Innovation through simplicity

Innovation is often sought after, but not always approached with any real structure. In business terms it is the holy grail — innovate or die, as the saying goes. But for many, innovation continues to be the pursuit of ‘new ideas’, when the reality is that there is no shortage of new ideas out there. We are captivated by the myth of that eureka moment and distracted by novelty — the gadgets, the latest features — rather than stopping to revisit basics. And of course, the ultimate back-to-basics approach that gets forgotten in all the free-range brainstorming and trend data is the buyer.

When did you last stop to understand what they actually need?

These issues are particularly prevalent in our public sector projects. With major shifts in funding structures as well as increasing demands for service delivery, innovation in the public sector is in great demand. New materials and new technologies offer a wealth of possibilities for a future that is highly connected and super-efficient. We love this type of visionary innovation as much as the next person, but we also know that day-to-day purchasing decisions remain driven by price. Added extras and revolutionary changes cost money, so whilst they push boundaries for new possibilities, they rarely work for the current procurement processes and budget restrictions.

Suppliers that just bolt-on new ranges and new ‘innovative’ features as a way to compete are heading in the wrong direction. It creates unnecessary complexity that limits decision-making. As a result, buyers will stick with what they know — because that becomes simpler. The innovative approach in this situation is about grabbing that desire for simplicity in a cost constrained sector.

We are certainly not the first designers to put our brains into simplicity mode. Design-driven companies like Ikea are relentless in their pursuit of finding efficiencies that allow them to offer those low prices. Budget hotels and airlines like EasyJet and Premier Inn have also capitalised on catering for the core basic value for buyers. And this isn’t easy. Buyers don’t necessarily know what they most value, so it’s not as straight-forward as just asking them. If they have become used to selecting from extensive ranges with the latest features and complex pricing options, they will not only accept this as the norm, they are likely to say that’s what they want.

By going deeper with buyers to gain some real insights about what they need, an ambitious price point then sets the design challenge. It’s all about those initial boundaries for the brief: how they are set up, and how they will be met. This approach isn’t about starting with what exists and then shaving bits off here and there to cut cost — that is the downward spiral that any decent sized competitor will retaliate on very quickly. This approach is designing from the ground up (or the price up) and getting to the point. It takes courage and skill to do well.

This is not about cheap versions and limited choice. It’s about taking bolds steps to deliver the beauty and intelligence of simplicity for increasingly complex and competitive markets.

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