Understanding Creativity—the Magical Factor in Product Design

In a broad perspective, design is at the center of humanity and civilization. It’s what defines culture, history and the world we live in. Humans or nature have designed virtually everything around us, and that’s probably why the design factor is often overlooked.

But when the design is noticed, it is typically discussed in terms of its function, appearance or ease of use. And all of those factors link to a common baseline that dictates or supports the final design solution. We call it creativity. It is the magical factor that leads to solutions for complex problems and spectacular designs in products, in nature and in the world around us.

Certain designs require a balance of technical, aesthetic and practical requirements to satisfy many product requirements. Designs that are developed formulaically, with a focus on ease of function will be less successful than those that have been designed creatively. Creative designs embody a synergistic balance of product requirements that results in a product that is far superior to its competitive alternatives.

Simply taking a course or graduating with a degree in creative thinking cannot teach design creativity. It is rooted in the individual’s physiological profile that includes intelligence, knowledge, and willingness to take risks. It requires one to think unconventionally as well as approach problems with an uninhibited open mind.

A creative individual is also continually seeking solutions by combining remotely unrelated concepts into an obvious design path. Applying creativity to design saves time, money and maximizes the profits for any company’s bottom line.

Unfortunately, creativity is difficult to quantify or appreciate and is often ignored in product design. And the result can be a clumsy or overly complicated design solution. Most decision-makers don’t understand creative individuals. They don’t know how to identify them, reward them or benefit from their insight. There are many reasons for this irony.

How and Why Creativity is Ignored in Product Design

Most managers are trained to think conventionally and quantitatively, basing their decisions on profits, schedules and cost. They tend to hire individuals or outside resources based on the lowest wages or cost. Managers also tend to be attracted to individuals who conform to their corporate values and think as they do.

Engineers are trained to solve problems in a logical series of steps based on rules and laws of physics. They are usually more comfortable solving problems within a progressive series of small steps as opposed to approaching problems from a multitude of possible solutions.

Manufacturing engineers, toolmakers, and plant managers are more willing to accept proven designs that have reliably maximized productivity versus experimenting with unconventional ones. They are usually resistant to evaluating new ideas or completely revolutionary approaches that could affect their productivity. Although all these viewpoints have some validity, they are also the roadblocks for appreciating and rewarding creativity.

This persists because there is no simple solution to this dilemma. The solution, however, is in the understanding of the risks and potential rewards. Managers, engineers and production personnel could benefit from creative individuals or their ideas by assessing the risk and potential reward versus focusing on immediate needs.

Attracting creative employees or benefiting from creative external design firms requires managers to accept ideas or individuals who don’t necessarily fit into the norm. They will most likely be a bit eccentric, expensive, temperamental or rebellious. All these factors should be considered for companies who want to grow by benefiting from the unique insights of the few who are gifted with highly creative minds.