New is an an overrated subject

When spotting the word “ innovation” our brain immediately makes an iconological analysis and in our mind we see objects and moments where we have seen or experienced “new” and “creative” things. If we see something we have never seen before, our mind tries to compare it with obvious objects or ideas that we already know. That way, we are able to have an explanation of what it is or means. But when do we reflect about what took place inside us, allowing us to come into contact with those “new” ideas or objects?

(picture from: TIME, 2015)

Inventing something is more than just developing what has not been created yet. Bringing something into existence that can be useful for someone, needs more work than imagined, it needs to have things in common with the user, his society, his needs, his routine, habits, desires, interests and a few more concepts.

Scientists and anthropologists make the magnificent work of researching, truly observing these and giving feedback to the creators, inventors, engineers and designers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all research. Anyhow, have you ever wondered why is this whole thing about researching and observation so important to design?

There is a method that was created for science but is crucial to every investigation in any area.

The Scientific Method, it consists in a series of steps that will take the investigator from the recognition of a problem or misunderstanding to the clarification or simplification of it. The steps of the Scientific Method are: observation, creation of hypothesis, experimentation, analysis, validation and conclusion (final answer.)

Firstly, observation is what anthropology teaches us to use. The creation of a hypothesis consists in the conjunction of the results from the previous study (anthropologic) and the tacit knowledge.

The “tacit knowledge” is the previous and validated knowledge about the topic or problem you have to solve. Furthermore, comes experimentation which is creating a variety of solutions and testing them out. In the fifth place comes the analysis which discusses the results from experimentation based on existent theories.

Finally, validation is repeating the experiments and proving the results from the analysis. With this conclusion and final objects can be built.

A few years ago anthropologists weren’t considered to have an important role inside the innovation firms. Nowadays it is one of the most important ones since they provide information about the needs, usage, understanding and reactions of people in contact with the products or devices that have been delivered. Apart from their knowledge, anthropologists have some characteristics that make their work valuable. They use an open mind to observe. They are curious.They refrain from judging. They value intuition and human instincts. They look everywhere, from the most obvious to the most unusual places. They have the ability to see something new that had been there for a while but people hadn’t cared enough to notice it consider it important. (This is what the phenomena of the "Déjà vu” explains.)

Studies done by anthropologists and designers show that asking people for information is not the best way to get the truth. Often while asking questions people have a tendency to lie because they are afraid that the one who questions will judge them by their answers or actions, so they prefer playing it safe and lying as an ideal. It has been discovered that “emotions” play an important role at the moment of how the humans react or develop around objects and events.

Patrice Martin, an industrial designer who works at IDEO says “ The more emotional breadth you gather, the better.” The definition of “emotion” is variant it can be defined as “the affective aspect of consciousness” or “ a conscious mental reaction” (Marian Webster, 2015.) In other words emotions and feelings are linked to the way we act, our preoccupations and important matters, all of these are reactions from what we experience and coexist with.

Another investigation done by a polish company who sells soft drinks in train stations explains the behavior of the users and customers before they enter a train. They noticed that people who entered the trains have a tendency to step in front of the platform, look over to the drink stand, glance at their watches, check again if the train is near and finally deciding if they should take time to purchase a beverage.

What did they do? They installed stands with big clocks so that the people would immediately notice and be aware that they still got time. The sales increased in a notorious way. Now this was an act of anthropology and it was useful to increase sales. If we apply this act on design it can also help in the solving of problems and simplification of processes.

As it has already been mentioned, the way we react to an object is based on emotions, emotions are a result of what each design expresses or communicates. But the way to discovering this emotions (or reactions) is observing and analyzing. Tom Kelley once mentioned “Innovation begins with an eye” taking into action the first step of creating a new object.

Basically the first two steps of the Scientific Method have been explained (observation and hypothesis.) Continuing; it is also important taking into account the context of the object and the problem. Context, meaning the cultural and historical moment of existence, as well as the place where the object will be used. We can add to this definition the importance and helpfulness that the user will give and receive from the object designed. All these steps will get you to an eureka moment.

The explanation of an eureka moment is “An instant in which a scientific discovery is made or a breakthrough occurs; a moment of inspiration; (in extended use) an exciting or significant experience.” (Oxford dictionaries, 2016.)

After having this moment designers create a variety of options that they view as possible solutions. These prototypes and data are part of the experimentation process, which is the third in the list of the Scientific Method. Experimentation is the step where designers will test their products and analyze again if what they have created works as they thought it would. They discuss the results with proven theories and proved similar situations.

Finally, the step of validation comes in. In this process designers will improve their designs and test them one last time. It is important to compare the consistence of the results they get. If the results are compatible then it is safe to create a final object. They choose the “best object” from the various prototypes they’ve tested out. The best object will be the one they consider more qualified to complete the task and solve the question or problem which started the whole innovation process.

In conclusion, without observation design as a discipline wouldn’t exist, the term “innovation” would also have no meaning and the evolution of the human race as we know it wouldn’t be possible. Even though it is human to do so, we should not take for granted everything in life. A designer specially should not take for granted objects and what they make him/her and other people feel.

Reactions are the roots we have from our culture and personal history but they also have a lot to do with society. In order to exist in society we need to have something in common and mostly, it is our reactions. Design needs to converge with reactions and create new and enjoyable experiences so that innovation is useful. There is not a single object existing that has not been thought and tested (a hundred times at least) before. That is why the title says “New is an overrated subject.” New objects and ideas do not “just appear” from nowhere, they are new things but at the same time, had already been in existence, they simply shifted and were given a use. Nothing is completely new they are just upgrades of already existent objects.

Here's a link to a video with the 25 Best Inventions of 2015! :

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Feather Girl