in Process

Lombardy Design Discourse

HBR finally succumbs and publishes a design-is-great article, Roberto Verganti’s Innovating Through Design. Here’s his lead-off argument:

If you shop at Target, you may have seen a distinctive teakettle designed by architect Michael Graves. Target’s version is a knock-off (by Graves himself) of his original 1985 design for Alessi, the northern Italian home-furnishings manufacturer. Alessi has sold more than 1.5 million of the original design at five times the price of the Target version. This outstanding teakettle (also known as model 9093) emerged from a process that Roberto Verganti calls “design-driven innovation.” In this article, Verganti describes how Alessi, the lighting manufacturers Flos and Artemide, the furniture maker Kartell, and a few firms in the Lombardy region take a distinctive approach to design and innovation.

He then goes on to describe how these manufacturers — centered around Milan — nurture a community of discourse that eventually gestates into new product designs over the course of several years, contrasted with user research-generated design ideas.

What’s new here is his view that one need not have any design training to participate in this process, the executives in Milan typically having been trained in law or engineering. A radical idea?

  1. not very radical. these are all family companies (that you could have married into) and design wise they are more like publishing houses – than lets say – apple or bmw – but of course you know that…

    and for those rich guys in lombardy – show me some one who has got more taste than provincialists of considerable wealth.

  2. Right — certainly not new, I just wonder what the HBR editors were thinking by running this. It’s backed by more research than yet another article on IDEO? That it’s more different than just another article on IDEO?

    I’d like to see someone take a step back and identify and compare these ideologies: this Stylism which produces beautiful things and Consumerism which meets unmet needs.

  3. let me just say two words concerning verganti’s theory.
    i met roberto verganti in 2001 when he received the compasso d’oro for his research on the lombardy design discourse.
    his work is very much about cluster theory. – why are there geographical centers of design excellence found in almost every country? why is the good stuff most likely being produced in certain corners of the world – like lombardy, catalunia (around barcelona), california etc.?
    his answer more or less is: these areas produce a very fruitful climate, because the players mingle in all sorts ways – thus informing each other directly and indirectly about trends and tendencies, creating a sub-climate of hyper-awareness that is a good time ahead of the rest of the world.

    a little like the richard florida – if you want to say so – geo-economics

  4. judging by the hbr abstract of his 2006 paper, it seems like verganti got a little carried away in rehashing his original research.

  5. … as always thanks for the pointer, Victor! And good to ‘read’ from you again, Jens ;-)

    Indeed it has been the DMI conference in Cologne where I’ve met you, Jens for the first time as well as Roberto ;-)

    Having a background in university lecturing on ‘management of innovation & technology’ myself for a couple of years let me add two (very subjective) perspectives on the ideas/approach expressed by Verganti:

    a) I like the approach to apply common innovation management theories to the design industry in general where the community is usually talking about design thinking, style, tradition, etc …

    b) On the other hand I can only find limited ‘new’ value in Verganti’s research and insights as they are mainly ex-post theory driven. At the above mentioned conference in 2001 (!) he already presented these findings and I haven’t found anything really new which might have evolved from this ever since.

    His slides have been a sort of 1:1 copy from the bible of innovation management at that time written by: Burgelman, Wheelwright & Maidique (2001), Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation. It all appeared to be one of the typical (academic) scenarios where one looks for a real world case fitting into a given model rather than vice versa.

    Obviously this is the main mechanism how academics earn their merits and their appearance on HBR seem to mark the peak of the idea life cycle.

    If it helps any other cluster say like Essen/Germany with the Zollverein areal or Genk in Belgium to solve their problems? I have my doubts …

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