Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

Design as a way of thinking is popular enough to have made it into the hallowed halls of McKinsey Consulting. We couldn’t be more pleased to see a discipline we’ve been practicing for one and a half decades featured, it puts our methods and thinking in great demand.

But, and this is a big cigarette butt, smoldering on the sidewalk. We have always wanted to distinguish between the practice of design and the thinking methods of design. Being a practitioner of design means you have gone deep on one specific design discipline (architecture, product, fashion, digital, etc.). Being a design thinker means you’ve spent enough time in each of the disciplines or have had specific training on the methods of thinking woven through all these disciplines.

Then, we see this report coming from The Business of Fashion and for some reason it seems to relate to McKinsey’s broad overview of a design driven culture. One of the designers, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, is conducting some “intellectual property shaming” in social media against Mansur Gavriel, a design team they claim to have copied their Mule Sandal.

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You may wonder why this matters. Why would a designer threaten another designer over something that most of us would say is not unique enough to own? And, yes, we agree it is a defensive move and doesn’t contribute to the value of design.

Yet, here is the larger story to consider. A designer as a copier of other styles is certainly not respectful. And, for us, it brings up the word “inventor” versus “designer.” We have found over the years we have evolved from being designers of things to being inventors of solutions. The distinction is about being distinct. Sometimes design can be defined as a thoughtful refinement of an existing idea. Invention is more correlated to making a distinct solution.

This is where you’re thinking, are you just splitting hairy words? Perhaps, but this is where design thinking makes a contribution far beyond the individual practice of designing. We, as thinkers, believe the solution should be invented and not seek to achieve distinctiveness, but rather be distinct. The more ownable the better for any design and we often start projects with patent, trademark or copyright metrics mingled into our big hairy objectives. Again, this might be splitting the phrases “inspired by” versus “copied from” but we see this as an important part of properly respecting the discipline of design thinking.

Now, this is where you come into the conversation. If you’re reading this blog on intellectual property, you’re self aware enough to know when something feels too close to an “inspired by” design the team looked at research. There are three things you can do. Raise your hand and send out an email and make sure people get it, identifying the IP proximity issue. Create a digital trail to document your objections. Last, push your team to invent new versus design from something already in the world.

Plus, who wants to get into a social media, passive-aggressive slam fest with the nearest design? Frame up the effort as an invention of something new versus a refinement of something already. Spend more time to be more unique. Here’s how it starts, “we need to reinvent the Mule shoe for our design portfolio.” This is in contrast with, “we need a Mule shoe for our line, go design.”