Applying Blink Theory to Conceptualization and New Product Development
Stephen Melamed, IDSA, Clinical Associate Professor of Industrial Design and Interdisciplinary Product Development | University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
Principal, Tres Design Group, Inc., Chicago
Industrial designers, and all designers and architects for that matter, have always used snap judgments in the initial creation of ideas. Most designers state that they rely heavily on their gut instincts that quickly surface when confronted with a new problem. However, the profession has significantly evolved over the past decade, and designers have incorporated new techniques to include various forms of in-depth research in order to identify user needs, better comprehend the environments in which the products and systems will actually be utilized within, and have applied this knowledge in the design and development of these products. Just as marketing professionals and scientists have been accustomed to doing for many years, these specific forms of research, e.g., observational research, focus groups, qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys, end-user testing, have all merged into creating a basis for designer’s judgments. The outcomes of these various forms of research now weigh heavily on the decision making process for new product development.
Recent developments in the cognitive sciences, neurological sciences, and the publication of new findings in the area of the adaptive unconscious, have now effectively demonstrated that the designer’s snap judgments in response to a given problem, and the first embodiment of a solution, are often times as appropriate and efficacious solutions as those derived from months of in-depth research
How is this possible? Aren’t these two approaches about how designers can develop creative solutions inherently contradictory?
Recent research, and the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink: The Power of Thinking, without Thinking demonstrate the validity of what designers have felt and intuitively known all along, the power of I3 (Intelligent Intuitive Insight). Now, these recent developments need to be understood, harnessed, and applied to the professional practice of contemporary industrial design.
What is blink theory? First of all, blink theory as applied within the context of this essay will focus solely on its potential application to the professional practice of industrial design, particularly as it applies to the creation and assessment of new ideas for product design and development.
The part of the brain that leaps to almost instantaneous conclusions is called (in psychology), the adaptive unconscious.1 The adaptive unconscious is the part of the brain that acts like a colossal super-computer, quickly, quietly, and efficiently processing huge amounts of data from multiple sources virtually within an instant (the blink of an eye) in order for individuals to keep functioning effectively within the man-made environment. As a species (human beings) and as a profession (industrial design) this decision-making apparatus has evolved to the point where it’s now capable of making almost immediate assessments and judgments based upon very little available information. The adaptive unconscious that empirical psychology has revealed is much more than a repository of instinctual primitive drives and conflict-ridden memories. It is a compilation of pervasive, and generally sophisticated mental processes that almost instantaneously sizes up the surroundings, the situations, set goals, and initiates action.