Discussions on innovation either explicitly or implicitly have at their center the entity that is the object of the innovation process, often itself called an innovation. Virtually anything can be an object of innovation – products and services certainly, but also processes, organizations, and anything that is the result of intentional human activity. It would be useful to have a word that encompasses the rich variety of human innovations. Well, such a word exists.
The term ‘artifact’ was used by Herbert Simon in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial, to refer to phenomenon or entities that are ‘artificial’ in the sense that they are contingent upon a designer (as opposed to natural phenomenon). The term artifact refers to any human creation that produces an outcome or experience that is measurable and meaningful to one or more individuals. In this sense, artifacts include what are commonly called products and services and also encompass rule-systems such as business models, organizational structures, and operations used to organize the production and delivery of other artifacts. It includes any transformation that is the result of intentional human action.
Artifacts are the result of doing innovation. A new artifact that is adopted is an innovation. The artifact is the object of the innovation process and can be anything that will change human interaction with the world.
The use of the term artifact has been gaining in prevalence. People like Kevin Kelley, Brian Arthur and David Lane have been using the term because it is so useful, meaningful and accurate. It conveys exactly the right essence of what we are focusing on when we discuss innovation, the human created entity that can have both tangible and intangible aspects and that can be so much more than just a physical or informational object. The term does not presuppose or limit the ultimate nature of what it is we, as innovators, are trying to accomplish. It is as complex or as simple as is necessary
So, let’s embrace the term as the focus of, and reason for, our innovation efforts – the Artifact.