Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are We Afraid to Innovate?


These seem to be the five phases of design. We start out to innovate, look for inspiration, which usually leads to imitation, where we see our (perceived) creative limitations, which eventually leads to total exasperation. Do we follow this chain of events because we doubt our own eyes or brains ... maybe because we are afraid to put forward what we think is innovative because someone will shoot it down? Creativity leaves us very vulnerable.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Miller: "Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifle because we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty." The line that strikes me the most is "...we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth" -- that is it in a nutshell. We don't believe what we imagine as innovation is true -- only those like the late Steve Jobs innovate, right? 

Apex Design ©2011 b. williams design
Earlier this year I was granted a great opportunity to design some concept kitchens with the idea that there was "no box." However, without the client's knowledge, their well-meaning ad agency began to send me image after image of what was "cutting edge," "innovative" -- before they had even seen what I could do. I actually never looked at the images they sent, as I felt it would taint my creativity and not allow me to do what I had been asked. I know that sounds egotistical but hear me out. They were sending images from magazines. Now consider the timeline associated with those images. The magazine article was four months old which means the story was most likely written five months ago, which means the project was at least eight to nine months in the build phase; add another six to 12 months from conception to actual building date. This means by the time I see this innovative design it is already two years old or older. To have designed from those images would have been imitated innovation at best. 

I have an Android phone; it seems innovative in a "How can we compete with iPhone" kind of way. Apple did (does) a great job innovating so by the time HTC imitates Apple's newest device, that device is old news and Apple is on to the next innovation. Sometimes we don't innovate because we fear those around us just "won't get it" My designs were published in an article in an industry magazine. A few weeks later a highly successful architect friend of mine, whose views I greatly respect, spent a good amount of time telling why my designs were not right because they did not fit within the confines of historical architectural thinking. He said they were outside the "rules of design." My response would be, "Whose rules?" I didn't sign up to design so I could simply follow a rigid set of rules -- maybe I want to break the rule so it can be re-written. In my mind my designs worked, if for no other reason than they made him think. 

So here is my advice: innovate. Sit and design something out of your own mind, no matter how weird or unconventional it seems. (You might not want to do this on a work-for-hire -- or maybe you do.) Believe that YOU might know what the next innovation is, that YOU know what beauty is, that the crowd should follow YOU, not the other way around. Recently, I sent a kitchen design to a client where I took a chance and put a small door at the bottom of the upper cabinets and the larger door above. His comment  was, "Are you suggesting we put a drawer in the upper cabinet?!" I explained it was a door and that my concept was to set the look of his kitchen apart. I took a chance; it cost me nothing. He chose to go the traditional route but I like the idea and someday a client will like it, too.  


  1. In true art, there are no rules... only free expression. The only "rule of design" that should apply is structural integrity; fewer lawsuits that way.

    Architecture, interior design, and decorating are artforms; expressions of beauty and creativity; gifts from God.