The light bulb as universal iconography depicting a bright idea, probably traces back to Thomas Edison who introduced the first one in 1879. He was not the actual inventor. The technology already existed and Edison improved on the idea of incandescent lighting. But his “bright idea’, and far more significant contribution, was really his prescience in imagining the light bulb’s potential impact. Edison went on to develop a whole industry around the invention; pioneering electric power generation and its distribution for domestic, commercial and industrial consumption, in the process.
This inventor, scientist and businessman’s contribution to industrialisation and his capacity to operate along the full value chain, taking a product from research and development to the actual creation of new industries to support it, are illustrative of the kind of impact and influence designers can have when they also understand business and can anticipate market needs. The innovation unleashed through a meshing of design with business is what institutions like Design London (launched in 2007) were established to promote. Design London combines postgraduate courses in design from the Royal College of Art (RCA) and business from Imperial College, London.
In Richard Perez, Cape Town is fortunate to have a champion with a BSc degree in Engineering (UCT), and MA in Design (RCA) and an Executive MBA (UCT) in which he graduated top of the class and won the award of Old Mutual Gold Medal Scholar for outstanding professional and academic performance. This combination enables him to straddle the creative and commercial worlds, applying a design process for better innovation.
Perez is one of the individuals playing a key role in hoping to convincing Icsid (International Council for Societies of Industrial Design) judges to confer World Design Capital 2014 status on Cape Town during their visit to the city this week. As part of the … XYZ team Perez will be speaking about the role of innovation and design in Africa’s drive towards sustainability and human capital development.
“Designers,” says Perez, “can help to plan effective interventions for the future.” When one considers the extent to which public policies and planning, and commercial research and development, are done years in advance, it is important to be able to imagine what needs these designs might have to meet in the future, he explains. “Design can help us identify potential synergies and eco-systems, how they might fit together, and how they can be made to work together. It can help ensure that the development process is agile enough to plan for changes, in a dynamic environment,” Perez points out.
At a time when designers around the globe are reflecting on how narrow their roles have become – often limited to the development of individual products without involvement in a deep understanding of their markets and an exploration of their potential – it’s salutary to think about designers like Edison and others whose design innovations we cannot now imagine living without.
And time to consider whether a design methodology should not be integrated rapidly into our public and private sector project modeling.
In South Africa, where socio-economic problems appear to be multiplying, it’s going to take major innovations to secure the investment and development required for economic growth, and the strategies to ensure that poor people benefit from it. “Innovation,” states Perez, “is a powerful means of discovering effective solutions for government and public institutions needing to address social challenges in increasingly complex environments.”
It is also an important differentiator for businesses looking to compete and succeed in the knowledge economy era.
In Perez’s view the design process is a tool for Innovation, and “Innovation,” he explains, bridges the gap between the exploration phase and the exploitative phase of products, services or systems. Most businesses, he says, work in the exploitative phase; measuring innovation by how much money is made and keen to eliminate risk. Designers, on the other hand, operate in the exploration phase where there is a greater likelihood – through an investigation of the unknown – of discovering new solutions. This is where the design process, and proponents like Perez who are skilled in working along the innovation continuum from exploration to exploitation, can add real value.
But, he says, “You need time and a culture that supports experimentation; that allows failure and learning from failure, one that is comfortable with uncertainty,” referring to the space to experiment which could result in a completely new product that could be developed.
Ploughing his business and financial acumen into his role as director for local industrial design firm … … XYZ Design, Perez offers the firm’s clients the benefit of his understanding of the interrelationships between finance, marketing, innovation and operations, and an entrepreneurial background and involvement in developing and pursuing a variety of successful business ideas. In recent years he has travelled extensively to Europe and China assisting many newly developed fast moving consumer goods businesses in the transition from design to mass production, working in multidisciplinary complex teams from different cultures and countries.
He has been consulting for over 15 years in the new product innovation, design and development industry. Focusing on divergent thinking and design thinking methodologies to promote innovation, he has extensive experience in design strategy and management, value engineering, new product development and innovation strategy and management.