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Design empowered innovation combines the best of right and left brain thinking. It has the capacity to deliver better ideas, with more relevance, realized earlier. By focusing on individuals, moments and journeys in ethnography, insights become deeper. By embracing chaos and play in brainstorms, creative teams can explore further. By iterating and early prototyping, ideas become real and develop more rapidly.

Innovation is key to competitiveness in the global economy. According to a recent BCG report 7 out of 10 senior executives name innovation as their top priority for growth.

But, too often this so-called “innovation” is just a rearrangement of an existing offer (a “renovation”), or it fails altogether. According to figures from Doblin Group 96 percent of all new projects fail to meet or beat targets for ROI.

7 out of 10 senior executives name innovation as their top priority for growth (BCG).

The answer to this massive wasted investment may come from the world of design. Designers and design tools can advance innovation solutions from mystery, exploration to experimentation. However, their tools are largely insulated within the design community. Integrating design’s best tools into our marketing, research and business innovation expertise could help deliver those illusive, disruptive ideas that we perpetually search for.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking:

  • Provides organisations with a deeper understanding of their consumers as individuals: through a human-centred approach delivered through intimate, almost nano-scale ethnography (user journeys and touch points),
  • Increases the volume, breadth and relevancy of ideas along with quality of exploration: creating strict constraints (problem definition), zooming out to examine the problem as part of its surrounding eco-system, then exploring beyond the stated problem toward disruptive new solutions,
  • Fosters an expert culture of tireless, iterative prototyping that makes ideas ‘real’ and accelerates the speed at which they develop.

A definition of Design Thinking could therefore be ‘the application of industrial design tools and a human centered approach, by a multi-disciplinary team of hybrid individuals, to a given innovation problem.’

Why do we need it?

96% of all new projects fail to meet or beat targets for ROI (Doblin Group).

Creativity cannot be ‘turned on’ for short designated periods. It doesn’t work within an overly constraining linear process. Each project and innovation team is different and requires flexibility and the freedom to learn as the project organically evolves. A design empowered innovation process embraces dynamism and is centered around the ideas, with each surrounding activity managed in a responsive, bespoke manner.

The key elements are:

  • Strategic Direction to identify the strategic innovation opportunity and build the business case,
  • Free Thinking Inspiration to understand change, imagine the future, anticipate desires,
  • Ideation & Co-creation to unleash creativity, generate and co-create big ideas, and
  • Prototyping & Optimisation to kill the weakest ideas and enhance the strongest.

In practice, this means:

Understanding Context: Zooming Out AND In

Once the objective of a project has been properly framed, people’s natural tendency is to roll up their sleeves and ‘leap in’. Design empowered innovation starts off by leaping out. What does the existing and future ecosystem consist of? Who are the different types of users directly or indirectly affected by our products/services (I.e. restricted users, haters, customisers and adjacent users)? Who are our immediate and cross category competitors? How is the surrounding context evolving?

Observation AND a future-focused insight program

Observation provides innovation with real meaning and utility. But, observation alone has a tendency to solve today’s problems rather than tomorrow’s. Complement observation with expert input, trend analysis, cultural insight and leading-edge consumer interaction. This balance is essential in creating disruptive innovation that resonates culturally and personally today, but stays relevant for tomorrow.

Convergent left brain AND divergent right brain expertise

Design thinking initiatives have stumbled by attempting to embed creative and analytical abilities simultaneously. Design empowered innovation mobilises chaotic, free creativity at specific moments in the innovation journey. It also implements convergent, analytical activities; but never at the same time. This frees creative minds to reach their true potential, while supported by a robust business-thinking innovation framework.

Marketers AND unlikely partners

Design empowered innovation is discipline-agnostic. Cross-functional teams, within the organisation and beyond, provide perspectives that balance and complement each other, driving disruptive innovation.

Prototyping AND consumer concept optimisation

Traditionally, at the front end of innovation, design agencies have provided prototyping expertise, making ideas real early on, for clients to decide between multiple solutions.

Insight agencies, on the other hand, have provided an understanding of consumers’ reactions to abstract concepts through qualitative and – later – quantitative testing.

A design empowered innovation approach uses both, exploiting traditional qualitative and quantitative consumer testing expertise but with innovation prototypes. By making solutions real for consumers through models, theatrics, film, emotional stimulus, the insights gained are richer and more valuable. This also takes the risk out of innovations by understanding their merits more deeply, prior to investment in any launch activities.

Organisations can stimulate more disruptive thinking by combining the best of design thinking with existing skills in insight and marketing strategy.  And with a design thinking led approach, those organizations can improve creative delivery and increase innovation success rates. If you have any personal experience of how harnessing the rigorous analysis of left brain thinking with the creativity of right brain thinking has led to better, faster innovation, the authors would love to hear from you. Please share examples, as well as any general thoughts or comments on design thinking in innovation in the comments function below.

By Ben Wood, Innovation Director, Mark Whiting, Director and David Stocks, Project Manager

About the authors

Ben Wood is the Director responsible for the Added Value Group’s Innovation R&D and leads global innovation/NPD projects across a range of categories including fashion, fmcg, beer & spirits and luxury. Ben is also instrumental in developing AV’s digital offer AV-id™.

Mark Whiting, Director at Added Value and an expert in luxury and brand strategy development, innovation and creativity based on cultural insights. He also runs an ESOMAR workshop on “Measuring Emotions” and is a frequent conference speaker. He headed the Global Research team at Moët Hennessy (LVMH) before joining Added Value in 2010.

David Stocks worked on brand development and innovation strategy at Added Value. Previously in Industrial Design, David worked in-house and freelance, designing products from toys to medical equipment, housewares, TVs and even baby bottles. He now works as Strategic Planner at Possible Worldwide.