Can you measure innovation?

March 3, 2011 at 11:12 am 1 comment

Today, Fast Company’s Co. Design published an article by Paul Valerio, Principal of Insights at Method (which is currently doing a whole series of articles for Co. Design). The article is called “Eight Things Stand-Up Comedy Teaches Us About Innovation” and is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek comparison between successful product innovation and stand-up comedy. In Valerio’s words, “Innovation, like comedy, is a messy, often counter-intuitive business. It’s an iterative loop of creation, feedback, revision, rejection, and creation again. Used correctly, research fuels the understanding that leads to real breakthroughs. In the wrong hands, it all but assures the death of originality.”

I believe in the value of market research and focus groups, but I also know that the best designers have excellent design intuition. You only need to remind me of the recent Tropicana rebrand and failed packaging for me to concede that research isn’t as reliable as we’d like it to be. Valerio makes this fact all the more clear by pointing out that the opposite is also true: “Herman Miller’s Aeron chair and the Seinfeld pilot bombed in research” despite both being huge successes with consumers when introduced into the market.

Herman Miller’s Aeron chair, a huge success despite poor results in preliminary consumer research testing

All that said, I still believe in research and – even more importantly – in documentation of your successful innovations. Whether it’s visitorship and membership rates, community responses and user satisfaction feedback, or how much graffiti appears on a newly built structure, clients are already trying to measure the return on their design investments (see “Prove Your Design Has Value” published January 3, 2011 in Architect magazine). In my opinion, it’s definitely time for designers to start regularly including a diversity of metrics in their project documentation as well.

Aurthur Buxton shows us the five most common colors in 28 of Van Gogh’s paintings, by relative percentage: one not-so-soft metric for starting to understand these paintings (plus it’s a great piece of art on its own)

March 3’s daily design idea is while it’s unclear how to measure innovation, measuring the effects and performance of your work is more straightforward (and it will help create credible support for your innovative-ness). So ladies and gentlemen, start your measuring!


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Levi’s cares (to air). DeChristopher and his motives.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Replay: Sleep No More « Daily Design Idea  |  April 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    […] to be different than the version that I saw)… but as someone who so strongly believes in documenting and measuring even the most subjective experiences, I felt the need to share a few facts with […]


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