Innovation, anyone?

This post was originally published on December 27, 2009. Since then quite a bit happened; Nokia’s phones, for instance, disappeared.

The buzzword of the decade: Innovation.

It seems that the more the average corporate manager found how easy it is to brush up any uninspired Powerpoint presentation with the fancy word “innovation”, the less innovation actually happened.

In the absence of ideas, the motto of the decade was: Make it big, and make it again. In the media industry, the motto was reruns, sequels, and sequels of sequels. In the automotive industry, the size of the average American car increased proportionally with the average debt of households.

The beginning 21st century was also the time of relative standstill in the electronics sector. The mobile phone boom, the growth engine for electronics companies in the early 2000s, is over, and electronics companies are struggling to find out what to do next.

The “Supersize Me” tactic was also the only idea for television sets. Of course, the tactic to offer ever-larger TV screens is naturally coming to an end as TVs are approaching sizes larger than the average apartment.


The innovator in the mobile phone market was not a mobile phone company, but a computer company. The simple idea of the overall market leader, Nokia, is to make a lot of different models. While Nokia presumably does this in an attempt to fine-slice a saturated market, the iPhone comes as one model. (For more about the perils of thin-spreading see my 2007 article in Danish Designers; For more about Apple strategies, see my post “From Walkman to Ipod”). In the third quarter of 2009, Apple made significantly more profit from its single phone model (1,6 billion US) than Nokia from its entire range of 20+ models (1,1 billion US). Nokia’s large market share in developing economies seems in the meanwhile to be more of an inertia effect. The mass tactic fails in advanced markets: Nokia’s market share in the North American smart phone market is a negligible 3,9%. Apple’s has 29,5%, and Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, has 51%.

Yet, actual innovation happened. Instead of big and a lot, it was rather smart and light, brought about by outsiders and unlikely candidates. The movie industry, trying to reduce risk by investing primarily in reruns and sequels, opened a horizon for a handful of independent filmmakers with actual ideas.

The only car in the North American market where demand outstripped supply was the exact opposite of chunky and gas-guzzling: The Honda Prius.

In the computer market, the innovator was the lesser known Taiwanese manufacturer Asus, who stood out with its introduction of the ieee, turning upside down the idea that small and light must be more expensive than big and heavy. Since then, nearly all manufacturers rushed to catch up with similar models based on Intel’s Atom processor. The moral of the story: The future won’t be about big, a lot, and the same all over again.

Posted in Culture by Mario Gagliardi Design

Designer Jargon

The main communication tools for designers are drawings, sketches and models. The style of designer drawings and prototypes can be described as the “jargon” of designers – the drawing style can reflect the assumptions and desires of designers.

The use of jargon is significant for the degree of adaptation of people into an organisational culture; It binds specific groups together and creates a boundary of language to other groups. The style of designer drawings can be soft or aggressive, light or dark, reduced or full of patterns, geometric or dominated by artistic strokes; Different design departments and design consultancies mostly have their own style which contributes to their shared assumptions.

The essence of design drawings are – to an extent – understood across national cultures. However, the interpretation of their value and meaning is culture-specific and depending on individual designer’s knowledge, beliefs and paradigms.

A designer will see the concept or interesting features behind a the sketch of another designer, while a non-designer might have troubles deciphering the message in a design sketch.

Nigel Cross states that the use of sketches, drawings and other models constitutes a coherent and symbolic media system for thinking and communicating in design. Designers see the features and problems in a design and improve it in hermeneutic and dialectic “sketch discussions”, where one sketch is complementing another.

The result of this constant refining and reconsidering is finally presented to management in a “polished” form, a drawing or model which defines every detail of the design drawing. Designers with experience develop a “design eye” and see features of a design a non-designer would not see.

This is perhaps similar to scientists or other specialists who develop a common understanding of their field; They might not share worldviews and opinions, but they share a particular knowledge, which enables them to collaborate on a project despite being different personalities from different cultures and backgrounds.

Krippendorff describes that vocabulary creates “structure within textual matter that is based on selectively (re)cognizing similarities in the compositions or usages of artifacts: (re)combinable and (de)composable forms, components or assemblages, much like words, and syntactic structures”.

The understanding between designers is indeed relatively homogenous across firms and cultures. The change of a design can be discussed in a similar way with designers from Latvia, Germany, the United States or South Korea – the nessecary fore-understanding was established by education and experience.

The drawing or mock-up as the main communication tool is complemented by a visually orientated, spoken language which is used during the design process. The spoken language used between designers is mostly a result of other forms of visual representation. Depending on the discipline, it will involve colours (“this colour creates too much contrast, tone it down”), shapes (“the curve here should be smoother, this would also make it easier for tooling”), composition (“the detail here is too dominant, it would distract the attention of the user from the main button”) or, in media design, the choreography of actions (the movement here in front should be shorter and smoother to reduce loading time on the internet, while the element in the background should slowly disappear by reducing the hue”).

This language is predominantly visual, aesthetic, and often also simultaneously focused on the user (ergonomics, usability) or technical solutions. This “language of design” used in the design process is relatively universal. However, this does not apply to the assumptions behind the concept of a design object, which are depending on world-views and cultures.

The aesthetic value of colours, shapes and compositions are perceived differently in different cultures, a colour or shape one designer finds aesthetically pleasing will be perceived as uninteresting by another. This disparity is, on the one hand, enhanced between different regional cultures with different aesthetic preferences, and on the other hand equalized by “dominating designs”, i.e. designs which are supposed to be right, are conceived by role-models (famous designers) or are dispersed by a dominating culture.

Posted in Culture by Mario Gagliardi Design

Mario Gagliardi – Bio

Working across multiple areas of design, Mario Gagliardi helped building the Korean design sector, created Asia’s most successful luxury brand, and inspired the design of the word’s first sustainable city center development in Doha. He was CEO of Design at Qatar Foundation in Doha, Chief Designer and Head of design strategy at LG in Korea, advisor of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Austria, and professor at IDAS/Hongik University in Seoul and at Aalborg University in Denmark.

Hailing from a Venetian family, Mario was a master class student of Alessandro Mendini, the father of the Radical Design movement, and of legendary industrial designer Richard Sapper at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Mario’s “philosophical cupboard” in the class of Alessandro Mendini was published in the authoritative book on design group Studio Alchimia, Alchimia: Contemporary Italian Design by Kazuko Sato (ISBN 3892680337).

He started his career as industrial designer at Philips in the Netherlands. In 1988, he programmed computer games on Atari and Commodore computers and experimented with tangible computer surfaces. In 1989, he was awarded the design prize of architecture magazine Domus with the first digitally designed textile series for one of Italy’s most prestigious textile manufacturers, Somma. In 1990, he was awarded the first three prizes at the Austrian Post Shop design competition and was selected for the Austrian national design award. Mario then designed products for clients such as Takashimaya (Japan) and Bergdorf Goodman (USA).

In 1995, Mario worked as consultant for the Korean Institute of Design Promotion to help building the new Korean design sector. He then led the first master class of industrial design as professor at the newly founded International Design School for Advanced Studies, now part of Hongik University. Finally, he was appointed as Chief Designer and Head of design strategy at the LG headquarters in Seoul.

As the first non-Korean in a senior management position at LG, Mario developed a range of radically innovative products and brands including Whoo, Korea’s most successful luxury brand. Boldly defying Western stereotypes in the global cosmetics industry, Whoo was received enthusiastically by Asian women and redefined the cosmetics sector in Korea and China. Mario’s work was awarded the Good Design Mark of the Korean Republic. Whoo is Korea’s fastest growing high-end brand, now generating a yearly revenue of 1.4 billion US$ in the Asian market.

Mario also worked as analyst and instructor for the Innovative Design Lab of Samsung, where he developed future technology scenarios and worked with Samsung Design Membership on industrial and digital design projects to shape Samsung’s future design strategies in the early 2000s.

Upon returning to Europe, Mario joined a summer workshop led by Andra Branzi at Domus Academy in Milan. He then moved on to London, where he graduated with an MBA at the University of Westminster.

From 2000, he worked as advisor for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. With a strategic focus on educational innovation, he designed a transformative digital ecosystem for online learning and collaboration. This ecosystem increased e-learning usage in Austria from below 10% to over 90% within 5 years. In Austria, he also inspired the design efforts of glass crystal manufacturer Swarovski to help defining its global presence.

In 2007, Mario taught as professor at Aalborg University. With an article series for the Danish Designers Association, he contributed to shape a new understanding of design by defining the new fields of experience design and generative design.

From 2008, Mario served as CEO for Design at Qatar Foundation in Doha. With a vision to integrate local tradition with sustainability and contemporary design, he developed the blueprint for a zero-carbon creative community and inspired the design of the world’s first sustainable city centre development Msheireb in Doha.

In 2012, Mario founded the non-profit culture sharing platform penccil to promote knowledge and reflection on creative expression, design and the arts. The platform has currently over half a million subscribed members in the creative sector. Mario curates a range of exhibitions on penccil, including Design DIY (2013), The Elements in Design (2015), and Art/Design/Art (2018), and he consulted visual arts publisher Thames & Hudson towards their new online publishing platform.

In 2018, Mario launched マジ MAJI to create projects in the critical intersections of technology and culture.

Publications and presentations

Among his theoretical contributions to design, branding and innovation are the cultural analysis framework for branding and design (Design Management Review, 2001), metaphors of brand management and touch-points for brands (Identico, 2005), the concurrence of design integration and economic development stages (Danish Design Center, 2005), the first definitions of experience design and consumers as co-creators (Danish Designers, 2007) and the analysis framework for transformations, territories, frames and uses in the Digital (The Design Journal, 2017).

Mario delivered keynotes and speeches at the Rat für Formgebung (Germany), the Product Development and Management Association (UK), Innotown (Norway), the 8th European International Design Management Conference Trends/04 in Barcelona 2004, the 5th Marketing Conference of Management Centre Turkey in Istanbul 2004, the Era 05 World Design Congress (Helsinki, Gothenburg, Oslo and Copenhagen), the Tasmeem Doha design conference in Doha 2006, the International Council of Design Week in Doha 2009 and the European Academy of Design Conference at Sapienza University in Rome 2017. Mario held lectures and gave workshops in leading universities such as London Business School (UK), University for the Creative Arts (UK), Bogazici University (Turkey) and Tsinghua University (China).