The art of innovation
Hello and welcome to the Parentheses blog. We started this to share some of our stories, observations, insights and oh-so-many opinions and we’ll kick it off right at the beginning. Let’s talk about the very core of it all — Ideas.
I’m Mahati, and I’m part of the strategy team at Parentheses. Before that, I was a disciple of architecture. Those are two diverse design fields that rely equally on creativity and discipline and in both these fields, there’s nothing more valuable than that big idea that can be manifested into beautiful, weird and wonderful things. IDEO, the global design company, said it best when they defined the feeling of coming up with an idea as the “aha” moment. Now let’s delve into how we at Parentheses work to get those aha moments more often, on demand.
Part of these insights have been gleaned from the daily grind and everything it teaches us. Some of them are from a book I love — The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley. Both routes have taught me that a big idea isn’t a mythical beast to be chased and tamed; you just need to incorporate some simple steps into your daily practice and if you follow them diligently, the idea will appear when you want it to. Here are some of those steps.
- Although most creative people like working in their own zone, getting the team together for frequent quick brainstorms is a golden habit because every single person brings their own experience and POV to the same problem. At Parentheses we tend to sit together in our green and gorgeous open layout office, which helps us sneak in a brainstorm whenever we need it. Down with cabins, we say!
- Prototyping is problem solving- be it a product, campaign or service. Getting started and moving forward counts for a lot, and when you manifest part of your idea it becomes that much easier to expand on it. I did so much of this in architecture, and learnt the value of this step (even if it shows you that you’re headed in the wrong direction). Doodle, sketch out your observations, make rough models, make mind maps, see how the idea looks outside your head.
- Don’t create a whole movie; that’s pretty expensive and you don’t quite know the story yet. Instead, start with just a trailer.
Every project begins with a long brief but before we look at the big picture, we go macro. Shreesh (our founder and design strategy head) typically kickstarts a project by giving us just one thing to focus on. For instance, when we were rebranding a reputed builder, he told us to begin by thinking of how the logo we would ultimately create would look displayed on a building. Once we had that context in mind, we proceeded to do total justice to the project.
- When in the innovation process, try thinking in verbs, not nouns.
This means.. Don’t focus on the product or campaign to start off with. You want to create an experience so think of actions not touchpoints. For instance, when we were rebranding a fashion store, we didn’t think of collaterals to design. We started by mapping out the customer journey, which gave us good and relevant ideas for where to take the brand on its journey. Like the graphic below aptly depicts - don’t think about the wheel. Think about movement.
- Approach projects knowing that you’ll find answers in places you least expected.
Who knew that the design solution to a water bottle for cyclists lay with a doctor! You must have seen those bottles that spurt out water from the nozzle on the cap… that common design was inspired by the way arteries contract to pump blood through a valve! So.. always be open to inspiration, you could find it where you least expect.
- Lastly, do the first round of review within a week of starting the project. You think it’s too soon? It may seem like it, but it’s a sure shot way of finding out if you’re on brief and on track.
Unfortunately, I learnt this the hard way when I once submitted a pre-strategy presentation two days in advance only to learn that I got the tone wrong. I had to ask for extra time to do the presentation again from a different perspective, which could have been easily avoided if I had done a pre-emptive review.
After 6 months spent at Parentheses, I see how the office runs on these simple principles.
Our office space has no demarcations for what goes where, there are scopes and project timelines but we decide them both, there is structure for how a project is done but also the freedom to do it our way.
We think. Try. Brainstorm. Prototype. Review. Rinse. Repeat. Together.
And now, the ideas come to us faster and better than they used to. This broad framework gives us a lot of creative freedom while building a structure to fall back on when we feel lost. It works for any project, any industry and like most skills - all it needs is a little practice.