"The cult of innovation" - Andy Budd at London IA

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 14 April 2010

At the end of March we held the latest of our London IA evenings. The night was sponsored by Zebra People and Lab49, and kindly hosted by The Team. So far I've blogged about the talks from Richard Rutter, Glenn Jones and Claire Rowland. Here are my notes from the evening's final speaker, Andy Budd of Clearleft.

"The cult of innovation" - Andy Budd

Andy Budd gave an energetic, passionate, and contrary talk, based on the premise that everyone seems to think innovation is "a good thing". He argued that not only was that not the case, but that innovation is a potentially damaging distraction for a business.

He stated that as a society we seem to be in the love with the idea of 'the bedroom inventor' like Dyson or 'the clockwork radio guy'. People are seduced by the idea that if only they have 'the right idea', they will be catapulted onto TV and make a load of money. That in turn leads businesses to decide that: "We've had a bad last quarter. The solution is to 'innovate' our way out of this". And ultimately, humans are lazy, and we conclude that instead of changing our own behaviour, 'innovation' by boffins will find some miraculous new energy source and global ecological catastrophe will be averted.

He suggested Google were an example of 'emperors new clothes' when it came to innovation. Often cited as a powerhouse of idea creativity because 20% of their staff time is devoted to experimentation, actually their successful products are the first one they developed - search - and products they've brought in. Once companies reach a certain size they become inherently poor at innovation - as routine and process dictates that it is easier to grind out updates to software every 9 months than develop a successful new product.

Andy thinks this approach is seductive because it is much more fun to imagine what the home or office will be like in ten years time than it is to gradually iterate design. Why fix the niggles with the OS of today when we can imagine the OS of the future? Although, as someone with a keen interest in the paleofuture, I'd be gutted if people stopped imagining jetpacks and hoverboards and network connected toasters...

Whilst his presentation was somewhat devil's advocate, Andy did produce some sobering numbers. He reckoned that only 1 in 3,000 innovations goes to markets, and pointed out that this is worse odds than playing roulette. "Playing black", he said, "is not a business strategy"

Andy's trump card was to pull out a slide showing what he said was 'the true face' of British innovation - the Sinclair C5. Truly innovative, totally original, and a total failure by a company to break into a new market.

People don't actually want innovation, he said. Everyone thinks they want a hover board, but actually they want the same thing they had before but actually works. The iPhone wasn't the first touch screen phone - the IBM Simon predates it by a decade, but what Apple did was take an innovate concept and make a decent design for it.

Andy Budd said that successful products are actually about waiting for technology to mature, and then making a really great design with them - to do research, understand human needs and add value to the technology. It is the people who pay attention to user experience who make great products, not the boffins in the labs, and companies should spend less time on research and development, but more time on research and design.

It was a great talk to finish the night off, and would have sparked a lot more debate if the chairperson (yours truly) hadn't insisted on directing everybody to the pizza instead...

You can view Andy Budd's slides on SlideShare:

London IA: Notes from the talks
Martin Belam, foreword by Ann McMeekin Carrier
London IA is a network of designers, information architects and thinkers. Since 2009 the group has been holding regular meetings featuring talks about UX, or of interest to UXers. This ebook is a compilation of my notes from those evenings, featuring talks by Andy Budd, Giles Colborne, Cennydd Bowles, Claire Rowland, Jason Mesut, Ben Bashford, Chris Heathcote, Dan Lockton, Relly Annett-Baker, Michael Blastland, Margaret Hanley and Richard Rutter amongst others. Topics covered range from ubicomp to psychology, from learning how to sketchnote to how to write a UX book, and how to improve digital design through diverse routes like copy-writing, designing for doubt, learning from music technology or taking care of typography.
London IA: Notes from the talks is available for Kindle for £2.47.

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