Patterns in Pattern Breaking

by Luke Wroblewski May 24, 2004

Some interesting observations about patterns in innovation.

A Crash Course in Innovation by Chris Anderson (Wired, May 2004) points out that with technological innovation, timing is everything. In fact, there are four milestones that define breakthrough technologies: critical price (when the price of a technology hits a psychological threshold that moves it into the mainstream), critical mass (when you go from reading about a technology to knowing people who use it), displacement (one technology going up crosses another one coming down, for instance VCR & DVD), and zero (when products become commodities).

From Doblin (a company recently recommended to us for user research), we have The Ten Types of Innovation in Finance, Process, Offerings, and Delivery and the Innovation Landscape model. “Landscapes are especially useful if you want to build a good innovation system: they help identify the right type, number and rate of innovations.”

Of course, where there is innovation there is IDEO. Business Week writes about the Power of Design and includes some great quotes like:

“As the economy shifts from the economics of scale to the economics of choice and as mass markets fragment and brand loyalty disappears, it's more important than ever for corporations to improve the ‘consumer experience.’”

Specific innovation techniques for the interface design process come from a presentation at User Experience 2000 by Larry Constantine & Lucy Lockwood titled Inventing Interfaces: Tactics, Tricks, and Techniques for Breakthrough Innovations (unfortunately not yet available online) and their “thinking techniques for innovation”. These include: content models derived from essential task models can inspire more innovative designs; either-or thinking promotes compromise -always assume synthesis is possible to force yourself to think creatively; and abstraction and idealization reduce constraints –alternate abstract and concrete thinking.

The presentation also does a good job acknowledging that innovation is often at odds with consistency. Innovative interface elements could potentially add to mental load, slow learning, and break consistency standards. This is especially problematic when disparate teams work on the design of one product. If each team is innovating, a product can quickly diverge visually and functionally.