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Ian Johnson

Ian brings over 38 years of engineering, product design, design management, research and strategy to Scintilla and has worked in a variety of industries including gaming, entertainment, safety, medical, children’s products, technical and scientific market sectors. With a passion for creating greater linkages between design and business strategy, Ian aims to help organisations create engaging customer experiences by utilising and increasing the awareness of design within organisations. Ian also tutors design students at UTS.

Melbourne bound!

Seeking innovation partnersApril 2017

Early April saw Scintilla head south for a few days in search of fun and sun in Melbourne. And we found it. What a great city to get around, certainly not as much traffic as we experience in Sydney. Fantastic weather – blue skies and warm days and cooler nights as you would expect with early Autumn.

Now for the fun bit. We were very fortunate to visit a number of organisations and learn about their challenges and successes. It’s great to see that people are moving ahead and continuing to develop products and services in Australia for world markets. One thing we noticed particularly with a number of companies that we visited are the levels of innovation and creativity being applied to develop new and innovative offerings. The other key insight is that there is much more recognition, understanding and incorporation of the end user in the development and innovation process than ever before. This is great to see as we move to a more strategically dominated design methodology.

One of the reasons that we spent several days in Melbourne was to talk to several manufactures about the development, manufacture and logistics for our Scintilla range of products. You may recall from our previous blog post that Scintilla has begun to develop a range of products. So far we have completed early design and detail work. We have also been working with several suppliers and manufacturers in Melbourne to manufacture models to provide feedback for the development process. I have to say we have been very fortunate to have found two companies that are very enthusiastic about our designs and are keen to partner with us as we continue to develop and optimise our design for manufacture. We are excited to work with these companies as we move forward with our manufacturing research and begin to develop the first prototypes.

Stay tuned for more about what Scintilla has been up to and about our range of products in the coming months.

 

3 Tools to boost your creativity

In our last blog we discussed the need for creative thinking as a pathway to innovation. In this post we look at some of the tools and techniques can we can apply to develop connections and new ways of thinking. But first we must recognise that the ability to think creatively may vary from person to person and to become proficient training is a must. And so before we look at the tools I will run through several ‘warm up’ and ‘stretching’ exercises to help develop our creative minds just like we do our body.

We need to practise and practise every day, we need to create connections and look at the world in a different way – we need to look at and question the things around us, not in a literal way but ask yourself ‘what if that was used for…’. To do this I have outlined three exercises that you can do to practise and develop your ability to think creatively. The exercises below are just three of many so I encourage you to go out and find some more. The exercises are broken down into three categories, verbal, visual and conceptual.

1. Alternate uses (Conceptual)

In this exercise we look for alternate ways to use everyday objects, for example what else could a bicycle tyre be used for? (tie something together, flexible hoola hoop, a diving target in a swimming pool). The aim of this exercise is to limber up your thinking by asking you to think beyond the intended and obvious use of an item and develop new use contexts. It trains your mind to make new connections between objects and systems.

Firstly go out a make a list of five everyday objects. They could be things you have at work or home, at the park or the shops, really anything but make sure they are single discrete objects like a stapler, pen, rubbish bin, saucepan, park bench. The other thing, when you choose your objects, make sure that you select dissimilar objects, don’t pick say a saucepan and a frying pan, they are too similar in function and won’t challenge you.

Next take your list and start at the first item and think about what else this could be used for, e.g. a saucepan could be used for a flower pot, fish tank, storage container, a space helmet for a child’s game and so on. Write or sketch (or both) your response next to the original item. Continue to do this for each item on your list. You should allocate a time of say one minute per listed item. Be creative and silly as much as you want as you move through the list. As you get better you will find that you will begin to create new ideas and products from your response and that the time you require to conceptualise new uses will reduce. When this happens challenge yourself with more obscure objects.

2. Visual connections (Visual)

Firstly create a grid of 3 squares wide by 4 squares tall. In the first square place a question mark – you won’t use this square. In the second and third square along the top sketch or place any random image of something, say a car and a plate. In the second, third and fourth squares of the first column also place images of distinct objects, say a plane, cloud and a piece of cheese.

You should now have 6 blank squares. So for the first blank square look at the car and the plane and create a sketch that connects the two images. You might draw a flying car or a plane that becomes a car or a road that can become an airport or landing strip. Don’t worry about the quality of your sketches – just get your ideas down on paper. Repeat this exercise for each blank square. If you have more than one idea for each picture combination then sketch your additional ideas on a separate piece of paper so you don’t lose your ideas. Take about five minutes to complete this exercise.

 

3. Making headlines (Verbal)

This exercise is based on storytelling. This is something that we all do as part of our daily life, whether it’s with our friends or trying to communicate and sell an idea at work or to a client. We tell stories not to embellish the idea but to provide context to create a better connection and bond between the message we want to convey and the person we want to share it with.

Randomly select four to five images of different things, it could be a person, an object or a landscape scene. Place them in front of you and take a few moments to study them and understand the content. Try to imagine a news story that encapsulates the content of the images – something that connects each of the images. Think of a headline. Now write down that headline and a story that connects each of the images. Take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete this exercise.

Remember these exercises are just warmup exercises designed to get your mind used to thinking more creatively. Take the time each day to practice these exercises. The aim of the exercises is not to create the best and most original ideas but instead to train your mind to see and make more connections as this is the key to becoming more creative.

Start a creative thinking workbook, record your work in the book and make sure you date your work. As you progress through the different exercises, over time you will see an improvement in the way that you think and the depth and complexity of the exercise you undertake. You should see that you are becoming more creative in the way that you think and the way that you apply this to your everyday life.

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A new approach to innovation – Creative thinking

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls others build windmills”

This old Chinese provide is one of the most beautiful things I have read. So simple and elegant, so meaningful and for me inspirational.

I found this proverb in a book that I recently bought and read called “The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker” by Neilsen and Thurber (2016). The book’s premise is that anyone can become a creative thinker through practice and changing ones mindset. In essence the proverb describes our natural instinct when things change, i.e. we tend to hunker down and build protective walls around us. We become reactionary and the rational mind can sometimes cease to exist. Typically this is what I find a lot of businesses do when things get tough. They cut costs, reduce staff and so on, they react to the immediate needs / threats and forget about long term thought.

Being creative is the thing that helps us build the windmill. Being a creative thinker helps us change our mindset and allows us to venture into uncharted waters. It changes our view and perception of a situation and it gives us confidence to act in unfamiliar situations. Working in unfamiliar situations means that there are no clear boundaries and this is an exciting opportunity to explore new directions. It allows us to develop entirely new paradigms and solutions and it “fuels innovation” as there is no innovation without creativity. It helps us through hard times.

So why am I talking about creativity? I’m not really talking about artistic endeavour, however this may be the media used to express your creative point. What I’m really talking about is the ability, using creative techniques, to make connections between disparate things and jumble them into new forms, challenge what’s happened before and most of all explore the unknown without fear. As an example we are probably aware of the notion of biomimicry. This is where we turn to nature to look for insights and solutions to our everyday ‘mechanistic’ society. The idea of Velcro was developed after George de Mestral found his dog covered with burrs after hiking in the countryside. Seeing the burrs, George’s interest was piqued and after removing and inspecting them he noticed many hundreds of small hooks which allowed the burr to hang onto the fur of his dog. From this point George saw a connection between the burrs hooks and the possibility of creating a fastening system – hence Velcro was born.

The idea of connection making and creativity go hand in hand. The notion of seamlessly making radical connections between disparate fields or things enables us to dramatically expand our thought processes and hence our creativity. It doesn’t matter if the connections that we make seem silly or non-workable the point is that the process provides us with options, a direction to move and it allows our brain / mindset to loosen up and become more open and accepting of ideas.

In today’s business world, creative thinking is a core skill that cuts into everyday life and one that we should all have on board. It has become a necessity in almost every job. The level of creative intelligence and the ability to think flexibly and adapt to new situations will deliver solutions and new approaches that can be applied in changing circumstances.

For me creative thinking underpins everything we do – the tools we use and the situations we re-imagine. For me, any problem starts with some creative thinking. 

In our next blog we will share some of the creative tools that we use at Scintilla both internally and with our clients. These tools will form a foundation for you to take away and use within your own organisation to build and create new modes of thinking.

We hope you enjoyed this blog, if so please like us and follow us on linked in to receive our regular blog and quarterly information bulletins.

Image credit: D. Nielsen and S. Thurber (2016) "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker : How to Make Connections Others Don't"

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Strategic Design – your innovation enabler

The term strategy has long been used by the military (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War from 500 BC) and more recently (since the ‘40’s) in business circles. Some of you may think it has dark and underhanded connotations – meaning that the military or the business were up to no good. How wrong that view is. Strategy has been used in business in for the good of the business for some time now. For example organisations may adopt a low cost strategy to compete more aggressively in the market or adopt an acquisition strategy to rapidly grow in the market or attain skills and expertise in a complementary market sector.

Today, however we hear the word strategy being used in a slightly different context – in the design context. So you may ask, what has design got to do with strategy? Well the answer to that is everything. Strategic design refers to the discipline where designers use their mindset, values, tools, creativity, methods and experience to influence strategic decision making within organisations. Strategic decisions within an organisation have long term impact, require monetary commitment and typically include multiple stakeholders and non-monetary resources. Such decisions could relate to the formation of organisational vision, business opportunity and innovation definition, customer engagement and organisational culture.

Before we delve into the world of strategic design it is worthwhile to take a few moments and have a brief look at the development and the value that design brings. By looking historically at the general design movements over the last 80 years or so we can see that design has provided value to society, business and the individual on an ever increasingly sophisticated scale. Design in the ‘40’s was considered as styling – something that was wrapped around the functionality of a product in order to make it attractive. As the decades passed design became more sophisticated, increasingly operating at a level beyond the functional product to encompass changing societal values  e.g. sharp aerodynamic features borrowed from jet aircraft that were applied to cars during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. As time progressed the notion of the user became more integrated within the product offering and so functionality and form were considered together. Sustainability and social responsibility drove design in the ‘90’s and early ‘2000’s due to greater awareness of the environmental movement. Today we see the notions of customer experience and strategy playing a role in the delivery of design value. New movements develop as they become embedded and widely adopted within society. Today, as always, design has shaped and directed the future.

So why is this happening? Well, first of all, design reflects the values of society and reinterprets these values through some sort of product or service which we will call an artefact. We also all know the world has changed a lot in the last 80 years. It has become a much more complex beast, through globalisation, improved communications, asset rich societies, and increasing global conflict and human displacement. Problems have become more complex and interrelated on multiple levels. No longer can we just resolve a problem in isolation, with a few facts at hand. The fact that organisations and individuals now communicate globally and instantly means that the word has become more accessible. Problems and issues are shared not only in the local community but globally.

By its very nature design is a profession that transcends multiple disciplines and some might argue (this author included) that design by definition is essentially a problem solving activity – a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are structured to attain goals. Design has the ability to lead because it is transformative as it applies design thinking, systems and integrative thinking, and human centred values across the problem to be solved. The ability for designers to challenge the unknown and to test the waters of the future place the discipline in a unique and key position.

In this complex and interrelated world the way we resolve problems needs to be tackled in a different way. No longer can issues be resolved in isolation within a silo by a lone bureaucrat or CEO or company board. We need people who can challenge the norm, step back and ask why, view the problem from multiple perspectives and have the ability to reframe the problem and direct others during this process. This is where design can take the lead. This is where design can become strategic.

Traditionally design sat in the R&D or engineering group, perhaps it was part of marketing and in some leading organisations design had its own group. Whatever the case, design was relegated to the act of design and its influence within the organisation was limited to the development of artefacts and branding. Today the notion of strategic design moves design from the R&D group to the executive suite or even the boardroom. As artefacts become commodities organisations are actively looking for new ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. Increasingly organisations are embracing design at a strategic, cultural and organisational level to give them this competitive advantage. Design as strategy moves design from an act to a philosophy which is infused across an organisation.

Design brings new value to business when it is integrated across all senior levels. Design no longer becomes just a service provider but a strategic partner in innovation. It has the ability to address issues and complex problems at a senior level where it has the most influence. It is applied at the same level as more traditional disciplines such as marketing, sales and finance, and in fact to be truly strategic, design should be applied across, within and outside an organisation. Design applied at a strategic level can contribute to the identification and development of opportunities. Design can evaluate the extent to which the opportunity meets the needs (both known and unknown) and desires of the customer (Desirability), and balance this with the performance needs (Viability) and capability (Feasibility) of the organisation.

So what does strategic design mean for business? Well it means that organisations become much more capable and self-sustaining. Design helps change the mindset and culture of an organisation from one focused on the production of an artefact to that of a more considered human centred approach. This could be through the concept of co-creation and collaboration with customers and stakeholders to help achieve the development of fantastic customer experiences. It means that design can be applied as an integrator within an organisation to develop human centred effective and efficient processes, defining operational frameworks and just getting stuff done.  Design applied strategically helps determine the right product for the right market at the right time. It ensures that the business model aligns with the organisational strategy. Design supported by design research, develops a unified customer experience across all touchpoints, creates behavioural change, builds capacity and ultimately improves product delivery to your customer.

If you would like to talk to Scintilla more about how to apply design in a more strategic way then please contact us – hello@scintilladesign.com.

 To finish I leave you with one of my favourite quotes;

Tactics is something you do when you know what to do, strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do

Savielly Tartakower, chess grandmaster (In: Studio Recipes for Systemic Change: Boyer, B, Cook, J & Steinberg, M, (HDL)).

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We’re starting a blog.

1_welcome-image-smlTimes have changed. The ways in which we connect and communicate with each other have perhaps changed most of all.
When I started work back in the late 70’s the only way to communicate and inform someone was to use the phone, send a telegram or shout out, i.e. talk directly with someone – you know, face to face. Face to face communication was and still is great. It’s personal, it’s immediate and it enables a connection at you can’t get by any other method. You get to see and understand the true context of the situation – it’s direct and usually allows things to be resolved quickly.

Telegrams – Don’t see them anymore. I only ever received one of those. It was to tell me that I had been accepted as a trainee at AWA – my first job. Wow.

The phone well what can I say – it’s been around for a while and I think it’s here to stay. Well yes, it has changed, but the fundamental process and operation of the telephone has remained the same. Yes the behind the scenes operation of the phone has changed. Our phones are now portable. I remember seeing one of the very first portable phones back in the late 80’s. It was used by one of the sales guys at a company that I worked for. It was the size of two house bricks and weighed about the same. You carried it over the shoulder using a leather strap. Coverage was limited back then to the Sydney metropolitan area. Now look at the phones we use today – a bit like the star trek communicator. So much power, it enables us to do so much and some to the point of controlling our lives. It’s now hard to image life without a mobile phone.

As the years passed facsimiles (fax) came (early 80’s) and went (early to mid 90’s). What?! you don’t know what a fax is? Well, a fax was a great modern wonder of the world which allowed documents to be sent over the telephone line to someone else anywhere in the world. All you needed was a fax machine that was plugged into a telephone line, a document and someone else’s fax number. Dial the number, scan the document and then wait for the audible multi-tone – ‘de de de daa da doo doo de da do’ – confirmation that the document had been sent. Wonderful stuff in the day however upon reflection by today’s standards very cumbersome. You know what I find interesting is that to this day there are some companies that still use the fax machine. I always have a bit of a quiet laugh when I see a fax number or a document requesting a fax number. Come on folks let’s move on.

For me the next breakthrough came in the form of email around the mid 90’s. Now email, everyone knows about email. We receive lots of emails a day. We get legitimate email and of course we get lots of junk email. Fortunately the guys that write the code and user interface for the email system had the foresight to anticipate junk emails and kindly provide a rubbish bin entitled ‘junk email’ – thanks guys. On the whole though the world couldn’t run today without email. Its immediate, it can be ignored, it enables us to trace previous conversations and send documents just like the fax machine but much more efficiency and that audible multi-tone has been turned into a ‘sswwooosh’ which is much more agreeable (thanks UX designers) although a little clichéd. Email allows us to communicate with any number of people anywhere in the world, for business, while on holidays or just catching up with old friends. It draws the world closer.

The other thing that happened in the mid 90’s was the commercialisation of the internet. Wow did this knock everyone for six! Little did we realise the potential of this great tool. When you compare the internet of the 90’s to the internet of today it kind of makes you wonder where this will lead us in the future. As a designer I do have some particular thoughts on this topic which might form the basis for a later blog.

The internet has allowed ordinary folks to have a say. To reach out and make change in their community or beyond. It’s allowed immediate interaction on a worldwide basis. It has helped the globalisation of the world.

The internet has allowed us to expand and reach out to an even greater number of people in the world. People that we don’t know and may never even meet, people whose voice we may never hear but yet we come to know them so well. The internet has become an enabler. Of course what I’m talking about is the creation of social networking, being more social in a digital kind of way. The introduction of Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and all of the other (I suspect) hundreds of social networking sites available to us have brought us all together in ways that we could not have imagined just fifteen years ago. I for one have not really embraced this social networking concept as much as some. As I mentioned earlier face to face does it for me. Yes I do use email, LinkedIn, the internet and I do have a Facebook page (last opened in 2009 I think).

So why have I talked about how communication and connecting with people has changed? Well, that’s because we want to connect with you, our readers. We want to create awareness of and communicate the transformative power of design. We want to have an honest, deep and engaging conversation with you about design and its role in our world.

We want to inform and learn.

And we want you to be involved – we welcome comments and a deep engaging dialogue, we want to create friends of Scintilla and hear about and share your ideas, thoughts and insights. We want to become a collective, a voice in the community and the world.

Why should we do this? Well as designers we are open to change (or to be effective we should be) and we need to envision and drive the future to make our world a better place. So what we are doing is driving the future for Scintilla. We know that it is important to spread the word – we are passionate about design and the work we do, the people we come in contact with and the influences and the outcomes that we produce. In our line of work it is necessary to reach out and right some of the injustices that have happened in our world or organisations and it is through this blog that we at Scintilla will be able to share our thoughts, insights and our deep passions.

We hope that each of you who read our blog will come to realise how not only how necessary design is, but also how powerful it can be. Design has the power to unite, to connect, to inspire, to create, to deliver and ultimately to make things better.

So let’s unite. Welcome to our blog.

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