Web App Summit: Creating Innovative Applications

by January 22, 2007

At the UIE Web App Summit in Monterey, Larry Constantine discussed how processes and methods can facilitate or hinder successful design innovation:


  • Innovation is the introduction of something new. It does not have to be far out. Innovation can be incremental (going just to the edge) as long as it is makes changes that matter.
  • Tiller bars were once the standard user interface control for cars. They offered legacy interaction idioms familiar to users. Should we have preserved this legacy interaction?

Tyranny of Users

  • When consistency becomes our primary concern, we shift away from our primary goal: building for user needs.
  • Sometimes users are given too much importance/reliance, which can lead to tyranny -particularly by legacy users.
  • If you excessively listen to users, you end up replicating existing solutions or applying overly conservative designs.
  • Users are vulnerable to current tastes and popular preferences.
  • Don’t use testing to design a system. Use it to validate the design of a system.


  • “So easy to present solutions when you don't know how big the problem is” - Malcom Forbes
  • Abstraction contributes to creativity: invites creativity & invention. Abstraction helps focus on the essence of things.
  • Radical evolution: stay within status quo but with incremental yet significant alterations.
  • Can be guided by new applications of already existing skills guided by real world actions.
  • Creativity is in part a solution to a problem.
  • Small details make a difference, They add up to innovation.

Putting Innovation into Practice

  • Evaluation: allow extra time to inspect/test (usability)
  • Allow extra time for technology assessment
  • Expect resistance: people often prefer awkward but familiar interfaces
  • Be prepared to address legacy users and find ways to support them
  • Standard solutions are virtually guaranteed to work. Breakthroughs risk breakdowns.
  • Non-standards discourage copying

In Summary:

  • Understand the problem space first
  • Abstract & generalize
  • Find creative solutions to defined problems
  • Overcome obstacles & obsess over details
  • Prove out novel solutions (testing)
  • Implement what you designed (get it built)