The Emerging Recognition of the Importance of Design and Creative Practice in Product/Service Innovation: Moving Away from a Strict Adherence to Technology and the ‘Hard’ Sciences

In his April 2008 report, ‘Between a Hard Rock and a Soft Space: Design, Creative Practice and Innovation’, Dr. John H. Howard discusses how the arts, humanities and social sciences can contribute to innovation systems and innovation policy by recognizing that design and creative practice play a central role in innovation. He argues that, while developments in technology are certainly essential to the promotion of innovation, greater emphasis must be placed on unique product /service design for our society to achieve its full innovative potential.

Although Dr. Howard’s paper is written with a focus on the innovation systems in Australia and uses primarily Australian examples to illustrate his points, it seems plausible that Canada’s innovative infrastructure could similarly benefit from an enhanced emphasis on creativity and the design of various products and services. He suggests that a primary reason for the imbalance between the importance that is placed on public research within the ‘hard’ sciences/technology domain and that which is devoted to building innovation through design and creative practice is that there is substantially less funding available for the latter. A potential solution to this problem would be to offer cultural institutions greater recognition for their role in contributing to innovation through their promotion of design and creative practices by providing them with greater financial support, including the institution of publicly-funded programs.

Dr. Howard ultimately stresses the importance of creating a national policy instrument, which would outline the processes required for policy formulation, implementation and review in this area. To effectively achieve this end, his report recommends the creation of a National Council for Design and Creative Practice. To sufficiently strengthen the economy through innovation stimulated by creative design, more concrete leadership is necessary at the national level. To allow Australia to effectively compete with the rest of the world on a level that is above the merely functional, greater funding must be devoted to R&D, specific to the aesthetic enhancement of various products/services. Dr. Howard purports that, to retain buyer enthusiasm and commitment in a highly competitive economic climate, businesses must go beyond achieving merely a combination of excellence in science and engineering. It is absolutely essential that they also achieve excellence in design and creative practice, without which, the ability to effectively differentiate between functionally similar competitors would be extremely unlikely, if not impossible.

This report suggests that the implementation of a National Council for Design and Creative Practice would be based on the UK’s Design Council and would be divided into the following 5 areas: (1) influencing national policy and ensuring that design and creative practice are at the heart of government thinking in innovation policy, (2) delivering design and creative practice support programs for Australian businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, (3) initiating new thinking about ways to design public services around the needs of people who use them, (4) running programs to get people involved in exploring how design can improve their lives, (5) providing government with authoritative design research, knowledge and signposting.