A series of blog posts created in the "design methodologies" module at ZHdK, teached by Dr. Joëlle Bitton.

What is innovation? Where does it come from and how can we improve our innovationness (quite an innovative term as I think) ?

It’s the 11th of May and we still face the current constraints which the corona crisis offers us. In the mean time, we had a design process class dealing with the topic of systemic change and are currently developing an application, which should make the work of physiotherapists more comparable by classifying the interventions they make on their patients without imposing more work on them. As designers usually should, we try to come up with innovative approaches on how to solve problems these days as well. The reason why I write about this, is because I’d like to relate this situation to Tom Kelley’s point of view in The Art of Innovation.

“It’s precisely this observation fuled insight, that makes innovation possible. Uncovering, what comes naturally to people” (Kelley, 2001)

“If you’re not in the jungle you’re not going to know the tiger.” (Kelley, 2001)

Kelley talks a lot about the sensory immersion as a necessity for coming up with innovative ideas. By watching a product in motion, we don’t forget about the human factor when we are designing an object and we may observe ways of using something we would have never thought of. Kelley therefore states that a lot of inspiration comes from being close to the action and getting real impressions of a situation by oneself.
I guess I couldn’t relate more to this opinion than I’m doing right now. I have never been to a physiotherapist and didn’t really have a clue about what they're doing and how they are doing it and now I’m supposed to improve their workflow by interviewing a few therapists via videochat, browsing through the web and then building an application based on those findings. I can definitely emphasise the importance of actually being present in the situation one tries to improve, as I feel like I need to be able to build a relation to the problem to consider ways of working around it. I can’t just read an article on something and think I fully captured all the details and connections concerning it. This can definitely broaden one’s perspective on something, but to be aware of what to even consider as important in a situation, you have to be able to reflect based on your own experiences.
Have you ever been to a concert enjoying a band playing some music? What do you focus on when watching them and listening?
I never really had the chances to come in contact with instruments when I was younger and for me a concert was all about the overall atmosphere it was providing. When I got older I really felt the need for expressing myself with music, which led me to start learning how to play the guitar and the drums. By doing this, I clearly honed my eye for all the fine details which can be captured when watching someone playing an instrument. You start to build an understanding for what needs to be done to provide the specific outcome you observe. It’s this understanding that comes with the personal experience of something that allows you to anticipate a certain outcome and enables you to recognise the subtle distinctions that make the difference. That’s also why I’m having such difficulties with coming up with an idea for this application I was talking about. And that’s also why design is such a personal and subjective thing as well. As I see design as a solution building or alternative providing process and that in turn as a process demanding creativity and thoughtful decisions, it’s absolutely necessary to build ideas on top of the experience one has.

For me it feels like new innovations unrecognisably surround us all the time in form of hidden potentials, waiting for us to uncover them. The one open to new impressions and experiences relying upon oneself’s abilities may be the one uncovering them.


Blanchette, Jean-François. 2011. “A Material History of Bits”. In Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 62:6. 1042-1057.

Jones Rhys, Haufe P., Sells E., Iravani P., Olliver V., Palmer C. and Bowyer, A. 2011. “RepRap - The Replicating Rapid Prototyper.” In Robotica, 29.

Kelley, T. (2001). The Art Of Innovation: Lessons In Creativity From IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. Crown Business. 23-52.

Ou, Jifei, Dublon, G., Cheng, C., Heibeck, F., Willis, K.D.D. & Ishii, H. 2016. “Cilllia - 3D Printed Micro-Pillar Structures for Surface Texture, Actuation and Sensing”. In Proceedings of CHI ‘16.

Seago, Alex & Dunne, Anthony. 1999. New Methodologies in Art and Design Research: The Object as Discourse. In Design Issues. 15:2. Summer 1999.

Additional Readings

Kelley, T. (2001). The Art Of Innovation: Lessons In Creativity From IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. Crown Business. 53­-66.