This is the view from my temporary office. I have received a lot of great feedback from my last post and I guess it is a popular subject. And there are many different point-of-views out there. I want to continue on the subject and this was written on my 18 hour transpacific flight while eating a stack of home made French toast because I can’t stand airline food.
Executives are increasingly convinced that businesses are not merely offering functional devices or products to help customers to get their jobs done, but also visual imagery, customer experiences, user identity and social connectiveness. This new design consciousness is a result of many factors including the commodization of quality manufacturing, proliferation of channels, oversaturation of brands and products and rapidly changing customer expectations. Plus a heightened demand for better aesthetic experience and usability given the increasingly complex interfaces for technology products. Design has (and should) become a critical element within the strategic tool kit for new product development. But it can be useful as part of the business strategy tool kit to create growth.
A question arises here, can art also become a strategic toolkit? “Artistic Thinking” in additional to. “Design Thinking”? How is art different from design? Design is often confused with art; some designs will eventually become art. And some art becomes design. Art is an important force shaping design and design is now becoming an important force shaping business strategy. Is there a connection between art and business? Hey, welcome to the world where everything is complicated.
Is art a state of mind or is design also a state of mind? Art, design and business strategy are about the articulation of an idea and each has different and increasing overlapping tools to help expresses itself and for manifestation. Let’s not talk about the downstream activities of business strategy, design or art. Each one of these has its craft side and toolkit.
People are saying design is important for business today, not many people are saying art is equally important. I think art is equally important for both design and business. Wonder how many of you would agree with me? Part of the reason design is moving upstream is because it is becoming predominant among companies and particularly marketers where the aesthetic/sensorial aspects have become key drivers in differentiation. But the meaning of design should not be reduced to a mere question of just look and appearance. Instead, design needs to be understood as something that powers the entire company. It is viewed more as an attitude that something that is linked producing new ideas from a core set of design-centered beliefs.
Can the same be said about art? Art should not be reduced to be something purely decorative or expressive with no connection (never mind influence) to business strategy. Can art be viewed as something that inspire new perspectives, new experimentation and inspirations for organizations beyond products. Is that a stretch? I am not sure.
Case in point: The Italian company Alessi is a prime example of an “artistic acting” company. Alberto Alessi, head of the company, thinks of Alessi as an applied arts research laboratory. At Alessi, design is viewed as an artistic and poetic discipline, while manufacturing conceives it as a tool for product development and marketing. The process of selecting projects to be prototyped rests with Alberto Alessi. Choices are based largely on his intuitive knowledge of what will appeal to the people. He describes his role as someone who mediates between the most interesting expressions of creativity of our times and the dreams of the consumer.
Apple can probably be classified as the same type of company where intuition is central to the company’s basic innovative processes. If you think about how Apple comes up with new products, it is definitely not a “design thinking” type of company, it is an “artistic thinking” company that relies on intuition and a heavy emphasize on personal expressions.
Someone once points out the paradox on art (the same is said about pornography, no illustrations here sorry) is that art is difficult to explain but easy to recognize. You know it only when you see it. Design is something we can see and touch, art is difficult to be identified. Over 50% of art I’ve seen I would not considered them as art, but other can have exactly the opposite point of view. That is the single biggest distinction between art and design.
And for strategy, 50% of the time you can describe a company’s business strategy by looking at what they do and what they produce or sell, the other 50% of the time you don’t know exactly where a company is going. When a great company (and its brand) touches our deep emotional state, it is only when businesses are to be viewed the same way as a painting or sculpture. They have to be looked upon as an expression of something that the artist experiences and not merely as a functional representation of a real-world product or commercial entity. If you look at companies such as Virgin, Alessi and Apple, these companies are works of art themselves.