For the good of all
In a world where innovation and creativity are sought for the economic advantage, let’s talk about the opposite. The economic advantage of doing (some) things the same way as everyone else. Of doing something for the good of all. Or doing something so wildly different but obviously useful, that everyone wants to copy it.
Things that are so commonplace that we don’t think about them, and yet they are so critical that without them the world as we know it would not exist.
Any great innovation changes the way we think, see or do things. Usually they are big, loud, much discussed and initially challenging.
Except for standards.
Innovation by nature wants to revolutionise and disrupt that which has gone before it.
Standards don’t want to let the past go. They work best through slow evolution.
As technology changes the tools and the way we work, past standards easily become redundant. But we do have to create new standards as making things retrospectively compatible is always a compromise.
And new standards are not standards until they are in widespread use.
Take for example Joseph Whitworth. In 1841 his greatest innovation was to stop future innovation.
It's his name on the Whitworth thread. We have him to thank for an almost universal standard in the thread most commonly used on nuts and bolts. More recently globalisation of industries creates market pressure to reach common and universal production standards. A good example is the automotive industry; U.S. auto parts factories long ago developed the ability to conform to ISO standards, and today very few parts for new cars retain inch based sizes, regardless of being made in the U.S.
This global standardisation has many benefits, it's how our mobile phones work around the world, it's the basis of the internet and software systems. Yet, it's very nature makes true innovation, not just refinement, a hard thing to gain acceptance of.
As a design industry we continually look for creative innovation, new ideas, new styles, expression of a concept, fonts, photographic styles, paper stocks, formats and everything you can conceive of, but at the same time try and explore these within our standard systems, processes and costing structures to enable certainty for our clients on costs and timelines. In effect, innovating within a set scope.
So, next time you're confronted with something 'out of your comfort zone' perhaps it's time to consider whether being standard is what you hoped for your project, or whether that feeling deep inside is the buzz of seeing innovation forming before your very eyes?
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