Designing and innovation

Designers excel at deeply understanding problems and collaborating with others to develop solutions. A critical element is framing or understanding the underlying problem. To frame problems, designers apply system thinking approaching the problem as one part of a broader context. Danish insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk developed an insulin delivery system in the form of a “pen” that replaced syringes. The pen was more comfortable for diabetics, but to market it successfully, Novo Nordisk had to engage with diabetes educators, family physicians and specialists: all part of the diabetic’s “usage system”.

The problem is constantly reframed as the project progresses. To learn as they go, they develop prototypes. At Kaiser Permanente hospitals, an innovation team developed role-plays in which “mothers” were shown new processes in the maternity unit. With many iterations and refinements, the team developed a rich understanding of the system’s problems and redesigned it to improve patient experience.

To many business people, innovators are the Harry Potters of the business world: masters of a little understood black art. Yet innovation is less about sorcery than about learning how to think differently. Who better to learn from than those who are in the business of innovating on a daily basis? The design profession those who dream up new products, new stores, new cities offers lessons that businesses would do well to consider.

Many companies miss opportunities by being too internally focused. By contrast, designers actively invite outsiders into the innovation process. In particular, designers conduct ethnographic research to observe users “in the wild” as they use products and services in the real world and learn to empathize with their problems. Some actually co-design products with users. Designers welcome ideas from any source – diversity can provide a wealth of ideas. Toyota focuses on “t- shaped” people with both a broad perspective across disciplines and deep expertise in one, Imagination, the ability to envisage new possibilities, permeates the entire design process. As they frame the problem observe customers and work with the design team designers
are constantly on the lookout for ideas. In addition, they use structured brainstorming methods with strict rules of engagement to dream up concepts.

All design problems have constraints, and to most business people, constraints are barriers, challenges that must be overcome. For designers, constraints help focus the project and inspire creativity. At Google, tight technical and time constraints allow software engineers to focus on what is really essential to users; yet constraints are balanced with a vision of optimism and possibility.

These six components – system thinking, prototyping, ethnography, diversity, imagination and constraints are the essence of design. However, simply adopting any process is not enough and attitude is at least as important. Great designers and innovation companies are optimistic, curious, empathetic, open to new ideas and responsible.

Manufacturers, service providers, and retailers seek new designs to create differentiation and establish a more complete connection with consumers. Holistic marketers recognize the emotional power of design and the importance of how things look and feel. Design is now more fully integrated into the marketing management process. For example:

Manufacturers, service providers, and retailers seek new designs to create differentiation and establish a more complete connection with consumers. Holistic marketers recognize the emotional power of design and the importance of how things look and feel. Design is now more fully integrated into the marketing management process. For example:.

A bad design can also ruin a product’s prospects. Sony’s e-Villa internet appliance was intended to allow consumers to have internet access from their kitchens. But at nearly 32 pounds and 16 inches, the mammoth product was so awkward and heavy that the owner’s manual recommended customers bend their legs, not their back, to pick it up. The product was eventually withdrawn after three months.