What Are We Framing as Innovation?

Jenny (Jingyi) Liu
May 5, 2016 · 4 min read

INNOVATION /ˌinəˈvāSH(ə)n/

noun. The action or process of innovating — a new method, idea, product, etc.

As a designer, I go through such process everyday, iterating from problem to solution to further development in every project. It is so natural that I did not really think about what we are exactly doing in each step in such a design process to generate innovation. The book “Frame Innovation” by Professor Kees Dorst actually gives me a chance to really think about my design process and realize that most part of it is framing.

When I am exposed to a new problem, I need to understand the context and background of the problem and actually create a framework to better ground the project in a situated junction, which helps me coming up with innovative while realistic concepts in the future. Creating a framework is a way to facilitate our thinking and experience along the project, however, it can possibly limits the ways of thinking at the same time. Thus, a framework that is open and kept modified is crucial to a design process.

“The problem presented to you is never the one to be solved.” — Kees Dorst

Apparently this is true, and that’s why we need to spend a lot of our time to define the problem. One of the simple way is to keep asking the “why”s of the situation we can see, which leads us to the real problem behind the scene. The concept of “frame creation” Dorst brought up in the book is another way to create new approaches to the problem situation itself. But before all these, we need to understand the common nature of contemporary problems.

“This difficulty is the result of the emergence of a radically new species of problem: problems that are so open, complex, dynamic, and networked that they seem impervious to solution.” — Kees Dorst

It is quite interesting to see these 4 words as the nature of current problems, which almost depicts the whole society in front of me. But I guess it’s really happening, cause it explains the problems I’ve encountered in my recent projects about the social connections between people. Reframing the problem gradually in different phases was a key step to take.

Meanwhile, the 4 natures also remind me of an interesting theory about Behavioral Change by Hefen Wong I heard in my New Design Firm Class the other day. She and her team developed a framework of the insights for Behavioral Change, which is to make it easy, attractive, social and timely.

See? It’s also 4 words! And somehow I feel like there are some connections between these 2 groups of 4 words. The previous group was the nature of contemporary problems, while this group is the framework to make behavior change, which can been seen as the general solution to user behaviors in my opinion. What’s more, for me, making behavioral change is also a way of framing innovation. It is a way of reframing user’s reaction to different design. Also, user experience design always starts with understanding deeply about users’ needs but the real solution is actually “manipulating” users’ reaction for better result to some level.

So let’s see one by one how they can be matched as problem and solution.

1. OPEN — ATTRACTIVE

Nowadays, problems are quite open — they have no boundaries, they may come across different areas. While from the user’s perspective, once the solution is attractive, one focus on the problem is generated and it can be expanded into other fields to deal with different points.

2. COMPLEX — EASY

These two seem a bit contradict. But actually it’s not. It is the complexity of the problems nowadays that makes easy solutions more precious to your audience . Breaking the complex problems into small pieces will increase the chance for users to actually take actions.

3. DYNAMIC — TIMELY

We are currently live in a dynamic world. Each problem should be treated timely to get the best result because everything is changing over time. Also, a timely solution would keep your audience updated and give them better understanding of things that are happening.

4. NETWORKED — SOCIAL

The sharing economy is making everything networked, no matter individuals, groups or organizations. The way to solve this kind of problems is definitely to make it social and exposed. The social effect of relationship between each others is way bigger than we could imagine.

We can see here each pair of words are corresponding, which almost makes the guidelines of problem and solution a match. The problems are out there, the solutions are how we react to them with behavioral change.

It is very true that we should spend most of time addressing the problems and trying to frame them in the bigger context to move further instead of focusing purely on generating solutions. However, solutions should not be overlooked as only the result part of the innovation process, especially in user experience design which applied behavioral insights in users to make changes. Framing solutions as well as problems would make a natural move in the design process. A great framework for problem situation could largely improve the quality of solution, while a well-framed solution can make the innovation even more effective and powerful.

New Design Firms

Spring 2016, Parsons The New School of Design

Jenny (Jingyi) Liu

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New Design Firms

Spring 2016, Parsons The New School of Design