Innovation Journal Introductions as executive editor

What is Design Research?

What design research really is varies depending on who you ask. There are diverse design disciplines involved; many product management, marketing and planning functions engaged; and product and experience categories concerned that think of and deploy design research differently. We use the term all the time, but you can't count on two people to share the same concept.

Design has always had a research component—whether it was a lone quest for inspiration or a complex study in search of unmet needs or desires. It is a conscious act of design to follow your own insight or to search for and integrate insights from outside sources. Whether it is foolish or courageous to do the former is an enjoyable debate. There are many examples where breakthroughs come from a flash of insight versus formal inquiry. Of course, an onslaught of cases show how disciplined design research has discovered previously unseen opportunities or uncovered what could have been catastrophic weaknesses in a developing design.

What consistently inspires me is how great teams have adapted and innovated in design research, and the awesome contribution this has had to the bottom line of many businesses.

The combination of great design thinking and great research has cleverly designed research. This reinforces that design applied to almost any discipline can yield repeatable process innovation. Whether you call it design thinking, design process or just design, a diverse set of disciplines, principles and tools have been creatively applied to evolving problems and forged new opportunities for business and design alike.

Design research is also rapidly changing, being reshaped and combined to achieve even greater results. Marty Gage, our guest editor, has pulled together a snapshot of a field in motion. I think you will find many useful insights and approaches from the contributions that he has carefully assembled.

This is my first issue as executive editor of Innovation, and I am excited to participate in a journal that is so highly valued by our membership. Innovation is consistently cited as one of the highest benefits of membership, and yet we know that there is a need to continue to evolve. That said, Innovation is among a very few magazines that our members keep on their shelves and archives. The yearbook is a valuable time capsule, and each issue has deep knowledge about design, and designing.

Since Innovation is really by the members and for the members, please help to keep the content fresh and relevant by getting involved in future issues. In addition to the yearbook, upcoming issues will focus on experiencing interaction design and frontiers of design. Visit to see the editorial calendar, and consider contributing your experience and knowledge to a future issue or promoting your work with advertising.

We would love to hear your feedback any time. Just send email to

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor. Spring 2010

Interactive Irony

As digital and interactive channels have become more mainstream, print media has been experiencing a lot of pressure. The sensual aspects of print are rich enough that many believe it will never go away. Meanwhile, every day digital media gets closer to replicating many aspects of that physical, three-dimensional experience and touts many advantages, such as low-friction distribution, social interaction and commentary.

When tackling the topic of interactive experiences for this issue, it did not take long for the irony of the interactive limitations of this magazine to become obvious. This revelation points to another friction point, which the IDSA staff and many volunteers have been working hard to address: How to continue to evolve the content that members value so highly while bringing it in-line with the expectations that information must be online, available everywhere, interactive and broadly contributed to. With the imminent launch of the new IDSA web site, we will see a positive step toward a platform upon which members can contribute digital content and communication around this content.

In the mean time, I couldn’t let this issue go to print without addressing Innovation’s interactive irony. We have set up a commenting site called There you will find the titles of our theme articles and can comment and converse as if it were an online magazine.

If you want to comment while mobile, download Microsoft’s tag reader software (from and scan the code above; you’ll be taken right to papercomment. Don Carr, IDSA, our guest editor has curated an excellent collection of contributors and topics related to designing interactive experiences.

It is an area that is vast and diverse as well as rooted in the origins of industrial design thinking. If your mind snaps to computer screens when you hear the term “interaction design,” then this issue will expose how pervasive the principles, thinking and processes are and how they apply across physical, digital, environmental and service domains.

I’m looking forward to hearing your comments as we make Innovation interactive in a new way. At least for now you don’t have to turn it off during takeoff and landing.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Summer 2010

From First Date to the Altar - the journey of design excellence.

IDEA is now in its thirtieth year, and each year the IDSA goes through a taxing process to select a jury and ultimately the winners of the IDEA competition. It is a process that spotlights the great designs of the day, and it is no surprise that it usually inspires vigorous discussion about the winners, the entry process, the judging process, and sometimes even the relevance of design awards!

Each year the competition also evolves and improves to better capture a collection of design that is not so much a scorecard of relative perfection, but a snapshot of important design today. If it was practical to objectify every aspect of great design we would probably take it on; but it seems that we have to accept a measure of the subjective and the emotional in our evaluation just as consumers ultimately will in the store.

The majority of the discussion, critique and evolution originates from the jury itself, who wrestle each year with the challenges of recognizing the best designs from what can never truly complete information, or entries that are colored the by the quality of writing, photography, documentary video, research and business reporting. From this the jury must filter and distil notable and important design. We should think of the IDEA awards as a process in continuous improvement. In the 90’s we added ecological criteria, and in the last few years we have moved from pictures and videos to the submission of the actual products for finalists, and added the requirement that the jury chair be selected from the previous jury to ensure stability and consistency while also embracing fresh relevant insights and interactive debate that characterizes the final jurying process.

This year, you will read that the integration of bigger picture responsible design criteria will again be adjusted to keep pace with the expectations of great design.

As rigorous as the process is, for the juror it can feel like speed dating great designs. You always want more information, and one can be frustrated with an entrant underselling something you may see as exemplary.

Yet from that chaos, here we have an amazing collection of important and exciting design that represents the best work of our profession in 2010. The work that excited, impressed, surprised and inspired a diverse jury that represents us.

In the next ten years, some of these products and experiences will change the way we live play and work whether sitting in a modern home theatre or a Cambodian latrine. In that same ten years some developments will fade away and we will wonder what we were thinking! It is just the way design, business, and the markets ultimately judge the work. Not perfect, but its just as important to evaluate the moment, as it is to look back over time.

Since this is 2010, and the Designs of the Decade competition is underway, we will soon have a chance to do just that. Chuck Jones and a distinguished jury will sift through the last decade's successes with a filter of exemplary business success. And we may see what made it from a first date with a design jury to a successful long term marriage with the market.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Fall 2010

Design of the... Weekend

This issue’s theme - Design in Business - was set to capture where we are in the ongoing discussion of design’s role in business. Ten years ago, it seemed that the most common quandary of design in business was the quantification of design’s value. Prove it – and - How do you measure it? …were common challenges given to design teams trying to justify budgets or break through approaches.

Something changed around the middle of the last decade, as the notion that there was a core ingredient in design that could be leveraged in business practice emerged. Design process, or design-thinking as some refer to it, became the latest news worthy aspect of design, and it has triggered an awesome groundswell of interest outside of design, and often a misunderstanding of what this profession has to offer.

Design process is now being exported to many other disciplines and is changing the way companies are conceived, run, and reinvented. Books are being written and seminars held to understand or infuse “design-thinking” into everything we do at work. I was surprised recently as I visited the Freestore Foodbank, in Cincinnati, where John Young the CEO, talked to me about how he demands generative thinking, and creativity from his team. In a place where I expected to see a warehouse filled with cans of cast off canned goods, I saw weekend “power-packs” carefully designed to feed kids who go home on Friday without much hope of a meal until Monday, and a tricked-out kitchen complete with roof mounted webcams to spread responsive food preparation tricks to church basements and soup kitchens who may find themselves oversupplied with figs. Wow.

I had not heard the term generative thinking anywhere but a design studio, and had previously been a bit worried about the generalized concept of design-thinking leading to misunderstandings about the rigor and discipline required to deliver great design in traditional product development companies. But the Foodbank showed me the unbelievable power of design unleashed across disciplines, and even categories of companies.

Industrial Design baked these concepts over decades, and it is still true that industrial design excellence requires a commitment to the hard-core discipline and process of design execution that is necessary to produce the amazing accomplishments you will read about in this issue. It is not enough to think. You have to sign up for the whole journey, and sweat the details – from strategy to planning to concept to shipment and beyond – in order to deliver great design.

The greater design opportunity is for us to ensure that we lead, evangelize and codify design practice into the many adjacent disciplines that we rely on for success, and to companies that may not be the typical customers of design – like the Foodbank, but where the results are possibly less sexy, but just as inspiring, and possibly more meaningful.

So, it is convenient that this issue of Innovation combines the spectacular work of the Design of the Decade winners, with a theme of Design in Business. The theme articles share carefully selected thought and work in this area. This is work at the intersection of design, business process and education and it exposes inspiring initiatives and inner workings of thought leaders looking at how to get better traction for design processes, or how to utilize design to make business and the world it serves better.

Our guest editor Steve Sato personifies the integration of design and business. He has brought his trademark thought, rigor, and inspiration, to this issue. Thank you Steve, and congratulations to the Design of the Decade Winners.

Finally, in this issue you will read (or re-read) the last Design Crime. For ten years this has been the “book-end” of Innovation. Budd Steinhilber has enlightened and amused us with this brilliant column, and is taking a well-deserved retirement. Thanks is hardly enough Budd, for your indelible and generous contribution to this pierced journal and all of its readers.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Winter 2010

Designing With or For?

The Patagonia catalog is one of the few that does not feel like an offense when it appears in my mailbox. The photography and stories are often as interesting as the products they sell. This winter was no exception.

A full-page image of a man at a band saw caught my attention and imagination. Any image of shop equipment snaps me back to some of my best memories of studios, friends, coworkers and projects. This one was different. The guy in the picture was pushing a long rough-cut form through the saw—in it was the perimeter of a ski.

While our guest editor Warren Ginn worked tirelessly pulling together the best in our profession for this issue devoted to materials and processes, this image bounced around in my head. What was that guy up to? What problem was he trying to solve? And how do you make skis? Something about the ski was still mysterious to me. It was definitely in the domain of something I would not try to build at home—its secrets were locked away in the alchemy of the K2 shop or assembly line.

I couldn’t resist, so I tracked him down. Turns out Jason McCloskey is a furniture maker who needed a new pair of powder skis. Bewildered by the price, but not his skill and equipment, he told me, “I can figure this out.”

He shared a story of research, experimentation, rocker, camber and side cut, feeling his way to the perfect ski to manage tight turns through a chute to get to the untouched powder—then to float from there. He explained that skilled hand planing was more precise than CAD and CNC to shape the core to attain perfect form and stiffness in the right places, and that he could repurpose his vacuum bag to work like a ski press.

Jason was trained by a master furniture maker as a traditional apprentice with an emphasis on dovetails and handwork. The down economy gave him a bit more free time to leverage his furniture studio to pursue the perfect ski, and his willingness to break boundaries led him to a new and totally unique creation.

It was no surprise to hear that his commissions for skis—custom tailored to the skill and terrain preference of the client—started outpacing the demand for furniture.

This project is a great example of how intimacy with material and process gets you somewhere you just can’t go when it is at arm’s length. Some of us design for a material use—draw it up, send to the shop, check it out when it comes back. Jason is designing with the material. Each finished product is an iteration toward the next ideal. A memory of how the core was formed, wrapped or pressed is inside each ski. Jason recognizes this as a factor that often separates furniture design from industrial design.

I’m certain that because of this boutique approach, these skis are more precious and meaningful to their owners. Being more personal, they probably deliver a richer experience.

My programming wants to see Jason codify the designs, reproduce them and make them available en masse—but deep inside I just want my very own ski, dialed in to my idiosyncrasies and imbued by a great entrepreneurial story that was launched from a great photograph.

They are called “Flitches”, and I placed my order.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Spring 2011

Photo by Colin Meagher

Design's Chapter N(ext)

Frontiers of Design is a topic we chose a year ago as a way of avoiding design thinking as a theme, but also to address members' stated desire for content on this topic.

Why avoid it? Many designers dislike labels or brands being applied to the work they have been doing for decades. This dissatisfaction was not always easy to understand because the journalistic story of design thinking brought a lot of positive attention to this profession. Yet, the articles, books and blogs often skimmed over what designers know is the hard part: Getting great design out the door is a hell of a lot more messy, complex and nuanced. Design thinking often appeared to be an elixir that if adopted would lead to good design. It did not account for softer things like brilliance, taste or luck, not to mention painful realities, like personalities that can derail a project while schooled executives, drunk with design-thinking bliss, are unaware of the irreversible damage being done in the middle of the organization.

Design thinking became a very interesting and educational conversation about what the design process can do to help business, but I'm not sure it changed what we did.

It provided a compelling story about what a designer, when confronted with a problem or opportunity, does to make something better. And it, therefore, gave lots of business leaders, product marketing professionals, engineers and others greater awareness of what it was we did. It was a better story than designers could come up with themselves. Thanks to brilliant authors, we learned more about ourselves than we could see on our own­—and we latched on.

So with all that, Innovation decided to avoid the popular title and focused instead on the frontiers that design (thinkers) were forging in their work. Frontiers gave us the surface area to cover applied design that was remarkable. Chris Hosmer stepped up as guest editor, and from his frontier outpost in Shanghai has pulled together a collection of inspiring work from equally pioneering contributors.

And as it turns out, this year has possibly marked the end of design thinking's journalistic luster, turning the page on design's story. Bruce Nussbaum, design's storyteller-in-chief, has declared it a failed experiment, with many others piling on the criticism. But it really was a story that advanced the profession of design significantly—if not in substance, then certainly in application. During the scramble to write the next chapter of the story and lay claim to terms* and isms, it is business as usual for most of us until the new language emerges to help us think, talk and promote what we do.

I am looking forward to seeing how it can again help extend the frontiers and impact of design—and many other professions.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Summer 2011

<3 Problems

Designers are never far from problems. The problems, most often, are projects that we undertake on behalf of a company, client or assignment. We tackle them with energy and confidence that there is a better something to be uncovered as a result of our efforts. Sometimes, though, we encounter problems in the form of adversity, or we seek out problems from our passions. This is when it becomes more personal. Sometimes personal causes are our platforms and our mission. Other times they are private.

In either case, taking things personally and overcoming huge barriers sounded like a design story. Overcoming barriers became the common denominator. Examples of people and groups working against the odds are all around us. Women in a male-dominated workplace, age, ethnicity, economics and geography are all obvious examples where we know of design warriors, products or causes that have taken on big problems and fought the status quo.

I have always found age to be an especially mystifying barrier, and it is a quality that all these warriors share at some stage. So much brilliance, passion and energy seems to be idling as we force young people through career paths before we give them positions of influence. But that doesn’t stop everyone. Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Dyson all saw the system as a barrier and broke out—and at an early age—while many also failed. Not many people have had the courage and belief in themselves to chart their own course and figure out for themselves how to break out. So even the modern Western “path” intended to groom us for success can be a barrier to progress.

Back in 1942 Einstein said that “a person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” This could be a statement of individual genius, but it could also be a warning that we’d better make sure not to bottle up the young.

This issue was guest edited by two people who are living the theme. Kate Hanisian and Ramsey Ford decided early in their careers to break from the status quo and combine their backgrounds in education and design to empower others to overcome their barriers. Their story was told in the summer 2011 issue of Innovation, and they return to pull together a collection of remarkable stories about others who are taking on similar pursuits. As one of our contributors, Tom De Blasis, put it, “We can use our talents to become game-changing problem solvers and in the process work to create a better world.”

finally, a request

In the summer 2010 issue of Innovation, which was devoted to interactive experiences, I wrote about the interactive irony of a printed journal on the subject. There is a lot of passion for keeping a tangible printed object and equal passion for having a modern digital publication. So to test our passion, this issue will come to you in digital form only. It will reduce costs, increase distribution, and save material, chemicals and energy from printing and sending, but it will maintain the form and design of the information. It will not live on your coffee table or in your archive of Innovation journals in the same way. You will not feel the pages or smell the ink, and you will have to turn it off during take off and landing! I hope that it inspires your feedback. Please tell IDSA and Innovation what you think, either directly at or when you receive a request via email.

This will be my last issue as executive editor. Mark Dziersk, FIDSA will return to the post starting with the spring 2012 issue. Thank you to the generous efforts of the guest editors and authors who have volunteered over the last couple of years, to the staff at IDSA and especially to Karen Berube, whose mind and hands make this such a valuable and important product for IDSA—whether it be atoms or bits.

Alistair Hamilton, IDSA, Innovation Executive Editor Winter 2011