The first thing that came to my mind as a topic for this post is how innovation in design could affect the value of companies and brands. However, this seemed somewhat trite and vague for me to write about and for anyone else to read. Design innovations can make money if successful, but they are really a form of change, which could imply positive or negative financial implications for a company. In my previous post on social aspects of innovation I quoted an article by Scott Berkun, discussing innovation versus doing things consistently well. I tend to agree that a focus on doing things well is a good way to have financial success. So, instead of dwelling on that I thought it would be interesting if the rest of my post focused on how differentiation among designers/design companies can be its own form of innovation. I will highlight a few examples of business models or self-marketing decisions that help add diversity to the design business community.
LEGO Design byME (1)
I love toys, and LEGO has always had a special presence in the market. I was surprised to find out that a business direction of theirs now lets someone use free software to design a custom model out of LEGO pieces, as well as its box, and then have it delivered. Here's how they put it:
"Is there something special missing in your LEGO collection? Would you like to add a professional touch to your personal gifts? Now you can make, shape & even order the toy you wish in a box you design yourself." (1). I don't know what kind of financial effect this has for the company, but it is a really logical direction for their growth taking advantage of software and online ordering. The LEGO image is one of customization, and this takes it further than was previously possible.
MAKE Magazine (2)
This magazine (now 22 volumes) caters to do-it-yourself-ers and tech hobbyists, giving ideas and instructions for how to create devices out of available parts. Given its audience, I'm sure its online presence and community is just as strong as the publication for communicating ways to make stuff for fun.
Kontrapunkt is a Danish design firm that created a self-named typeface. As "a bit of a democratic experiment" (3), they allowed the typeface to be downloaded and used for free. This seems to me like a very generous, and useful, way to market your firm. I'll do my part in the promotion by putting the link right here.
Knock-Down/Drag-Out (KDDO) furniture (4)
Another design business strategy is to create something based on your needs, knowing that other people probably want the same thing. Christopher Douglas "recognized the need for furniture that was easily stowable..." (4), which lead the former advertiser to create a flat-pack line of furniture for people who moved a lot, like him.
These are just a few examples of how doing different things can be an innovative business strategy in design. The more diversity there is, the more likely there will be a spot in the market for a designer or company to settle in and make money.
(4) Design Life Now. Bloemink, et al. Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York. 2006. pp 82-83.