It is often said that to be a successful designer or entrepreneur you need to be able to ‘think outside the box’. Well, frankly, I think the complete opposite is true. In my opinion, an innovative designer is someone who is able to think creatively inside the box.
To suggest that we are at our most innovative and creative when we can float free of all boundaries, I believe shows a quite fundamental lack of understanding of the design process.
Boring as this may sound, designers are required to work within defined parameters, their creativity necessarily trammelled by the practical demands of having to consider cost, materials, or the market.
I would suggest, therefore, that a skilled designer must be able to identify the boundaries of the box (or market) and know what tools to use in order to fashion an innovative way of solving a problem, or addressing a need that exists within the confines of that box. Certainly, the ability to think laterally (as implied by the outside the box metaphor) is one of a number of essential skills of the successful designer. But I think lateral thinking can only be classed as ‘lateral’ (or perhaps, as thinking at all) if you approach, with logic, the problems contained within one box armed with an understanding of the problems and solutions of another box.
In ‘About Jenga’, I touch on how I think there is much to learn from the natural world, from animals and plants, about the nature of human commerce; about branding and marketing and trading. I should stress, however, that to glean anything useful from how an animal or plant ‘markets’ its own wares – one needs first to understand the environment (the box) within which it operates. Luckily for me, I’m married to a behavioural ecologist, an evolutionary biologist who has spent much of his life trying to unravel the mysteries of animal behaviour. I often shamelessly tap into his knowledge and understanding of his world when I step into my toy box to begin designing a new game.