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(re)Design led Innovation

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‘Innovation’ is one word which we will keep hearing the most in the knowledge economy. So what does ‘Innovation’ mean in a Software development context?  Having recently attended a workshop on ‘(re) Design led Innovation’, I will share my knowledge from this and try to relate this in context of the latest happenings in our industry.

As Software developers we are in most cases involved in creation of software artifacts (code being the most common artifact) and may sometimes use ‘software architectural’ insights (be it in form of design patterns/ metamodels/…) during this process. In most cases these are technical artifacts we are creating (be it development tools, business software, games…) aimed at a specific domain user.  So how do we know ‘what’ our domain user really wants and if our creation meets his requirements? To an extent the industry has solved this problem by creating clear role separation between ‘software development’, ‘user interface design’ and ‘product management’ roles. In most cases its the latter who decide what the enduser wants and how it should look like. So is the role of developer restricted to ‘innovating’ in the process of development itself then the final end product?

Not if the experts in ‘Software design’ are to be believed.  Software design is about taking a holistic view on user requirements and combining them with the different roles to create a ‘killer’ product/service. They claim all design is redesign. Actually if we take a moment to think about this, we are more often than not taking existing things (for what ever reason) and doing it in a new (sometimes innovative) way. If we take  a historic view at the beginning of mankind we sign language, cave drawings which over times got redesigned into languages, literature, poetry,… and in the current times ‘new media’ with all the multimedia mashups by youtube/flickr/microsoft live/…

If we take some time to think why we like / dislike a particular product/service, we will be getting into thinking how the designer could even think of something like this…. To make things more concrete, Apple as recently launched the iPhone & AppleTV (some of my predictions for 2007 already happened ;o) . You should really watch its launch by Steve Jobs (http://events.apple.com.edgesuite.net/j47d52oo/event/)  They are great examples of (re) design led Innovation.  Apart from the great presentation style of Steve itself, each feature in the product has been thoroughly validated against what the user ‘really’ wants and innovating (in software, hardware & networks) to create a revolutionary phone.  While not all people may be that ‘creative’ by holistic thinking of user requirements we can at least create products that more people will use with ‘pleasure’. In the ‘digital’ era software will be consumed by ever more people, as software designers the least we can do is understand what they want and try to at least satisfy some of them.

Understanding users ‘real’ needs is not always ease and in some cases users may not even know what they want while in other cases design optimization may need to factor in other aspects (cost/ efficiency/…).  Diversity of user requirements also complicates the matters. ‘Agile’ development processes can help in coming up with quick prototypes for user validation/ acceptance tests. They great thing about ‘Software as a Service’ is we end user feedback in real-time and incrementally/iterative development is what we see happening at most online portals.  So next time you are in doubt if anybody is ever going to use the feature you are creating, it may not be a bad idea to ask the ‘real’ end user.

Microsoft presented its latest innovations at the Consumer electronics show(CES) recently. Check the link for Bill Gates keynote here ‘ – http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/billg/speeches/2006/01-04CES.mspx  (if you have broadband watch the web cast). Interestingly Microsoft is Innovating around ‘Connected Experiences’. Basically all content is digital and can be accessed anywhere / anytime / any device.  It’s interesting (& important) to compare this to ‘Apple’s’ view of the digital world. While each is trying to create a better ‘user experience’  with their design thinking, the rest of us can judge & learn :o)

It’s possible to create a highly custom/proprietary device like ‘Apple’ with a great user experience or provide a more ecosystem driven and pluggable platform like Microsoft (ok to a extent at least). They highlight the challenges and limitation of design led innovation.

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Written by srinivasreddy

January 24, 2007 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Technology

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