Better by design

To stay one step ahead we need a radical shift in thinking and to put something different into the creative mix, says Michael Goatman.

Everybody likes design. The Apple iPod, for example, is a shining example of beautiful design and innovation. But Apple is a rare example of a creatively-driven and highly-successful technology company.

Engineering and creative design is not yet integrated into accessible processes to produce winning results for broad engineering sector companies.

The UK is a world leader in creative design, but it is also renowned for low efficiency in capitalising on the opportunities this brings.

In his review of creativity in business, Sir George Cox, chairman of the Design Council, said the problem is that the creative sector operates as a service to engineering and management. Therefore creativity is not an integrated part of it.

Cox concludes that the UK needs to look more closely at this to maximise the value of its innovation and design.

In approaching the task, some notable challenges arise. For example, engineering design follows a logical construction, usually sequential or at least in parallel linear processes. Within certain parameters, creative design seeks to open up possibilities to the maximum to create innovation.

If creative alternatives are to be introduced, then at some point a non-logical process of open exploration has to integrated. If a departure from the known is to be found then something has to be put into the recipe that isn’t necessarily sequentially logical. If not, each competitor will produce the similar solutions.

Who would have thought in pre-iPod days that a new product for a highly-competitive consumer electronics marketplace would involve not major injection mouldings, but glass and bright metal that inevitably cost more to produce?

New creative elements have to be added at the ‘upstream’ end of the process before the optimisation algorithms are applied. This will be challenging because it is difficult to measure the value of creative design in the early stages of project planning. Therefore, it is difficult to quantify the risks a company takes when investing in design.

Education could help industry integrate engineering and creative design practices and add commercial value to their products. The Centre for Competitive Creative Design at Cranfield University, in collaboration with the University of the Arts London, is offering courses designed to give professionals the tools and the necessary information they need to bring creativity and innovation to their business.

There’s plenty of research potential. I suspect there won’t be any algorithms to directly integrate and digitise the process, but the digital environment does offer an opportunity to develop methodologies to integrate the different ways of working and quantify outcomes at each stage of the process.

In the global economy — where production, development, and a lot of what the UK once controlled is no longer here — the winners will be those who stay one step ahead by producing the interesting ideas.

An holistic approach involving all aspects is essential from the start of the process. The old ‘add the icing later’ approach won’t do anymore. Somehow the ‘creative space’, where possibilities can be explored without constraint must be designed into engineering development systems, and measures must be identified to assess the added value that this brings to make it a manageable part of the proposition.

Michael Goatman is director of the Master of Design for Innovation and Creativity in Industry course at Cranfield University