem to a clear, concrete product idea, which couldn't be more different from Nabile's concept-- the vehicle of mutation.
NABILE
People would come to visit this tunnel. And what happens is as they approach it, when they walk they actually float through it. So if you look inside this model, you can see people beginning to float. This design will also represent a moment of our own evolution as a civilisation. And hopefully, when people leave, they have a different way of thinking about life, which will hopefully benefit the planet and themselves.
PHILIPPE STARCK
Nabile is incredibly smart because Nabile is thinking deeply what will please me. That means he exactly crystallised what I described. But the problem-- I described it. That means I know it. That's why what you show me, I know it because it's a result of what I have said.
NARRATOR
Starck's reaction is a surprise to Nabile.
NABILE
What I presented today-- in my opinion-- answered the question. He referred to me as being quite clever as to giving him what he wanted. But really, isn't that what the whole point is?
NARRATOR
Now it's Helen's turn, with an idea to help womankind.
HELEN
What I'm trying to do is make this system that encourages women to use these environmentally-friendly tampons. So I've gone for the sea sponge because basically it's just a little pod that you click open. They shove it in, don't have to worry about it. Click it again, it shuts closed. They throw it in the bag. They get home, they click it again, shove it in the washing machine.
PHILIPPE STARCK
The idea looks good. Thank you, very much.
NARRATOR
Helen-- like Polly-- appears to have struck the right note. Next to present is 23-year-old Anna with a bamboo bin.
ANNA
It's an outdoor organic bin. And then basically you put your seeds within these pockets. So you water the structure around and let the plant basically grow around it.
PHILIPPE STARCK
OK. OK. I'm not completely convinced that will help humanity to survive, but I love the way of thinking.
NARRATOR
The presentations are over. The students have all-- in their different ways-- attempted to answer Starck's brief and come up with designs that benefit humanity.
Ilsa created a fabric made from tumble dryer lint. Rob came up with the idea of floating communities. Mike tried to help communication with personalised t-shirts, as did Trevor with his engraving machine.
Robert designed a sensory kit for pregnant women. Polly-- a wireless water meter. Nabile took the abstract route with his vehicle of mutation. And Jess was equally conceptual with her idea to turn off power to the world.
Helen pitched the idea of an environmentally-friendly tampon. And Anna presented a bin made of bamboo.
End transcript: Video 2 Design for life
Video 2 Design for life
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Answer

Ilsa uses a combination of representations to communicate her idea for sustainable clothing. The tactile board was effective because it illustrated specific details of her idea. Similarly, the image board was effective because it illustrated the context of the idea. However, the scarf distracted Starck’s attention away from the core message.

Rob used a physical model to communicate his vision for communities living on the sea. The model, constructed from card/paper, was not very effective at communicating this vision, and Starck said it was unoriginal and undeveloped.

Mike’s idea of improved communication through personalised t-shirts is demonstrated via a prototype. This effectively presents the scope and detail of the idea and illustrates how it could be realised in a product. Despite this, Starck found it unoriginal and unambitious.

Trevor also uses prototypes to demonstrate his concept for an engraving device that can be used to convert everyday materials into communication devices. The prototypes were effective because they are physical demonstrations of how the concept could be realised, but Starck wasn’t convinced it was progressive enough.

Jess has a vision of a worldwide community, which is celebrated by an annual turn-the-power-off fortnight. The scope of this vision is communicated effectively via visual analogy, using a globe surrounded by a ring of people holding hands, and connected to a power source, to illustrate the underlying concepts. Starck seemed unconvinced but appreciated the process of abstract thinking.

Robert uses an image board and a selection of existing products to communicate his idea for a sensory kit to celebrate the bonding process between mother and child. This is not very effective and Starck struggled to understand the idea.

Polly uses prompt cards and an image board to communicate her concept for a household water meter which monitors and displays water usage and cost. The prompt cards effectively communicate the context for the concept, while the image board effectively demonstrates how it could be realised in a product. Starck was impressed.

Nabile has a vision for a ‘vehicle for mutation’, which he communicates using both a card/paper model and an image board. These were not very effective for communicating the vision, and Starck found the idea to be clever but uninspired.

Helen presents a concept for an environmentally friendly tampon and communicates this effectively using image boards that indicate the scope of the concept and how it could be realised in a product. Starck was impressed.

Anna communicates her idea for an organic bin using a prototype that effectively demonstrated how it could be realised in a product, but Starck was not convinced by the concept.

Discussion

The ideas and concepts presented by the design students were of variable quality, and only the water meter and the environmentally friendly tampon impressed Starck. The students all used visual representations of some form to communicate their vision for innovation. They did this not because it is what is expected of a designer, but because the representations allow them to present certain aspects of their vision. Prototypes, image boards, models, etc., are all used to highlight different perspectives that the students think are important. The most effective presentations included representations that communicated more than one perspective. They provided both context and credibility by illustrating the need for the vision, and by indicating how the vision could be realised.

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