Designer Interview: Justin Knecht

justin_photoJustin Knecht joined the Centre for Design Innovation in Ireland after working for Crayola in the US. Justin has spoken at a number of conferences and company events including SEEdesign, HOW, Hallmark Cards, DMI, Thinking Creatively Conference, Oracle, the Macromedia User Conference and the Allaire Developers Conference.  Enjoy!

1. It’s been some time now since you made your way across the pond, relocating a great distance from your roots in the Keystone State. What is the difference, culturally, designing in Ireland compared to the United States? It’s a much less developed space. The professional design community itself would probably consider itself young by certain standards, which is interesting in a country that has so much history and heritage. The text from Dublin-based Design Factory’s 25-year retrospective spoke to the fact that Ireland‘s cultural identity is largely based upon language more than the visual arts.

For a long time the majority of design talent was leaving Ireland to work in other places, and gradually those people began returning and establishing the professional design community that exists here today.

On a practical note, working with small to medium sized enterprises, like we do at the Centre, is a great reality check. The case studies typically used about big brands just aren’t relevant. Smaller organizations want practical stories, practical tools and practical results.

2. Conferences, blogs and books are vital to the creativity of so many people working in the design genre. What do use as influence when looking for inspiration and motivation when you are designing? It all comes in one big stream through Google Reader these days. I can’t name a single source, though I’ve been inspired by watching various TED Talks. They are a regular 15-minute investment worth making.

3. Your personal blog, Vertical, is titled “a documented experiment in following your bliss.” Can you credit any one person with instilling that creative, innovative spirit that drives your sense of curiosity and adventure? Well, the quote is most closely attributed to Joseph Campbell. However, I was at a design conference in NYC and Bruce Mau was speaking amongst a group largely composed of corporate creatives. He was drinking water that was recycled sewage, which was a bit humbling following a P&G presentation about the millions spent on the development of a women’s disposable razor. He turned to the audience and said something like, “We have the talent and creativity to do anything. What are you going to do?” That stuck with me.

4. Who do you consider an inspiration to your style of design work, professionally? My life these days is much less about doing actual design practice and working more around the design process, and getting companies to use design effectively to bring products, services, brands and experiences to market. It’s design as a verb, not a noun.

So with that in mind, I’ve been influenced by the IDEO process, or the approach that Adaptive Path is teaching. No single approach is perfect, but I’m most interested in the practical “how”. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with individuals from the Design Council, and have been influenced by their Designing Demand program and the methodology surrounding its implementation.

5. In your article, creating the right space to foster a spirit of innovation, featured on Centre for Design Innovation blog you share a case study that says there is “an exponential drop of frequency of communication between engineers as the distance between them increases.” How can we bridge this divide so that international offices can work seamlessly without having the tolls of location and distance hinder creativity? I certainly don’t have a solution. My comments were mainly about the importance of space, of a place where innovation can take place and collaboration is facilitated. I’ve often quoted a Steelcase statement that a place can “enable or constrain what takes place in it.”

I also feel strongly that an innovative environment is made up of three components: (Right) People, (Right) Process & (Right) Place. When I was managing a design studio, those were the three strategic themes I always concentrated on.

6. What advice would you give to companies looking to be more innovative? Understand your users. Innovation starts and ends with people. People will reveal the insights you need to create unique solutions, and they will evaluate how well those solutions meet their needs.

7. Is Ireland a good place for innovation? Yes. The same qualities that made Ireland so successful over the last decade will help Ireland innovate themselves out of the current downturn. The workforce is highly-educated, well networked and incredibly resourceful.

8. Is there anything you miss as a consumer, or designer, living in Ireland that you were used to having at your disposal in the States? Tastykake

9. What should any designer do every day, in order to become a better designer through habit? Have a genuine interest in people.

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