Design’s Inspiration Outcome Dividend.

When seeking to measure the impact of design in the world we need to first consider what good design is for: inspiration

Anyone working in a consulting role on matters of strategic, service or product design (including research and evaluation) knows that no amount of advice or data will guarantee action with your clients or colleagues. Great, thoughtful designs for products, services, or policies are important to downstream success yet not guarantees for adoption.

Design is about making things with intention, craft, and care, but above all, it must inspire.

Without inspiration and excitement, there is no action.

Designer Bruce Mau came to this realization during his teaching when he was asked by trainees how it was that he designed and while he was able to speak to the production and philosophy behind his work, he was stuck with how to describe the process of the work. It was in reflecting upon this process that he came to realize that without inspiration design was dead. Prototypes would not get realized. Design culture within an organization would not change and the kind of transformation and innovation requested by clients and communities would never materialize.

Changing Metrics for Innovation Success

Innovations typically have a poor track record of reaching the market in terms of sheer numbers. For many reasons, innovations don’t get ‘beyond the laboratory’ and while some of this is due to a failure of these new products or services to realize expected benefits, much of it has to do with a simple failure to launch. It’s lack of implementation.

Drawing on a quarter century of experience working in innovation I’d say clearly that the reason for this failure is simple: lack of inspiration. The innovation was not inspiring enough to reveal possibilities, excite people, and overcome fear. Bruce Mau is right.

If we take inspiration as the first goal of good design to heart, our number one evaluation metric for any project ought to be: did it inspire?

Consider inspiration as the precursor to any kind of innovation adoption or impact and you may find the correlations between those projects where people felt inspired, saw a future vision and felt motivated to act and their overall success rate in being implemented is close to 100 percent.

No matter what kind of process is undertaken to create something — whether it was co-design, expert-driven, or some other model — the end result must be that what you produce must inspire people first to ensure that it goes further. Only then can we start to explore what kind of impact and influence it has in the world.

Inspiration will not guarantee success, but without it there is near guarantee of failure.

This article was adapted from an earlier version published on the Cense Learning blog.

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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