April 16, 2013
History, innovation and design

With the term "innovation" we have found an encouraging tool to overcome economies stagnation or recessions. All designers, producers, sellers and consumers use the word "innovation" as a promise of a better future. But, what is innovation? How can we detect it when it appears? Can a school of design like ESDi teach students to detect whether an artefact, product or design system is innovative? Innovation guarantees us business success or economic recovery? According to OCDE an innovation1 is the introduction of a new, or significantly improved, product (good or service), of a process, of a new commercialisation method or a new organizational method, in internal practices of the enterprise, work place organization or external relationships. Innovative activities correspond with all scientific, technological, organizational, financial and commercial operations that lead effectively, or have as an objective to lead, to the introduction of novelties. It should be added, though, that not all that is presented as an innovation is new. In 2005 mobile walls were presented at Construmat as a great innovation of building industry (La Vanguardia, 2005). What professionals announcing it may did not know is that Gerrit Rietvelt had already designed these architectural elements in 1924 in Utrecht, at Schröeder House. The designer has to be patient: innovation is not the same as sales success. Innovations are not always successful at the very moment in which they are born. There is an associated high uncertainty component. We know cases of design history, like the architect Le Corbusier, whose projects Palace of Nations in Geneva, Palace of Soviets in Moscow and United Nations Headquarters were rejected, although they provided innovative aspects to modern design (von Moos, 1994). Maybe, project principles on which they were based were too new to be accepted by society. Innovations have to be necessarily associated with quality. Many novelties presented as innovations do not remove production errors, do not chose the best materials, the more suitable production techniques and processes. Innovation means investment to achieve minimum quality standards. London Universal Exposition in 1851 is the first historical model where the need to link innovation and quality was clear. Praises received for Cristal Palace building and for the machinery exposition section were accompanied by negative criticisms for the decorative arts section; for the poor quality of the exhibited products. There is another example in 1914. During Deutscher Werkbund annual assembly was debated how to overcome projecting and producing model inherited from modernism. Two models were defended: typification and individuation. But both had something in common, they were aware that only a product with quality could compete within the international market. Without design there is no innovation. At the University we train designers from three fields: conceptual, instrumental and of projects, for them to go from the idea to the material, from the concept to the product, as successfully as possible. The designer, combining the three fields, has all knowledge to find new relations to create new and innovative artefacts, products, services, processes, systems or organization forms. Knowledge acquired at design history to provide students with a wide catalogue of practical solutions, work methods, production processes in the past; sociology to detect citizens’ needs; art history to promote product aesthetic function; form theory and workshop to dominate artefacts formal materialization; enterprise to organise investments and expenses; materials and technology, integral projects and all subjects given within schools of design are our contribution to train professionals able to detect and generate innovations. 1Definition of the term innovation extracted from Manual de Oslo (1997): References Benévolo, Leonardo (1987) Historia de la arquitectura moderna, Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcelona. Campi, Isabel (2008) La idea y la materia. Volumen I, Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcelona. De Fusco, Renato (2005) Historia del diseño, Editorial Santa & Cuelo, Barcelona. Ferrater Mora, Josep (2001) Diccionario de filosofía, Editorial Ariel, Barcelona. Sala y Martín, Xavier (2001) Economia liberalista per a no liberalistes, Editorial Pórtico, Barcelona. von Moos, Stanislaus (1994) Le Corbusier, Editorial Lumen, Barcelona. Electronic resources La Vanguardia (Wednesday 6 April 2005 and Wednesday 13 April 2005) [Consulted on 20/11/2009]. Antoni Mañach i Moreno (16.04.13)