A Brief Rant Against Innovation

I don’t have any plans to innovate. I’m not cooking up any exciting new products or offerings. I’m not slashing services that I’ve been offering for years to make room for my next “big thing” that I’ll package with a fancy name and then serve up with a different set of rules. I’m pretty happy just doing what I’m doing: approaching each project with a combination of expertise and fresh eyes, and then trying to make the end product great.

That’s not to say that I don’t want to improve as a designer, or embrace new technology, or change aspects of my business over time. I want to do all these things. To me, this is about having an open mind and moving forward, not innovating. Innovation is fueled by a different intent. It defines making something new as your primary goal.

That can be a dangerous frame of mind from which to start any project. What about other goals, like making something that’s right for your audience? Or creating something effective? You don’t have to invent something new to succeed at a project, so why set out to do this from the start? Shouldn’t innovation flow naturally from a real need? Or, better yet, evolve organically from a foundation that’s already creatively sound? I mean, do you need to invent a new time signature to write a song that touches your heart in an entirely original and profound way? No, not unless you’re a prog dork. So why is innovation now the holy grail of value in both business and culture?

I’m glad that talented developers exist to makes certain aspects of life better through technology. And I understand that innovation drives our economy in many ways. But I hate to think of the resources and creative energy going down the toilet everyday to make things we simply don’t need or want (TGIF app anyone? Google Plus?). How about if we cut back work hours at Google so people can spend more time digesting art and building relationships instead of toiling over the next iteration of our email accounts? Can we invest more in things that actually nourish the heart and mind?

What’s especially troubling is when the ethos of innovation spills into the creative sphere and overshadows good, old-fashioned concept. How about trying to tell better stories? Or making something for the sake of beauty and emotional resonance? Let’s make sure the idea works first, and then we can tweak it to be even better. In other words, let’s focus on meaningful progress, not just new and different for the sake of keeping pace with the obsessive bustle around us.

I don’t believe that good design needs to be innovative to be effective. And I don’t think I need to constantly reinvent the way I do business in order to grow. This isn’t curmudgeonly, it’s just me trying to stay focused on what matters: doing good work for good people. With this as an anchor, I can move freely into opportunities as they open up and change at a sane, sustainable pace.