> posted by   on May 28th 2017


Zuzanna Skalska for Newsweek Psychology #280119| 7/2016


Since the early 1990s we have witnessed profound changes in the business world and in attitudes to consumers. These changes have irreversibly influenced our society and thus our western civilization. Over the last decades, analyzing trends relating to intangible consumer experience has become extremely important. It sounds like magic, but this is how we react to the products we buy. What matters is how we respond to product unboxing or to reading the manual. We also need to automatically understand many functionalities. What also matters is the product’s scent, how it feels in the hand or even how soon its colors will fade. From the sales perspective, these factors may seem unimportant, but they are key from the perspective of customers’ loyalty and brand attachment. It was only leaders who took care of these aspects of their business, while all others were only interested in growing sales volumes.

From product to need

The trendsetting leaders dreamed of having a product that was better than their competitors’. Actually, better was not enough – it was supposed to be the best, the most surprising and the most desired by consumers. The quest for new solutions that could help them reach this goal brought about the best times for business, economy and civilization. Corporations, small and medium enterprises and family companies alike were all flourishing. The world of design was changing as well.

It soon turned out that the essence of this quest was not about developing yet another product, but about creating a new, previously unheard-of need. New needs became the driving force of trade, and thus a new marketing tool. Advertisements were competing just like political parties fighting for their voters. Brands created the new consumer – a “monster” who is always hungry for new needs, novelties and innovation. As a matter of consequence, today we are forcing ourselves to believe that we “need” many unnecessary things. We have become passive. We’re only expecting the new, and if something is not new, we are no longer interested in such a product or brand.

Complex of Eastern Bloc companies

There’s hardly anything left in the traditional marketing toolbox. Once again new ways of attracting consumers to the product market must be developed. This time the answer is innovation. No-one really knows what it means, but everyone knows that the European Union offers generous subsidies for innovation. How should we understand it? What do we do with it? Will it become yet another empty shell of new marketing products? What is its importance for businesses, state economy and for the everyman? Is innovation about inventing yet another “need”? Does it mean that one cup’s handle should be bigger than another’s? A shade of red that differs from that used by competitors? Is it a telephone that actually lets you call someone?

One of the speakers at “R.I.P. Design” conference in Kiev was professor Jan-Erik Baars from the Faculty of Design Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Luzerne. In his professional career he worked as head of strategy and development in various departments of big companies, such as Philips or T-Mobile. Speaking at the conference, professor Baars very accurately concluded on the future role of design by saying that “Designing the right management is more important than managing the right design””.

This remark points right at a serious complex that former Eastern Bloc companies have. All of them tend to think that by cooperating with a designer or – to make matters worse – with young designers (thus admitting to have no budget available) they will secure their own economic growth. None of those companies has a proper development department, does not employ competent strategists or designers and does not do any research. It does not build a vision of the future and has no concepts, because things like that are absent from the management’s awareness and culture. In some businesses the general manager is the designer, and his wife is the stylist. And let’s be honest: if there are no funds for development, there will be no innovation.

An idea for immediate future

In western organizations, innovation management is becoming an important element of company management as such. And that’s because innovation is not a new product or technology. It is the culture of the organization, or its new way of thinking. It’s no more the sales, production, or marketing manager, but the development and innovation manager that will soon take the most important seat on the board. Because what will the others manufacture or sell if the company is unable to adapt to new conditions and a new reality?

Innovation management is a completely new, previously unknown (or perhaps underrated and therefore unnamed) function in the company. It differs from the traditional notion of management because it is something abstract and immeasurable. It is a complex process involving the entire company, rather than top-down implementation of the board’s decisions. In Poland, such a profession does not yet exist. There are no such positions and there are no people with the right experience for this job.

This new idea needs people who understand changes and know how to translate them into strategies. In the nearest future they will be able to manage business innovation processes. Such development seems inevitable. Will these people be designers? Not really. Will it be businesspeople? Not really either. Let’s hope that it will be the people who can skillfully combine these two distant worlds into one. Because innovation is an opportunity to create ideas, it is an environment of trust and involvement of all employees, it is an acceptance of risks and mistakes, and first of all it is a shared commitment to pursue the strategic goals of the company.



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