I recently read the book "Design Like Apple” that I received from a friend at Lunar, a design agency in San Francisco. Written by the agency's president John Edson, the book uses Apple as an innovation bellwether but weaves in stories of successful and unsuccessful design scenarios from a variety of businesses, making this book much more than a discussion of Apple's design methodology. After blowing through the book I was left with a few pages of insights that both helped and reinforced my work. One innovation tool that I really like the potential of applying for intentional innovation methods is the concept of “Zoom In and Zoom Out”.
When designing a product, service or experience, Edson highlights the need for taking both macro and micro views of the design challenge to arrive at innovative and disruptive solutions. He encourages designers to zoom out for a panoramic view of the product in its context and to zoom in to view the product in use. As an example, zooming in helped Apple identify the need for easier navigation of files on a MP3 player, while zooming out framed the demand for a hub in the system of mobile devices. Using these as design challenges put Apple on the path to developing the Click Wheel for easier navigation and building iTunes as a hub for digital music, both game changers in the music industry.
With this concept percolating in my mind I was reminded of Christopher Jones' hierarchy of design problems. The four hierarchies that Jones outlines are Function (or Component), Product, System and Community (or Interconnecting Systems). Imagining these as positions on a spectrum allows one to more easily apply Edson's suggestion of zooming in and out. As an example, suppose we are looking for opportunities to improve the design of communications technology within an automobile; we zoom in to find communications functions within the car that currently present pain points and we zoom out to consider the system context of sitting in traffic while driving to work. Each “zoom” to a new level provides potential fertile ground for innovation.
Designing in a vacuum, without considering the larger and smaller ecosystem of the product, service or experience, will most often lead to solutions that are underwhelming. By placing the design challenge on Jones' hierarchy and intentionally exploring the areas beyond by zooming in and out we can begin to imagine and realize more impactful design challenges and solutions that disrupt existing paradigms.