Bruce Nussbaum: Creative Innovation Through Meaningful Design [PSFK 2013]

Bruce Nussbaum: Creative Innovation Through Meaningful Design [PSFK 2013]

Former assistant managing editor of BusinessWeek develops ideas to help people get out of the creativity rut our culture is in.

Betsy Mead
  • 12 april 2013

As part of the run-up to PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 in New York this April, PSFK will be publishing a series of short interviews with speakers to give a taste of what will be discussed in this meeting of creative minds. Bruce Nussbaum, former Assistant Managing Editor of Businessweek and author of the new book Creative Intelligence, will talk about the nature of design and and fresh ways of delivering innovation. Here he speaks to PSFK about his work:

Where did you get the inspiration for your book Creative Intelligence?

I got really bored with the conversation around design, and design thinking, around four years ago. I realized we had got stuck in a rut. Progress and expansion had been stop-start. Around that time I came to Parsons and was exposed to a whole different kind of design on the fashion side. That gave me a new perspective. I believed we needed to go much deeper in design and see it as part of social movement and a deeper culture. We had moved to such things as user needs, which is all well and good, but still fairly shallow. Setting up design in terms of the existential takes you to a different set of concepts, like aura and engagement. That spawned the idea for the book.

How has the way we think affected our creativity?

What we embody as a generation and an individual led me to thinking about some of the processes that we have with design, such as brainstorming. In this method, we throw out a lot of ideas hoping that one will stick. It doesn’t work that way. Often you need to go back to an older idea, like the playboard or the magic circle, which you find identifying the greatest generation of creativity. You find circles everywhere–2 or 3 or 4 people who trust each other and are comfortable with innovating together. We talk a lot about storytelling, the building block of most design, so we need to go beyond the story, and flesh it out, which can be done via participation and framing our narrative in a cohesive manner. In my book I examined with a number of these concepts: namely knowledge minding, framing and ‘playing’ rather than failing fast and failing often.

How did your experience at Parsons inform your perspective on design thinking?

I presented design thinking to a lot of students, and I would say about 1/3 were fashion students. When we talk about design, we talk about product and internet design but not necessarily fashion. The fact of the matter is that some of the fashion industry greats are the best designers out there. They are deeply connected with culture, and have to produce an entirely new collection twice a year, so they constantly need to keep their pulse on what is current and happening.

What is your ultimate vision for the future of design?

I would like to see someone come up with money for a C-School in New York that would complement the things it generates. New York really needs its own D-school for its own culture. Let’s call it a C-School! We don’t want a D-School, we don’t want it focusing on tech but one that focuses on culture and creativity so we want to comment design from more cultural point of view, as opposed to technological point of view, because most design and most creativity would do well by first focusing on what is meaningful to people and then finding the technology to deliver.  The Google model of engineers just having a great time coming up with inventions and then showing them to the world to see what works is also particularly inspirational, and some tenets could be used from that.

We need to also return to ‘making’. For about 20 years people with design thinking we focused on strategy and on branding, which are all very important. I wanted to bring back ‘making’ especially now that we have new technologies that are making, ‘making’ possible again on a vast scale. People want the confidence that comes out of putting together a product.

Thanks Bruce! Creative Intelligence

To learn more about PSFK CONFERENCE 2013, click here, and to watch the live stream go to, where the action will be live until 5:30pm EST.



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