Kiwis have to learn to identify and kill bad ideas — Dorenda Britten

By Peter Kerr 24/01/2012

An unwillingness to rigorously evaluate and kill weak ideas is but one indication that many New Zealand companies don’t fully understand the role of design in taking products and services to market.

The managing director of designindustry Ltd, Dorenda Britten, says that in general Kiwi companies are good at the technical side of creating new products or services and we can ALWAYS be relied upon to make improvements on existing – cheaper, better etc…….

However we don’t tend to be good at standing back and evaluating the opportunity, costs and benefits such as, whose needs are we aiming to satisfy, when and how?

‘We tend to lack a holistic view of both our business and its opportunities?’ says the Christchurch-based design champion. ‘The often-solitary, do it myself kiwi way tends to preclude sharing and this means we frequently fail to pick up vital information at critical times in the decision making process.’

Britten is very familiar with the IDEO design ethos as she is with a number of other high profile international consultancies. While she’s in agreement with much of IDEO’s thinking, she believes a New Zealand-centric approach is required, taking into account our New Zealand character, resources and markets.

IDEO’s processes have been largely developed for organisations much larger than most of ours and subsequently have much more ‘fat’ in them than New Zealand has a taste for Britten says. Also IDEO can safely assume some design awareness and a preparedness to invest in something where the value cannot be guaranteed up front.

designindustry, on the other hand, has always kept New Zealand’s approach to business firmly in mind whilst working to enhance product and service design standards and increase a company’s return on investment she says.

‘Preparing well for design is an essential ingredient for success, rather than adding a ‘Designe’r and hoping for a great result,’ says Britten. ‘designindustry emphasises the need to think rather than leap into immediate action.’

Design starts with establishing purpose — that is, understanding the impetus for action. Why are we setting out to do this? What sort of result are we seeking?

Other questions are equally critical. Are we committed? Can we resource it? Who should be involved? Who are we designing the solution for? What need are we solving? Can we substantiate that evolving need? Are we able to deliver on time?

‘Successful design must answer these and other ‘soft’ questions and cannot be rushed,’ she says. ‘We’re talking ideas here, not technology. If you don’t share ideas you can’t test. If you don’t rigorously test an idea you cannot know its true potential — or lack of.’

Much has been written about the celebrated solitary man in his shed Britten says.

He/she might be clever but also highly likely to be deluded about the value of what they are working on. It’s easy to delude ourselves if we are isolated she says.

‘Sometimes I’ll ask an inventor when they expect to be able to deliver,’ Britten says. ‘They’ll say six months. Eighteen months later they’ll still be struggling along ignorant of a changed world and evolved customer requirements.’

‘It’s not just about clever technology but about solving a problem for customers. It’s hard, but killing less than optimum ideas is a skill that has to be learned or we’ll sink without trace.’

When developing designindustry’s own services, Britten who is trained and experienced in several design disciplines, brings diverse skills into the design team. She draws from science, technology, law and finance — whatever will ensure stretched thinking and fit the budget.

designindustry Ltd, has developed an over-all design methodology and specialist tools to assist in the process from initial ideation to a highly evolved level — ready for integration into a product creation and launch system.

designindustry has a trademarked Ten Design Principle â„¢ template, complete with on-line components to help companies manage the holistic development of a new product or service. (see here)

‘I have to say that designindustry has evolved through applying our own processes and are a very different organisation to the one we started over ten years ago. This evolution cannot and must not stop.’

From sticK’s point of view, the methodology and approach help counteract the Kiwi ability to shoot ourselves in the foot, as identified by Tony Smale (and reported here, here and here).

Opening up the creative, thinking about new products and ideas side of things to more internal and external people in an organisation is somewhat counter-intuitive to New Zealanders’ way of acting.

As a means of lowering the cost of (unsuccessful) innovation and speed of delivery, Britten’s creed of less doing, more thinking about, around a purpose, makes plenty of sense.

At the same time she’s somewhat wary of a propensity to import outsiders’ views of design when the New Zealand environment needs a different approach.

‘Why import somebody else’s ideas, when we already know what we should be doing,’ says Britten who quotes our past love affair with Michael Porter, Tom Peters, Tim Brown and others who fail to make a cultural connection and therefore a lasting difference.

‘Outsiders can’t solve our design dilemma,’ she says. ‘But we can ourselves, and should back our ability to attack design and innovation from a home-grown perspective.’