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Sugar + Cream : Herman Miller + Designed Innovation.

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Does innovation happen inside large organizations within an R&D
department by people who have the education, expertise and budget to
experiment, ideate, develop, research and eventually innovate?
There are plenty of case studies that imply innovation as the only
sustainable competitive advantage. Likely, there are also a similar number of
case studies around organizations that buy innovation or find it brought upon
them by outside forces.
Many times innovation happens outside in the larger world where people
interact with organizations, products, services, and each other. And, while not
an easy truth to prove, this would make the most sense as a place to foster
more innovation. Hence, we have 'Open Innovation' and successful examples like Herman
Herman Miller has designed a model for open innovation that has become a
cultural necessity, from this outsider's perspective. The Setu chair, designed by Studio 7.5 for Herman
Miller, and named by Capsule, is a current
example of such open innovation. But one of the most successful open innovation
efforts in chair design is the now famous Aeron chair by Bill Stumpf and a more
current effort, the Embody chair by Bill's business partner Jeff Weber.
I recently had a discussion with Jeff over breakfast, where he gave his
perspective on design and innovation. Some of his thoughts give us a
perspective on the essential elements of open innovation and design as a pair,
similar to the argument that some would have as cream and sugar existing better
when together in a coffee.
'Design is the synthesis of truth and beauty'
The essential element required when designing for human beings or any
species is empathy. Essentially, being able to put yourself in the seat of the
user, guest, pet or customer. From here we get truth when we see the design
effort through others' senses. 
'The violin as an object, could be seen as ornamental, but it really
isn't, music production comes from the beauty of 400 years of research and
development by the musicians'
Beauty is measurable, but perhaps not using the typical corporate
metrics, as there's likely no discernable Internal Rate of Return or Net
Present Value of beauty. So, we measure it with our gut, trust and intuition;
this indicates we need more MBA curriculum around these subject areas.  
 'You have to earn
the right to design something'
This is the most beautiful piece of our conversation and it makes the
most rational sense. This isn't about being hired by a client, but earning the
right through a deep empathy with the audience. You may design many things
without 'earning the right,' but you and your client may find the recipient or
audience rejects the design or worse yet, renders it irrelevant because you
didn't earn the right. You may be able to offer a more innovative widget, but
have you earned the right to redesign it?
The chair is a crutch for the able-bodied human. Do you know what your
crutch is when it comes to design? Does your team measure design, in any form?
How do you earn the right to design for your audiences?
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these thoughts. And
thank you Jeff Weber for taking the
time to share these insights. 
Aaron Keller
Managing Principal

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