Innovation is what most companies rely on to fuel business growth. After all, in a competitive economic climate, can you really afford to rely on business as usual?
Dr Bettina von Stamm reveals how in today's fast-changing environment, innovation is at the heart of adding value to products and services, stimulating sales growth, and exploiting new markets. It is the art of making new connections, and continuously challenging the status quo - without changing things just for the sake of change.
When people talked about innovation in the '90s, they really meant technology. When people talk about innovation in this decade, they really mean design.' Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek
Read the rest of Nussbaum's article on innovation
Innovation is often described as the commercially successful exploitation of ideas. This definition associates innovation with a tangible outcome. However, in today's fast-changing environment this is not enough. Innovation is the art of making new connections, and continuously challenging the status quo - without changing things for change's sake. Hence, innovation can also be defined as a frame of mind.
What does design have to do with innovation?
Design has an important part to play in delivering innovative ideas. In the Cox Review of creativity and business it is said that 'Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become pracitical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.'
Successful innovation is first, and most importantly, about creating value. Designers do this either by improving existing goods, processes or services (incremental innovation), or by developing goods, processes or services of value that have not existed previously (radical innovation). However, both kinds of innovation require you to do the following:
- Challenge the status quo
- Have an understanding of and insights into consumer needs
- Develop imaginative and novel solutions.
In addition, innovation is generally associated with the following:
The willingness to take risk
Accepting high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty
A passion to drive the idea through to conclusions
The ability to inspire passion in others.
Design is about doing things consciously, and not because they have always been done in a certain way. It is about comparing alternatives to select the best possible solution. It is about exploring and experimenting.
Designers are frequently considered to:
- Be tolerant of ambiguity
- Perceive the world differently
- See possibilities
- Ask questions
- Be divergent thinkers
- Want to change the status quo
- Be happy to take risk.
Ultimately, the requirements for successful innovation dovetail neatly with design practices and design thinking.
So is innovative thinking best left to designers?
This does not mean that innovation should be left to the designers, but clearly indicates that designers have an important contribution to make to the innovation process. As the UK Government White Paper on Competitiveness (1995) states:
'The effective use of design is fundamental to the creation of innovative products, processes and services. Good design can significantly add value to products, lead to growth in sales and enable both the exploitation of new markets and the consolidation of existing ones.' Competitiveness White Paper 1995
However, even though the link between the skills and abilities of designers and the skills and abilities required for innovation seem quite obvious, many organisations still do not exploit the skills of designers in order to innovate.
But it should be pointed out that what is becoming known as 'design thinking' is essential to innovation - perhaps even more so than designers themselves. Design thinking is based on consumer focus, early visualisation and experimentation, all of which are key to innovation.
Browse through our collection of articles and speeches to find out more about design thinking
Who’s responsible for innovation?
Most of the efforts to promote design and its contribution to innovation are coming from the design community, rather than the business and innovation community.
Both innovation and design require cross-disciplinary co-ordination - but universities and business schools tend to operate strictly within departmental boundaries. Very few business schools have a department of innovation or design, and as a consequence both disciplines are being treated and taught in a very fragmented fashion to business people - if they are taught at all.
Find out how the Multi-disciplinary Design Network which was formed in 2006 to support the implementation of the Cox Review which recommended the establishment of ‘Centres of Excellence’ – universities offering postgraduate multi-disciplinary programmes combining design, business, science and engineering teaching and practice.
Furthermore, many people think of 'product', ie the end result, when talking about design and innovation. However, innovation can usefully be viewed as being more about a certain frame of mind rather than a tangible product or a new technology. An innovative mindset will seek to improve and change in order to increase value - be it a process, a product, or a business model. In an innovative organisation, innovation will not be the domain of a department or small group of people, but the responsibility of everyone, and design will be a key facilitator, embedded into the organisation's culture.
Find out more about ...
Designing Demand, our support programme that helps small businesses use innovation to achieve growth.
Innovate for universities, a support programme for university science and technology developers.
Public Services by Design, a support programme that's helping enable public sector transformation through design methods.
Read more on the Department of Business Innovation and Skills' innovation website
Find out how Business Link helps inventors and innovators
Read on for case studies of particular products or designer-business relationships, that show how design and innovation work at the core of the company's strategy. It is not about bringing in a designer for a new product once every few years, and it is not about a one-day wonder. It is about making design and innovation a way of life, it is about questioning and challenging what is done and how, and where there might be an opportunity to add value.