A Better Nation, By Design

A Better Nation, By Design


Thursday, April 09, 2015

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WE marvel at its clean lines, powerful processing and the wide variety of apps available to give it added utility, uniqueness and value. The iPad has become a global icon of Apple's domination of innovation in computing, manufacturing and design and with the coming Apple Watch later this month, we are bound to see even more numbers only the Mad Hatter can compute.

Now, how did a corporation on the verge of total collapse in the 1990's, virtually rescued by it's arch-rival Microsoft, become the global juggernaut it now is -- having profits that surpass the GDP of so many countries including Jamaica?

There are many factors. Chief among them will be the impact Steve Jobs had on Apple's founding and direction, its historic recovery in the 90s and current growth fueled by relentless innovation. One of the things Jobs recognised he needed to focus on was the impact of design on a product and its ability to add meaning and create a more human experience in what was accepted as a relatively cold, inhuman, Terminator-esque, code-driven world.

Apple isn't the only technology company using design to increase product value and to drive profits for their business. Google and Facebook are investing unprecedented amounts of capital into the design of their products. For example, Facebook has acquired Teehan+Lax and Hot Studios in it's effort to power their design ambitions.

Design thinking

Design's impact is not relegated to merely products and interfaces. Design is also a strategy, a process; a way of thinking that can be used to solve a wide variety of problems. There is even a new field of study called design thinking.

Essentially, design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results. Design thinking has been used to revolutionise the delivery of services in a wide variety of fields, from restaurants to hospitals. It is this very kind of problem-solving approach that has helped Apple to be the leader it is. The ability to gather all the available information, process it, then present the ideas. Rinse and repeat until the best possible solution is ready for market.

Creating the next big thing is a natural outcome of design thinking. Simply put, design thinking is the operating system for innovation. The forward-thinking business seeds innovation into its daily practice by promoting design thinking as their daily modus operandi.

If a company can do it, so can a country. As a nation we need to create a critical mass of design thinkers. Not only at the university level but also from primary school stage. Introduce children to this way of thought through classes that allow them to build and design models in Lego for example.

Get more children into robotics camps building projects that teach them the priceless lesson of creating and failing, rapid problem solving, then how to rinse and repeat this process until the desired end is achieved. It will rewire their neurons to be advanced critical thinkers, higher-level problem solvers, creators and innovators regardless of the field of study they finally choose.

While we are working on the helping our children, we must tackle the current crop of entrepreneurs and business owners that need direction in not only solving their everyday problems but also to develop, design and create new ways of delivering their service or product -- how to out-innovate their competitors. The world is flat, the leaders are the ones who innovate because it is the only way they know how to do business.

For business leaders, the current preoccupation about the cost to manufacture is highly important but can be very distracting. We are thinking from the wrong end of the equation.

In today's world, making or distributing a product is like commodities easily traded and shifted from column to column on a balance sheet. Where true value lies is in the original idea: how it is harnessed from the mind and presented for consumption in the form of the first prototype. Savings in manufacturing, labour and distribution are shorter levers of dominance than they once were (ask Michael Dell, he'll give you an earful).

The company that relentlessly innovates and gets that innovation sold is the company that will win.

Every - single - time.

So how do we make a better nation by design with all we now know?

Design here, build there, sell everywhere.

That is the mantra of the 21st century global corporation. Thanks to a vastly connected world and a rapidly forming global monoculture, where we laugh at the same jokes, eat the same foods and drive the same cars. It is becoming easier and easier to market a certain class of product to almost every person on the planet.

The success of Usain Bolt, Tessanne Chin et al, layered on top of the global reach of Bob Marley and reggae music, coupled with the vast array of intelligentsia available to us right here in Jamaica and the wider diaspora further proves that we have the raw material to out-innovate even the mighty Apple. Why not?

The next Steve Jobs can emerge from Mumbai or Mobay, Kazakhstan or Kingston. As Ed Conard, Managing director of Bain Capital on CNN's GPS said, "We need one million Steve Jobs." Let's start unearthing the talent that exists so that we CAN design here, build there and sell anywhere.

Lets make design thinking a priority in all schools of thought. Whether medicine, business or the liberal arts. Let's teach our children how to rapidly prototype an idea, break it down and build it back again better than before. Innovation has its seed in the design mind. Design is so much more than drawing with a pencil or a mouse. It is a way of thinking.

Let us remember: the speed of Usain was born here; the mystical and ethereal icon of global revolution popularly known as reggae emerged from this very island of wood and water. The global zeitgeist is ripe and ready for something utterly new from brand Jamaica. Our country is hungry for true change. As cool as they are, let's stop marveling at Apple's iPads for a while, and focus on creating in our own Jamaican way. The next great innovative product can come from this little rock in the Caribbean Sea; will you be the one to design it?

Yorkali Walters is a Graphic Designer & Photographer with over 15 years in the design industry. He's also a Vice President of the Jamaica Design Association (JDA). Contact the JDA at info@jamaicadesign.org

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