26 May, 2010

The 10 Commandments of Design: Good Design is Innovative

The first of Dieter Rams's Ten Commandments of Design is that good design should be innovative.
'The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.'
Innovation has become a very trendy word, thrown about with abandon, by politicians and business people. It has the advantage of not meaning anything particular, but having a kind of 'you-know-it-when-you-see-it' connotation of freshness and novelty. It's cultural, it's technological and it's about contexts: how and when we do what we do.

It is interesting that Rams makes an assertion of the necessity of innovation alongside a caveat to it. In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennett quotes Robert Oppenheimer's diary:
'When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atom bomb.'
In a nutshell, this describes the problem of innovation. What and how one does something are surely subservient to why one does it. It is quite possible to be innovative without having any imagination. Making something without knowing why is not necessarily a recipe for innovation. Not every idea is a good one.