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The Power of the Design Concept

In his brilliant book Where Good Ideas Come From: Natural History of Innovation Steven B. Johnson talks about the “adjacent possible,” a shadow future that provides us with a map on how the present can “reinvent itself,” based on the knowledge and technologies we have today. The more you explore the adjacent possible, the more you broaden its boundaries, exponentially growing the opportunities for invention and innovation.

Perhaps the clearest example of the adjacent possible is the work of British inventor Charles Babbage and his Difference and Analytical Engines. The Analytical Engine, a concept of the world’s first programmable computer, earned Babbage the father of the computer title. But it was his Difference Engine, the world’s most advanced mechanical calculator, that created immediate innovation opportunities. Why? Because it was within the adjacent possible of the time.

That is exactly what design concepts and prototypes are. At Artefact, we invest in them to show our thinking and demonstrate a powerful creative vision.  Concepts and prototypes are also a way for us to connect with partners and clients who share that vision. But each one is also an exploration of the adjacent possible that opens paths for even more new ideas, accelerating progress and turning the adjacent possible into reality.

Our SWYP (See What You Print) printer concept, is one of our most popular concepts. It has won awards and opened doors for partner conversations. In the four years since we released it, we have received hundreds of direct inquiries like “Where can I get this from? How much does it cost? Can I be the distributor of SWYP in Turkey?” We struck a chord, not only because we radically transformed a utilitarian device, but because we have shape to an idea and that made it reachable.

We hope that many of our ideas, from Civic IQ to In the Cards, from Dialog to Chronicle, push the boundaries of the adjacent possible and become our Difference Engines, or as 21st Century Designers would say, engines that make a difference.