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What drives innovation? Technology or Design?

It is a chicken-and-egg-question: What drives innovation? Technology or Design? What inspires what and what came first?

One can follow an interesting debate around the subject in a post (and comments) by Bruce Nussbaum in Businessweek. Don Norman has a point when shaking the tree with his statement Technology first, invention second, needs last.

But what is actually the essential difference between technology and design? The answer is “use”. Technology may exist without any use. In the literal “lab”. Let’s take Nanotechnology. Great, we can manipulate things  hundred times smaller than a hair, but what the hell is it good for. Here comes design and creates: Nanobots that clean out arteries, self-cleaning material surfaces, and efficient batteries. But does design drive technology?

It gets interesting when educators use design to teach about technology. Or when they talk about technology and they mean design. In the “Revised National Curriculum Statement Grades R-9” (primary and high schools) issued by the Department of Education in Pretoria, South Africa in 2002 technology is defined like this:

“The use of knowledge, skills and resources to meet people’s needs and wants by developing practical solutions to problems, taking social and environmental factors into consideration.”

Now, this sounds like a definition of design to me. It get’s better in the actual purpose description of the curriculum:

“The application of the design process: At the heart of this process is the identification of everyday problems, needs or wants of people, and the selection and application of appropriate resources, knowledge, skills and values to develop practical solutions. The design process encourages the development of critical and creative thinking skills.”

I am delighted to find evidence for design policy in South Africa that starts as early as grade 1. But is actually anybody (teachers and parents) taking note of this? Read the full curriculum. It’s a glimpse at the future of South African design.