Design for Innovation


24 January 2016 - TIM HAWK

“Although every organisation will have its own priorities and sector-specific issues to balance, businesses that fail to innovate run the risk of losing ground to competitors, losing key staff, or simply operating inefficiently. Innovation can be a key differentiator between market leaders and their rivals.” 
Queensland Government.

The need for innovation is at the heart of most 2016 entrepreneurial plans. Everyone is seeking innovation, everyone wants to encourage and foster its development, and, it seems, everyone is hoping that innovation will result in greater success for their enterprise. When innovation is googled, one can even find articles on “killing innovation” in order to encourage innovation. I guess reverse psychology works on organizations too!

But why? Why is innovation, that mysterious, back-room goal of the few, suddenly all the rage for the masses? Why has innovation become so important to organizations and why is planning shifting away from balance towards business intervention and change?

Technology. Globalization. The need for Speed.



Today, January 24, 2016, is the thirty-second anniversary of the release of the Apple Macintosh computer. Remember the advertisements during Super Bowl XVIII where Apple blew up Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984? Although slow to be adopted because of the expense and understanding, personal computing and personal devices have transformed our linear, person-to-person regional business culture into a top speed, hyper-connected environment where personal devices are an extension of our thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I sleep with my phone next to my bed. My i-phone is my alarm clock, it is my camera, I use it to telephone friends and family, it provides access to much of the data that I need, and it is my encyclopedia, dictionary, and pocket resource library.

Academic arenas were the first to embrace these technologies. I recall the migration from typewriters to personal computers at Ohio State. By 1989 when I received my graduate degree, MacLabs had popped up all over campus, and the lines to use these computers to type your term paper were longer than the lines at Pappa Joe’s on High Street. We all wanted to use these devices, but no one could afford them. By the time that I entered classes for my second graduate degree in 1991, the University of Illinois at Chicago bookstore had been transformed into a technology hub. It was intimidating, but Kris and I took out a loan from the UIC credit union and financed the purchase of our first computer for around $4,500. We paid a couple of hundred dollars each month for a few years to pay off that device, which transformed my life. It was well worth it, and to me, triggered an optimistic viewpoint towards the potential of technology to transform life.

At the same time, my life in architectural practice did not change all that quickly. Employers, faced with huge overhead costs, were slow to adopt digital drawing platforms, and while I was macintoshing at home, my life at work was strictly based on the ink pen, pencil and the telephone. Personal computing did not transform architectural drawing until the mid to late 1990’s. Shortly thereafter, the internet transformed communication and research. And the path ever since has been a dizzying pace of upgrades, innovation, and technological revolution. In 2016, we create drawings both by hand and digitally in two and three-dimensions, and technology has completed impacted the pace of design, collaboration, and implementation. As we look to the future, I see technology as a tool poised to replace builders and fabricators. Buildings can already be printed and building materials are being customized through robotics and digital fabrication techniques.



It is hard to deny that technology has certainly transformed the entire world.  Access to technology has completely changed the nature of education, business, and industry, and geographic boundaries have blurred. No longer is a student who studies at a university limited to those resources singularly owned by that institution. Imagine a time when student research was limited to interaction with their professors, peers, and the physical reading materials housed in the library. Stop. Consider this wholly.

Conversely, consider the vast array of resources available to those same students in 2016. The difference is astounding.

Now…translate yourself to some remote part of the world historically far from physical access to intellectual knowledge and consider the same scenarios. My bet is that the lives of those in Central Asia have been transformed more significantly in this time frame than those of North Americans. Access to information is driving globalization. We are able to more easily exchange ideas and connectivity is strengthened. Geography and distance is erased. Leaders around the globe are sharing ideas and experiences and, for many, our client base, consumer target area, talent pool, and constituency has grown to be wide, broad, deep, and diverse.


The need for measured SPEED

Faster. Do it faster. Get that idea out there before the competition beats us to the punch! Beware. Be careful. Be measured.

Innovative concepts and ideas have always been the key to success. Go watch the recent movie “Joy” to get an insight into one woman’s struggle to maintain the rights and associated rewards for her patented self-ringing mop. It is a great performance by Jennifer Lawrence who portrays Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire. The most interesting lesson in this story is how television and technology supported her efforts to promote her ideas and concepts. Technology allowed her to become an overnight success (she sold her products on QVC, an early home-shopping network). Yet, this notoriety also threatened to undermine her success when remote vendors, historically blind to their client’s success, attempted to squeeze her profits and steal her intellectual ideas. Joy learned that speed wins. Get the idea first, get the word out first, and harness the amazing bandwidth of technology in order to ensure meteoric success. She also learned that our global world requires tenacity, intelligence, and careful protective measures. We need to go slow to go fast.

“That’s why, when every instinct is telling us to run faster, we need to slow down and check to see if we’re running in the right direction. And the more change speeds up, the greater the need to pause and make sure we get it right before responding to new developments in our markets.”
Holly Green; Forbes, January 15, 2013.

Technology is certainly driving a global environment poised for rapid change and development. More now than ever, innovation is critical to the success of every organization, and innovation cannot be reserved for the few entrepreneurial types. Innovation needs to be embraced by each participant. Innovation will be a component of each strategic plan, and innovation will come front and center as we move forward in the 21st century.

At WSA Studio we have dedicated our design firm to this cause. How can we help drive innovation for each organization we engage? This is our mission, our passion, and our highest priority. Join me as we share lessons learned, leading thoughts, concepts, and design considerations throughout 2016.


Collaborative Innovation 2016

The future of design, explored.