Is great design innovation driven by technology-push or by market-pull?
We’ve often asked which is more important for creative design and innovation ideas: new technologies trying to find a use, or new problems sparking demand for a new solution?
The quick answer, of course, is yes. Both.
The change paradox
Creativity, in its simplest form, is trying to generate new potential answers to a question. We should start by quickly considering: when and why do questions arise? Fresh questions – and therefore the need for creativity – almost always arise as a result of change in some form. The hunt for more effective green energy, for example, is driven by a change in awareness of our impact on the planet today and for future generations. Yet, it was that same creativity that unlocked the exploitation of fossil fuels that produced the technological revolution behind climate change.
It’s a paradox that creativity is what enables change, yet it is itself driven by change. We can unpick that paradox by looking at engines for change – and creativity – in two broad areas: technology push and market pull.
Technology push arises when new materials or processes appear on the scene. The new ‘thing’ could be the result of new discoveries or experimental developments. The question that quickly arises is “what could this new ‘thing’ do?”
The Internet, for example, has revolutionised our world by finding a never-ending list of useful things it can do, from sharing funny cat videos to managing money.
The development of synthetic fibres is another good example. They have not just had an influence on our fashions but have also helped our emergency services protect themselves from fire or cold, and the adventurous to take to the air in wingsuits.
Electricity continues to change our lives. It affects how we see, cook, heat, communicate or move around. But it too is now demanding changes in how it is made and stored – through developments in renewables and battery innovations.
Market pull describes people’s changing needs, values and tastes over time, or simply the differences from one place to another. This could reflect changing resources, like the decrease in disposable income during a recession.
Often, market demands reflect new knowledge or understanding of a particular issue. The most notable example today is how awareness of the impact of plastics in our oceans is changing the behaviour of individuals, companies and governments. We are seeing changing demand trigger a wave of new searches for alternative materials and processes.
Human-centred design is one approach that is at the heart of market-led innovations. In Design Thinking terms, a human-centred design approach starts with empathy, or understand people’s needs, wants and perspectives.