A friend of mine, Gordana Pavlovic, was featured in Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle for her architectural design work. I’ve always thought that she had a lot to say about innovation, and the Chronicle article articulates why.
Design is often thought of as a purely artistic process, where the designer does all of their work in front of their CAD program or sketchbook in the same way that a painter works in front of their canvas. Modern design, however, emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach that requires engineering, psycho-social research, manufacturing, and artistic vision to all work together in a process of innovation.
Gordana makes it clear that the same holds true for architecture. Her unique creations that include a glass-enclosed bridge tell how her work incorporates an understanding of the needs of her clients. She notes,
…you have to observe how people use space and how they live, and then design around that.
Similar sentiments were made in a short piece by architect Arthur Gensler in the January 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Gensler describes how many architects talk about their clients getting in the way of the architect’s vision. Gensler goes on to say that his vision is based on designing to the client’s needs—there is no conflict between designer and customer. The same holds true in technology: a modern focus of technology innovation is to focus on the user experience and unmet needs: the vision starts with a focus on the client/customer.
In the Chronicle article, Gordana notes that having significant constraints put on her design requirements makes the problem solving process an exciting one. Again, a common modern theory of innovation is that the existence of significant constraints on possible inventions provides a framework from which one can best exercise one’s creativity. Too much freedom to innovate is like providing consumers with too much choice: one is left frozen by so many possibilities that one doesn’t know where or even how to start. By providing constraints, goals are clearly set and strategies can be more easily defined. By requiring an integration of a house’s design with nearby centennial oak trees, for example, Gordana was given a framework from which to begin her own creative process.
The picture at the beginning of this post, by the way, is a photo that I took at one of Gordana’s art exhibits: a glimpse of three of her paintings. Good design, after all, is part artistic.