The role of strategic design in the quest for innovation.
by Haris Silic
In the April 17th issue of The Economist, the developing world is featured in a 14-page special report titled “The New Masters of Management.” The focus is on innovation in a climate of “bigger dreams…driven by a mixture of ambition and fear.” The top three emerging nations in this developing business arena are China, India and Brazil. Each has its own sociopolitical history, combined with cultural factors that make it primed for competition in the post-recession race to the top. However, there are a few important points that the author misses. There is very little mention of how this new innovation will contribute to making the world a better place for all of us, both in developed and developing world nations. In addition, there was a complete omission of how strategic design plays into this new business environment.
The most fascinating part of the report is introduction of so-called “reverse innovation.” This sort of approach, where the needs of the world’s poorest people are the starting point of innovation, takes creativity to a whole new level. Doing the most with the least amount of waste has become a trademark of reverse innovation, from the $2,200 Nano car developed by Tata Motors, to Godrej‘s $70 refrigerator that runs on batteries and solar powered GSM base stations by VNL, India’s telecommunication equipment vendor. However, after reading the report, I was left wondering how future business managers will be able to capitalize on the momentum of this change in innovation. I believe business leaders have an immense opportunity here to gear this innovation toward more sustainable business and environmental practices.
The most significant trademark of business in the developing world is not invention, but rather constant re-invention. Although, not much credit in this special report is given to the holistic nature of the design process, it is undeniable that the forces behind this paradigm shift have borrowed from it. Design process, in essence, is an ever changing and evolving method, continually evaluating and readjusting the solutions to best meet the shifting needs of the target audience. In this case the target audience, although currently poor, is in the process of a massive migration to a very powerful global middle class.
Although the emergence of this global middle class has been inevitable due to constant flattening of the world by globalization, it is imperative to equip these consumers with tools to lead in environmentally, socially and economically sustainable ways. Perhaps this is where the field of design management, as well as strategic design application, will have its most critical impact. Overall, it is refreshing to see business leaders turn to the developing world for innovation. Hopefully, the future business leaders will seize this opportunity to deliver sustainable solutions to the marketplace. Design management, with its set of strategic processes, has an opportunity to guide this innovation toward a brighter future for all of us.
Haris is a global design thinker, currently working as a Creative Director for a health care media company in Tampa, Florida, as well as serving on the AIGA Tampa Bay Board of Directors. In the Fall of 2010, he will enroll in the Design Management program at Pratt.