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The Design of Things to Come

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The Design of Things to Come

How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products

Wharton School Publishing,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Product innovation requires deliberation, value, empathy, research, failure, testing, marketing and – oh, yes – fantasy.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable


getAbstract recommends this fascinating book to anyone directly engaged in innovation, working in a related field (from marketing to engineering) or curious about how new products come into being. Craig M. Vogel, Jonathan Cagan and Peter Boatwright share many case studies, which they generalize into rules for innovation. They offer useful, practical observations about current social changes. And, they do it all in lucid, personable prose; their obvious affection for innovators gives the book warmth. However, despite their many examples, the authors don't - in the end - convince readers that the process they outline is really how innovation actually happens. They use author J. K. Rowling's successful Harry Potter books as a primary example of the role of fantasy in design - but they do not establish that her writing process resembles the pragmatic innovation methods they outline. Readers also may wish that they had answered one other question: why do some products that are not especially innovative do better in the marketplace than some that are truly new? This aside, the book's insider stories and advice are interesting, well focused and immediately applicable.


Defining Innovation

Many people confuse innovation with invention - the advent of a completely new technological advance, one that revolutionizes or even creates an entire industry, such as Thomas Edison's invention of the light bulb.

Innovation is different. Innovation might integrate new technology, but it emphasizes incremental technological change that adds value to a product. Focused "pragmatic innovation" integrates the contributions of different disciplines (i.e., engineering, marketing) to produce new products and profits.

Your company needs a balanced approach to innovate successfully. To understand the engineering side of design, you need to be clear and analytical. But, you also have to be aware of the softer disciplines, such as what a change in function will do to a product's aesthetic appeal or ergonomic function. Balance your logical side with your intuitive side. Often, different teams will contribute these distinct values to the design process. Develop an approach that integrates them both and that extends to serving clients. A purely pragmatic innovation isn't good in a vacuum; it should also fulfill customer desire.

For some time now, ...

About the Authors

Craig M. Vogel directs the Center for Design Research and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati, where he teaches in the College of Design Architecture Art and Planning. Jonathan Cagan has worked with many companies on design and product development. He teaches mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, where Peter Boatwright teaches marketing. Cagan and Vogel co-authored Creating Breakthrough Products.

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