Since industrialization, ingenuity and resulting technical innovations have spawned strong brands in Europe, and innovation in our part of the world has been characterized by the desire to bring a basic product to technical perfection.
Continuous product development has made it easier for companies and their employees to plan and channel processes. In turn, customers know they can rely on a tried and tested product portfolio – what they see is what they get. This is how the corporate design of iconic brands and products has consolidated here over time.
As part of my studies, in the mid-1990s I spent some time in San Francisco, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. I became acquainted with a whole other aspect of innovation: Everything can be challenged, there are no conventions, everything is possible – just do it! Companies were just starting to reinvent all types of consumer products and services digitally and to open up new lucrative business models.
In Europe we currently are experiencing a clash of these two different, culturally influenced approaches to innovation that complement each other but also can be challenging. The disruptive potential of this new world has taken a hold of everyone and everything – global brands and manufacturers as well as SMEs in the mechanical engineering sector that previously seemed to be far away from these digital developments.
Exploring the issue of digital transformation is essential. The IoT and increasingly close interconnectedness offer new options, especially for companies that owe their success to technologized products. Thanks to huge data volumes, machine learning and AI make it possible to learn patterns that enhance the usability of products and services. We designers face the challenges of devising entire customer journeys, unveiling additional opportunities and developing enhancing digital services and new sustainable business models.
The design profession has a central function in the digitization process. Its goal is to tackle this crucial topic comprehensively and creatively without bias. Digital transformation also enables us to rid ourselves of old habits and to learn from experiences, current processes, and the users of our products so that we can redesign processes based on these findings.
I believe this is possible only in a team in which diverse backgrounds and skillsets are invested in reaching one shared goal. This set-up is conditional upon all participants having revised their respective opinions beforehand and having taken the new understanding of the culture of innovation to heart. This is the only way transformation can become reality.
Roman Gebhard is Co-Founder & Managing Partner of FLUID Design GmbH.