On prototyping…

Each year, the economies of the world are ranked according to their ability to innovate. The Economist Intelligence Unit, working with Cisco, publishes a global index of innovation, measured by the patents registered in the US, Europe and Japan.

By their own admission, this is an imperfect measure. But it does open a window into the vibrant, experimental, and entrepreneurial world of innovation. And much of it driven by the inventive output of creative industries. The thinking goes that registering a patent is the culmination of a complex set of interactions that assumes a high level of education and technical skills, effective broadband penetration and reasonable spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP.

Prototyping is innovation in practice. But since most in the creative industries sector value the exchange of ideas over the ownership of ideas, this essential measure of Australian ingenuity remains invisible to those taking the temperature of a nations’ creative ‘mojo’. Innovation in art, craft and design is rarely registered as Intellectual Property. In fact, the reverse. The sector shares openly, actively training a next generation of practitioners and apprentices. In economic terms, this creative GDP is rarely counted as an input, and even more rarely registered as an output.

It’s just one reason Australia needs a National Design Policy. And here’s hoping the Federal Government moves in this direction are well advised.

And unlike scientific innovation, experimentation in the world of art, craft and design always occurs in the public domain. The city acts as the laboratory. As a result, we’re able to interact with the physical assemblage of our built environment. Because ultimately art, craft and design has a physical form and scale that invites us to interact with it at a visceral as well as intellectual level.

In his book, the ‘Triumph of Cities’, Harvard Professor of Economics Ed Glaeser tracks the booming centres of innovation like Detroit (cars), Silicon Valley (computing & software), and the emerging markets of Bangalore. All, Glaeser believes, achieve success because they allowed clustered networks of innovators to flourish for one reason or another. All succeeded because of trial and error, and all by learning from their peers.

All, it seems, used prototyping as an essential platform for their success. Often, ones prototype became the inspiration for anothers patent. Glaeser recounts a young Henry Ford on a bicycle following along behind a friends early prototype for an internal combustion powered car. And from this, the Model T emerged. Or something to that effect.

But prototyping is more than the act of making. Fabrication is an act. Prototyping implies an intent. Intent to invent beyond current practice. An intent to trial, and in failing, to learn.

At a time of unprecedented ‘innovation deprivation’ in financial markets and public policy, economists would do well to learn from the art of embracing failure as an essential plank in success. Those artists featured in this exhibition provide more than beautiful objects. They provide a prototype of process itself.


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