Indi Young on why innovation is overrated

Indi Young, one of the founders of Adaptive Path and a interaction design pioneer since the early days of the web, delivered Thursday’s keynote at the Web Directions North conference. Her talk, “Innovation is Overrated,” explained how many companies talk about innovation as a concept and the term has emerged as a buzzword…but some detractors are pointing out that for all the talk of innovating, sometimes the quest for a bold new idea can get in the way of actually thinking about solutions to problems. Focusing on people and what they need, rather than adding widgets and pointless changes, will do more to drive real change, she said. It’s also important to focus on the long term rather than a quick change or changes, she said.

Modeling customers is another important component of innovation, Young noted. By thinking about how your customers actually behave and aligning your design strategy with that behaviour, you’ll end up with a more useful product. Creating a mental model diagram allows you to point to areas where you can better act on your customer’s needs and then act on them. For instance, Young pointed to a fictional movie distribution company and how various sets of customers will react in different ways to a film, ranging from alpha film geeks lining up days early to get tickets to busy families making time for a night out.

Young advocated for finding a gap to fill, looking for scarce or weak support, and redefining and augmenting existing features. She added that looking for surprises and emotional reactions, as well as rethinking behaviour that doesn’t match features are all solid ways to create innovation without losing focus on the people you want to serve, or forcing change for the sake of change.