Does iteration = innovation?

Back in mid-September, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion during the IDC Design Symposium, which had been exploring topics loosely grouped under the banner “The Value of Design Thinking.” Earlier panels unpacked Empathy and Invention, good precursors to mine, where for a couple of hours I spoke with Gregory Neely, principal, Forge Media + Design; Ian Rolston, senior associate, HOK; Ian Chalmers of Pivot Design Group; and Helen Kerr, co-president, Kerr Smith Design, about Iteration in the context of inclusive design and “the removal of barriers to allow for independent participation in everyday living in spaces, be they retail stores, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, offices or homes” (IDC’s wording, not mine).

As panels typically do, our dialogues evolved organically, veering mostly towards issues of inclusivity, as all the panelists have projects with that as a key focus. But afterwards, I found myself continually intrigued by this notion of iteration and its applicability to the design world. Currently the operative definition of iterative design is a methodology based on cyclic processes of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process. The tech industries are huge proponents of iterative design, baking it into processes with names such as Lean, Agile, and A/B testing.

But while tech has embraced a “move fast and break things” mantra, with results still being evaluated, I wonder how applicable iteration is in interior design, where it’s not about clicks but bricks? Is iteration for all intents and purposes an attempt at design Darwinism, meaning a project or product essentially designs itself, without the guiding hand of an actual designer? Can iteration truly “innovate?” And how is “incremental improvement” really a conduit to innovation? Can iteration create delight and enjoyment and beauty? I have no doubt that iteration can find usability problems, but can it solve them?

At this point I am mostly asking questions: I don’t have clear answers or even opinions as of yet, however if you have strong feelings or experiences one way or another I would love to hear about them. So drop me a line.

Peter Sobchak
Editor in Chief
Canadian Interiors
[email protected]