Trend report: Designing failure

The art of failure has come into focus across the creative industries recently. Designers, strategists and planners are embracing and celebrating failure as a viable way of encouraging innovation, and disruption, deviance and engineered errors are pushing the boundaries of design, delivering an antidote to mass manufacturing. The Harvard Business Review dedicated the whole of its April 2011 issue to the concept of failure, and business magazine Fast Company has begun to regularly feature contributors’ articles on the value of making mistakes. Consumers are chasing failure as well, purchasing products that have errors and inaccuracies as their USPs.

In one Fast Company article James Hunt, head of transdisciplinary design at Parson, identified certain types of failure that work best for innovation. “We can recognise that there are valuable kinds of failure that are essential to innovation processes, while acknowledging that there are other types of failure that do little good,” he argues. “The old adage is correct: We do learn from failure. And there’s no question that out of failure – even abject failure – we emerge transformed in ways that may ultimately be beneficial.”

This is not to say that failure is always good – it can suck up valuable time and resources. John Roberts, author of The Necessity of Errors, blames the current economic system, pointing out that it has left little leeway for failure. “Capitalism does not reward failure in the market,” he explains. “If a company deliberately develops a product that is badly designed or outmoded or dangerous, and therefore has no use-value, the company will go out of business.”

But despite Roberts’ warnings some companies, such as digital design agency ustwo, have put the fear of financial failure to one side and have embraced failing as a vital tool for their business. Co-founder Matt Miller, better known as Mills, says: “Failure never crosses our lips or minds. Instead we refer only to ‘succailure’, a word devised to encapsulate the positive associations and learning gained following deployment of a product to niche markets.”

One example of this in action is Papercut, an interactive reading app created by ustwo in order to “disrupt and show publishing houses that a UI/UX studio had the balls to do something they should have done”. The app combined sound, video and text to tell stories, garnered international acclaim, and was app of the week in the Apple App store. Unfortunately, it barely made any money.

But according to Mills: “There is always success to be found in failure, especially if you have the desire to use past knowledge gained in your future projects. It’s only ever failure if you look back at the end of it all and see that you never pushed the envelope. I’d rather be seen as someone willing to put it out to get picked up over someone who keeps it inside forever.”


For the 'Err' project artist Jeremy Hutchison asked factory workers to create an ‘incorrect’ version of their product. Clockwise from top left: walking stick by Carlos Barrachina, shoes by Qing Li, Comb by Mr Kartick, pipe by Soner Demirel. Photography: Victoria Ling

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Ecommerce Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Editor, Digital Art and 3D Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.