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Industry leaders discuss collaborative design benefits
Nov 21, 2011

On Friday, November 4, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) Board of Directors convened a panel to discuss challenges and benefits of collaborative design/development processes, methods for integrating research that improves outcomes and leads to meaningful innovation, and the value and best practices of forecasting for the future.
Christine Barber
, Director of Research, Gensler, New York, NY, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Gregg Adams, Clanton and Associates, Denver CO (Lighting Design); Christine Barber, Gensler, New York, NY (Research and Design); Bill Dodge, Wolverine World Wide, Rockford, MI (Footware and Apparel); Vicki deVuono, Interface FLOR, Chicago, IL (Flooring and Textiles); Leslie Harrington, The Color Association of the U.S., NY, NY (Color Research); Seth Starner, Amway Corporation, Ada, MI (Personal Care Products); and Sudhakar Lahade, Steelcase, Kentwood, MI (Workplace Furnishings).
One very strong thread that emerged from the panel discussion is that establishing trust is critical to effective collaboration and innovation. Trust does not necessarily occur as a natural by-product of teaming, but must be established through a culture that allows for curiosity, experimentation, risk, and failure. While innovation is often pursued as a goal by organizations, there is no clear definition of what constitutes innovation. One person in the group described two different types of innovation. Innovation with a big “I” is aimed at disrupting existing models, and is the most risky to implement. By and large, organizations look to innovate with a little “i,” innovating incrementally to preserve business continuity, while contributing growth to the marketplace.
Organizational leadership is responsible for building a culture that supports the risk and experiential learning that leads to successful innovation. Often internal teams feel pressured to demonstrate value through rapid innovation as senior management quickly forgets previous goal achievement. This can be challenging as innovative design requires thorough research and validation to test unproven solutions. Internally, teams charged with developing innovation require someone in leadership to understand and champion the research required to create and document new data that leads to innovation.
Agility was another common theme in the panel discussion. Agility of products and services to self-evolve, maintaining relevance over longer periods of time was one topic. Participants noted that speed to market is trumped by differentiation, and that organizations seeking to differentiate through innovation should understand their own history of success in order to build on core expertise. Related to this topic was the agility of design teams to quickly change tactics and adapt to new or unexpected information. The innovative design process requires individuals who know how to research and use data as a basis for prototyping and adapting iterations to validate a design solution. The team must also be comfortable with failure as a learning tool. If a solution is new or innovative, one must test a variety of ideas and create evidence to demonstrate a solution’s validity.
In terms of future forecasting, some participants felt that long-range forecasting is an outdated model. Given that prototypes can be tested in real time and results are almost immediate, does one need to forecast for the long term? Others believe that the value of long-term forecasting lies in challenging one’s assumptions and preparing for sea changes in society and how one conducts business. Understanding factors impacting the world statistically over the next 20-30 years may stretch an organization’s vision and goals in directions that lead to greater relevance and continuity in the future. Everyone agreed, however, that the opportunity to reach the public in real time with tools such as cloud sourcing and social media is a “game changer” that will continue to impact how we conduct research about user experience and document data relevant in the design process.

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