I read an article in Business Week about a month ago (November 28, 2005, page 24) that I tore out to share with my team and my clients. Green Foot Forward was about John R. Hoke III, the design guru at Nike. This man has taken an unorthodox approach to developing shoes. For example, his designers are encouraged to rely on geometry rather than chemistry in construction. That means fit-together systems trump adhesives. He also stresses the use of natural materials over synthetics. That makes Nike shoes better for the environment.
Hoke also believes that if you are going to design outside the box you have to get outside your office for inspiration. He sends his team on design inspiration trips that include the zoo and the Detroit auto show. The idea is to look for everywhere for innovation that can apply to their product.
I couldn’t agree with Hoke’s approach more. Two weeks ago I was giving a presentation for a long-standing client when someone asked me the best way to stay connected with trends in the market, and the best places to look for inspiration. I know this person was waiting for me to promote our trend newsletter The Trend Curve™, then provide a list of trade shows to see.
While I did shamelessly recommend The Trend Curve, I did not stop with my list of must-see trade shows. I also pushed getting out of the office. Go anywhere. Visit Paris, San Francisco, Des Moines. Get outside of your industry, your category, your town. Go see art. Go to a trade show that does not apply to your product. See something new, anything new. Throw open the doors to your mind and see what comes in.
I am finding too many people who are satisfied to go see (fill in the blank with your favorite retailers), look at the competition and think that’s all that is needed for inspiration. Top execs are ones most likely to follow this line of thinking. They don’t want to spend money on travel that may not have a direct and immediate payback.
But while it’s true that design teams may learn something valuable about an industry leader’s assortment by following this path, they will learn very little about what is possible in the future. And their inspiration will be linked to what already exists in your category, not what has yet to be developed.
Leaving your office and looking at something new is an important way to get the creative juices flowing. The same is true of reading trade publications outside of your industry. When you do either one, make it a goal to connect the dots between those other categories and yours. You will be surprised at how much inspiration can be found.