Too many people try to think outside of the box, especially when it comes to product design. I guess they think that being outside of the box will automatically classify their efforts as creative. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Good design doesn’t always require creativity. Innovation does. So I guess before starting to design a product you need to decide, “Am I’m designing or innovating?” Once you get that down, you’ll be much more successful with your creations.
A quick example of this might be if you were a shirt designer. You might decide to “design outside of the box” by moving the shirt pocket from the left side to the right. The shirt was already working fine though as shirt users expect the pocket to be on the left side. In this case, you wouldn’t reinvent the shirt, just redesign it to make it look better. Maybe try a new pattern or a different color, but don’t try to innovate the already functioning shirt. You have to consistently use common sense to achieve intelligent design.
I believe great design is 98% common sense, and 2% aesthetics. Think of Apple with their sleek and simple computers and iPods. They only include buttons that add function and make sense to where the user would intuitively find them. Combining a monitor with the computer was nothing innovative when the iMac first launched in ’98. Manufacturers had been doing this since the Eighties. Apple just designed it right using coming sense and clean looks.
In my industry, far too many web designers disregard common sense in where they place page menus, graphics, and even how the site works. They constantly try to reinvent the functionality of the website rather than sticking with what works, and developing a clean and creative way of “displaying” it (think of the majority of Flash sites). That said, maybe sometimes you need to just think inside the already working box. Just change the color or something.