Poking a hole in the matrix

When I first wrote about the 3 D matrix, developed by Niblettes, in my previous post, it was to use it as an example of how a designer’s ability to translate a complex concept – from the written to the graphic – allowed an abstract idea, that would normally take a few thousand words to explain, hypothetically to be grasped, in one glance.

Now however, I’ve had some time to contemplate the sense of what he’s saying and I intend to poke some holes in the matrix, so to speak. Let’s take his original inspiration, this 2×2 matrix from Blogrium on the sociology of innovation,
94455011_ccf0b96769_o

I find it self explanatory, and will just add his explanation for the third dimension, which he titles "execution intelligence" – the Z axis.

Remote_associations_6

where he says,

So these four quadrants [referring to the 2×2 matrix above] seem to cover the reality of product design
and development quite nicely.  However, I was still unsatisfied.
Something was missing.  And toward the end of the post there it was:
constraints.  The 2-D model does not include one’s ability to navigate
constraints.

By constraint navigation I’m refering to execution intelligence: the
ability to successfully act on what has been percieved.  Sure you can
see differences and similarities, but can you take that vision to
market (financial market, product market, idea market, what ever)?  No
market, no innovation.

What is missing from the matrix is the role of strategy – that is, not a design strategist, but the strategy that includes the role the product being designed plays, within the context of a market, with firm objectives in mind and the requisite roadmap to get there. For, in today’s world, the design of a product or service or communication cannot be seen in isolation from the total corporate strategy.

Successful strategy implies execution intelligence – one usually knows which strategies will work where through a combination of experience and knowledge

Therefore, in the context of Niblettes’ matrix, I would replace ‘Innovator’ with ‘inventor’ and state that when the individual execution of design, design research, styling and invention can each be leveraged within their constraints into a cohesive strategy with a singular vision do we achieve true innovation. That is, to paraphrase my favourite professor, John Heskett, an invention is an innovation when it is embraced by the user.

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14 Responses to Poking a hole in the matrix

  1. niblettes says:

    Well I hadn’t thought of using strategy on the z access, and there is something that feels right about replacing “innovator” with “inventor” and saying that innovation results when everything is mixed together just so.
    In my own defense though I was exploring psychological factors of an individual’s capacity for innovative thinking. I’m not sure strategy fits as a psychological phenomenon. However, your comments make me wonder if psychology is too limited and narrow a focus. It furthermore makes me wonder if strategy can to some degree compensate for some psychological limitations of people (for instance providing the tools to help dreamers execute where they otherwise wouldn’t).

  2. Niti Bhan says:

    I was also thinking later that execution intelligence in the context of the X and Y axis, that is similarities and differences between similar and different – viz., pattern recognition, trendspotting, forecasting et al, could in this context be considered the implementation of strategy i.e. your entire matrix, could, hypothetically, convey ‘strategy’ based on the principles and methods of design – since you’ve taken the various elements into consideration already.
    As for your question, I believe that the ability to ‘stratergize’ as a friend of mine likes to say, is indeed a fundamental part of one’s psychological makeup, the various tools and frameworks nothing but various natural born strategic thinkers means to convey their methods to the wider audience, therefore, your conjecture that ‘strategy’ [taken in this context to mean the body of knowledge taught in b schools] can indeed compensate to a degree for the limitations of those who can ideate but not execute.

  3. dk says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Niti. I looked at it quickly the other day and felt that it didn’t sit quite right with me, for reasons I couldn’t understand (let alone articulate) in the moment. Having let it percolate in the back of my mind, I have a few thoughts about it:
    * The fact that it is operating on a continuum from low-to-high that places a hierarchy or judgement on each extreme does not work. Is a stylist really “low-low-high”? I certainly don’t think so. I’d go so far as to say a stylist is every bit as valuable as a designer, just with grossly different skills and tools for manifesting those skills.
    * I’m not sure that Strategy requires its own dimension to communicate. Whereas design is a “think-do” activity, strategy is a “think-think” activity. They are not on different planes, just using different processes and tools. Also, strategy deals with a continuum of objects and occurences ultimately having less constraint of production, while design is limited to an artifact or experience(s) that are decidedly finite by comparison (e.g. the corporate strategy for Apple as opposed to the design of any or even all of their products). On one hand strategy is just another box like design, while on the other strategy is a simple part of the process of design (and contained within it as a subgroup). I don’t have a solution for this, and perhaps in exploring it I’m just muddying the waters; I’m just talking through some of the dynamics as I see them to help the conversation and ideas bubble.
    This diagram brings to mind a very different visualization, “The User Experience Cosmos,” that Javier Canada produced a year or three ago. I think the approach that he took where the continuums were just different-but-equal skillsets/worldviews is ultimately a better model upon which to communicate these things. It eliminates the negative connotation that is attached to the lower left quadrant and resists turning the dialogue into a value judgement.
    Personally, I think what Niblettes was trying to do here (and just in the fact s/he was intrepid enough to take the initiative to produce this and share it in the public domain) is extremely worthwhile. But like you I think it can be effectively tightened up to the point where it could really provide a valuable and interesting conceptual model. Thanks to both of you for pushing it forward.

  4. Niti Bhan says:

    Hi Dk, nice to see you comment 🙂
    First, as niblettes points out most emphatically, its a ‘he’ 🙂 and I agree that attempting to model this could truly be interesting. As for the rest of your comments, I’m going to attempt an answer/clarification only for the part I feel confident articulating, that of strategy being a ‘think-think’ activity while designn is a ‘think-do’ – when I saw the 3D model as a whole, with the various elements of design – styling, research, design and invention – I didn’t see them in the ‘doing’ sense that you, a designer would, but in the context of the roots of design methods and techniques from which one could derive new methods and frameworks for application in creating and implementing business strategies i.e. the so called ‘design thinking’ or right brain approach to problem solving meme
    Strategy as ‘think-think’ is only the beginning because ultimately without effective implementation it would be just an awful lot of fancy graphs adn charts on a powerpoint. And to effectively implement a strategy you need the skills from all the quadrants involved. I too am muddling through some thoughts here in response to your comment and will return with more thought. but here are a couple of links to a prior conversation on this topic from where some of the concepts in this post derive from
    http://www.nitibhan.com/perspective/2006/02/strategy_and_op.html
    http://www.nitibhan.com/perspective/2006/02/the_design_thin.html
    and let me go ponder a little more before I spout 🙂

  5. Niti Bhan says:

    ps. as for the Low/Low I think that niblettes derived that from blogrium’s matrix on the sociology of innovation. Perhaps what we have here is an early prototype that now needs to retrofitted into new axes?

  6. niblettes says:

    > Is a stylist really “low-low-high”?
    Well according to the original model problem solvers are people more adept at finding similarities between things that seem to be different. I think that’s appropriate, for instance many solutions are new applications or juxtapositions of solutions from other (read different) areas. The problem solver simply recognizes the similarities, and thus how the solution can be appropriated, where no one else has (this is sort of what I was getting at with my post We’re All Djs).
    I substituted “Designer” for “Problem Solver” because design is so often characterized as a problem solving endeavour it felt natural.
    As for style, the first time it is presented you could see it as innovative. However, every time that style is subsequently applied, it is mere replication (or in the parlance of the original diagram, imitation). Wired magazine is a good example of a fierce adherence to style replication. In order to replicate an existing style, one need not have highly developed skills of perceiving either similarities that appear to be different, or differences that appear to be similar. Indeed all one needs in order to be a successful stylist is the skill to recognize and replicate what seems similar to the original style, and mitigate what seems to be different.
    So, one could easily become a very successful stylist with low perceptual skills on both the X and Y axes. However one could not become successful problem solver without sophisticated powers of recognizing similarities between ostensibly different things.
    Of course stylists necessarily need execution intelligence, they need technical know-how, they need to know their craft in ways that posers simply do not and cannot.
    So yes, I do see a stylist as a low-low-high.
    I also don’t see a problem in making value judgments where they are appropriate; and not making them when appropriate is a distortion. And in this case I think it is entirely appropriate. Now keep in mind, the judgment is not between what is more or less valuable. The judgment is between more or less sophisticated perceptual skills.
    That said, I agree, this can be tightened up as well as taken in new directions. Perhaps its just a spark and nothing more. After all, the conversation really is the point than the model (damn, that sounds like a discount McLuhan quote, oh well.)
    P.S.
    Strategies divorced from action are just dreams, even poses. So I’m not sure that I buy strategy and purely think-think—although I can see how it can often look that way.

  7. dk says:

    I’m glad that I decided to participate, because this is flowering into a really enjoyable dialogue! Some responses:
    ***
    Niti said:
    First, as niblettes points out most emphatically, its a ‘he’ 🙂
    ***
    Dirk says:
    My apologies, niblettes!
    ***
    Niti said:
    As for the rest of your comments, I’m going to attempt an answer/clarification only for the part I feel confident articulating, that of strategy being a ‘think-think’ activity while designn is a ‘think-do’ – when I saw the 3D model as a whole, with the various elements of design – styling, research, design and invention – I didn’t see them in the ‘doing’ sense that you, a designer would
    ***
    Dirk says:
    For the sake of context clarification, although I often self-identify as a designer owing to who my friends and contexts for action are, I am not as good at the “do” part of building and craft that really makes one a designer. At the same time, I am far too intuitive and unconventional (read: unable to follow any sort of meaningful process) to be considered a strategist. So I’m in this weird netherland of living in both places without having superior execution skills in either. That is one of the reasons I identify so much with “experience”, a context that I think also straddles the two skillsets.
    ***
    Niti said:
    Strategy as ‘think-think’ is only the beginning because ultimately without effective implementation it would be just an awful lot of fancy graphs adn charts on a powerpoint. And to effectively implement a strategy you need the skills from all the quadrants involved.
    niblettes said:
    P.S.
    Strategies divorced from action are just dreams, even poses. So I’m not sure that I buy strategy and purely think-think—although I can see how it can often look that way.
    ***
    Dirk says:
    Strategy is strategy is strategy. Once you get to implementation, IMO, you are talking about VERY different things. That is to say, some strategies are implement by designers, some by consultants, some by accountants, etc. etc.
    (wish I could draw here to communicate more clearly, but lets do some word clustering as a starting point):
    I would propose a continuum of:
    Researchers (gather context and identify patterns)
    Analysts (identify patterns and apply analysis)
    Strategists (apply analysis and formulate plans)
    I suggest these as being in the think-think vein (sure, all of these people are doing stuff, but the things they are doing are only building the plan for the eventual output). Taking this conceptual model a step farther, going from Researchers to Strategists is moving from most chaotic to most controlled. That could even be a continuum – albeit standing to benefit from better labeling.
    Then, consider a continuum of:
    Stylists (specialists in optimizing form)
    Designers (specialists in balancing form and function)
    Inventors (specialists in optimizing function)
    As being in the think-do vein. This continuum of form to function strikes me as eminently logical, a conceptual model with a long history of validity and viability.
    So, a Delta for three meaningful axes might be:
    Think -> Do
    Chaos -> Order
    Form -> Function
    I acknowledge that this direction is breaking the conceptual model that this entire dialogue is based on, but it seems like an eventual model could quickly get a lot more extensible and even translate into areas like task relationship and relational workflow if we pull at it hard enough. Of course, slings and arrows encouraged.
    ***
    niblettes said:
    As for style, the first time it is presented you could see it as innovative. However, every time that style is subsequently applied, it is mere replication (or in the parlance of the original diagram, imitation). Wired magazine is a good example of a fierce adherence to style replication. In order to replicate an existing style, one need not have highly developed skills of perceiving either similarities that appear to be different, or differences that appear to be similar. Indeed all one needs in order to be a successful stylist is the skill to recognize and replicate what seems similar to the original style, and mitigate what seems to be different.
    So, one could easily become a very successful stylist with low perceptual skills on both the X and Y axes. However one could not become successful problem solver without sophisticated powers of recognizing similarities between ostensibly different things.
    Of course stylists necessarily need execution intelligence, they need technical know-how, they need to know their craft in ways that posers simply do not and cannot.
    So yes, I do see a stylist as a low-low-high.
    I also don’t see a problem in making value judgments where they are appropriate; and not making them when appropriate is a distortion. And in this case I think it is entirely appropriate. Now keep in mind, the judgment is not between what is more or less valuable. The judgment is between more or less sophisticated perceptual skills.
    ***
    Dirk says:
    I think this falls into the (very common) trap of relatively devaluing the contribution of people who design more for form and emotional and perceptual value as opposed to “usable” in the most generic sense, or for analytical benefit. There is just as much copying in design as in style (“Good designers borrow, great designers steal.”) More, successful styling is a process of constant iteration and improvement – innovation if you will. And there is invention here as well (which blows a hole in my stylist-designer-inventor paradigm, but perhaps we just substitute Engineer for Inventor there), when it involves creating something that seems completely fresh. But the process of establishing a new style in the first place is just as nuanced and requires similar skills as for a designer. I honestly think it is snobbery that we have this notion of stylists somehow not having the same sort of perceptual skills as designers.
    And regardless of what direction any of our dialogue takes, niblettes, what you’ve done is more than a spark: it is the establishment of a mental model, one that has informed all of the dialogue that is ongoing and continues to anchor a lot of the way we are framing and considering these problems.

  8. Niti Bhan says:

    Dirk,
    Some of the points you make w.r.t. the continuum are well worth mapping out visually I think for a fresh look at the direction of this conversation – agree, very valauble indeed. I’ll try a rough attempt at it and then you can add/argue/debate, what have you. At this stage, I do have to say that the concept of design, the viewpoint of the design industry, the relevance of design to business – while brought out and highlighted very well by the media – still require some work with respect to the clarity of communicating it’s applicability and value. Our discussion here has given me some food for thought and while that may be a digression from this conversation, it’s something that’s been fulminating for a while and needs to be articulated. I bring it back to one of my original points in my entire stance (my blog or my writing) which is that the onus is on the service provider to communicate the value of their services to business. And this conversation highlights many of the issues that face the profession.
    For this, I must thank you both for participating and continuing these thoughts.

  9. niblettes says:

    DK,
    I see what you’re getting at with the researcher, analyst, strategist continuum. Moving from collection, to analysis to synthesis seems to be a natural progression. Indeed each requires its antecedent to be effective (how can you analyze something not yet been collected?) So I’m sold on that.
    However your stylist, designer, inventor progression is more problematic. Stylists (form) and inventors (function) can easily work without a designer involved—and often do. And many designers often wear stylist and inventor hats. So perhaps this model is a triangle rather than a sequence.
    I also like your think->do, etc… model. Yes it is pretty much a completely different model from the one I originally brought up, but who cares as long as it still reveals something worthwhile?
    Now for some disagreements…
    I think you’re making some incorrect assumptions about where I’m coming from in terms of design’s focus. In my mind design’s focus is and should be to create useful, usable and desirable things (products, services, experiences). So when you suggest that desirability is just as valuable and usability, I completely agree with you. However that’s insufficient because it ignores utility.
    So, while design concerns itself with utility, usability and desirability, style really only concerns itself with desirability. Style is therefore narrower in focus, in method, in skill and in practice, than design. As such stylists simply needn’t develop a psychological capacity to see similarities between things that appear different in order to succeed where as demands this capability (be it learned or innate).
    I don’t think this is a judgment based on snobbery. For instance, an MFA is perfectly qualified to create and imitate various formal styles in order to address desirability issues of emotion, perception, aesthetics, etc. Their technical skills in doing so are related to color, shape, light, not contextual inquiry, scenario planning or nominal group technique.
    Is it really necessary for a graphic designer to conduct participant observations before creating a poster? Did Philippe Stark create personas to help drive the stylistic form of his juicer? Are the skills of a stylist and a designer really the same as you claim?
    I’m afraid we’re taking over your blog niti–sorry!

  10. niblettes says:

    “I bring it back to one of my original points in my entire stance (my blog or my writing) which is that the onus is on the service provider to communicate the value of their services to business”
    I had a professor who said that “every profession has the obligation to make its monopoly explicit.” Sounds like the exact same idea, just in professor-speak.
    I forgot to include a link to my useful, usable, desirable diagrams, so here it is now:
    http://niblettes.com/blog/2005/11/06/theory-of-product-design-part-ii-inpd-model/

  11. Niti Bhan says:

    niblettes, dk,
    feel free to ‘take over’ my blog, it is but a humble platform for some extremely valuable discussions and information 🙂
    i.e. mi casa es tu casa

  12. dk says:

    niblettes said:
    However your stylist, designer, inventor progression is more problematic. Stylists (form) and inventors (function) can easily work without a designer involved—and often do. And many designers often wear stylist and inventor hats. So perhaps this model is a triangle rather than a sequence.
    Dirk says:
    Yeah, I think you are going in the right direction here. What did you think of my evolution of this on the comments of Niti’s new post from today, where it is a continuum of “design” ranging from engineering to styling?
    niblettes said:
    I think you’re making some incorrect assumptions about where I’m coming from in terms of design’s focus. In my mind design’s focus is and should be to create useful, usable and desirable things (products, services, experiences). So when you suggest that desirability is just as valuable and usability, I completely agree with you. However that’s insufficient because it ignores utility.
    So, while design concerns itself with utility, usability and desirability, style really only concerns itself with desirability. Style is therefore narrower in focus, in method, in skill and in practice, than design. As such stylists simply needn’t develop a psychological capacity to see similarities between things that appear different in order to succeed where as demands this capability (be it learned or innate).
    Dirk says:
    Hmm. OK, I agree with the logic of this. I think it is just a semantical disagreement at this point.
    niblettes said:
    Is it really necessary for a graphic designer to conduct participant observations before creating a poster? Did Philippe Stark create personas to help drive the stylistic form of his juicer? Are the skills of a stylist and a designer really the same as you claim?
    Dirk says:
    You lose me here, in a couple of ways:
    * I largely don’t think it is *necessary* in software design to “conduct participant observations before creating” the product. IMO, this is taking a particular process that is effective in some contexts and running amok by wanting to apply it in most/all contexts. So, I would see that as consistent in both design and style as you are using them (and fully aware this flies in the face of well-established software design dogma)
    * Philippe Stark had xx years of life in personally using juicers, seeing kitchens, observing contexts. That background is, in a much more effective way, the same things personas are trying to achieve. The difference is really living through it to gain the context is worlds more effective than using (groan) personas. But actually the basic pre-requisite of establishing an understanding of context is common to them both and absolutely essential for both design and style (again using your models of both)
    * As for the question of do I think stylists and designers have the same skills, I think that gets back to the semantical point above. I will stipulate that in your model they do not.
    niblettes said:
    I forgot to include a link to my useful, usable, desirable diagrams, so here it is now:
    Dirk says:
    Well, this is another really interesting diagram! To answer your questions:
    1. The model *can* be as relevant or valuable to innovation as product development, but you might want to step back from it a bit and re-consider its structure (i.e. is keeping it in the basic Venn approach of the original the best way to communicate the essential connections? Perhaps – but that would be the first question I’d ask one of my designers!)
    2. I think you’re fine – in this limited communication context – to reduce the discipline’s primary concern to a single word. And I like the words you’ve chosen (altho, I might swap “Viable” with “Profitable”)
    3. IMO you’ve characterized things correctly. It is a nice step forward. The only thing that really didn’t resonate with me was profitable: I think it either needs to be just in marketing or, perhaps best, in the “dead center” which currently does not have a label
    Niti said:
    feel free to ‘take over’ my blog, it is but a humble platform for some extremely valuable discussions and information 🙂
    i.e. mi casa es tu casa
    Dirk says:
    You are a gracious host!

  13. Niti Bhan says:

    I can see that part of the communication ‘problem’ if I may so state, is arising from the fact that Dirk is approaching the ‘labels’ from the point of view of s/w design, wherein utility is ‘inherent’ in that if the software didn’t *do* something there would be no need for it to be designed.
    on the other hand, niblettes, methinks, is using the terminology from the context of more ‘traditional’ design disciplines, where product design means the design of those things on which gravity acts as a force – therefore ‘utility’ takes on an entirely different importance. And starck’s orange juicer is famous for it’s styling and also it’s dysfunction as an actual tool with which to obtain orange juice.
    Seems like another post is in order :)… carry on carry on . anybody want juice or coffee? 🙂

  14. Perspective says:

    Compelling reasons for investing in design

    Dirk and Niblettes are helping me think about many aspects of what design is, and what does it do, that is, a start at an answer to What good is it to us?. Fred Bould, who designed the Squeezebox for

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