Design-Driven Innovation

Design-Driven InnovationA while back I received Design-Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti in the mail. Design-Driven Innovation is an approachable 230 pages, and is an easy, and pleasant read.

Roberto Verganti is Professor of Management of Innovation Politecnico di Milano and the founder of PROject Science.

If you’ve read books on innovation, they’ve probably been treatises or essays on the topic from a traditional process or strategy angle. Design-Driven Innovation is something different. The book is focused on the idea that businesses have the opportunity not just to create innovations that are technology push or market pull (user-centered), but also to create innovations that make meaning.

Design-driven innovation is more about understanding the real meanings that users give to things then about understanding their needs. This is not some new jargon for needs-based or jobs-to-be-done innovation, and while for some people the distinction that design-driven innovation offers may be too subtle, for others it will seem like touchy-feely poppycock. For me it was pure bliss because it is all about insight.

The book is broken into three main sections:

  1. Strategy
  2. Process
  3. Building Capabilities

Here are some of the core principles from the book to spark your thinking:

  • Every product has a meaning and design helps to make sense of things
  • Innovation is achieved not just by achieving a new level of performance but also by achieving a new level of meaning
  • New meanings must not just be anticipated, they must also be educated
  • New meanings don’t come purely from user observation or interrogation
  • New meanings don’t come from identifying what people would love in the existing scenario, but from seeing what people could love in a yet-to-exist scenario
  • Radical innovations in meaning spring from identifying and leveraging new cultural paradigms
  • Technology epiphanies occur when companies utilize new technology to not just replace existing technology, but to create new meaning
  • When top executives ask for financial analysis before they decide something, they are are not convinced. When this is the case, no amount of financial analysis will convince them.
  • A valuable product with personality will have greater longevity than one without a personality
  • You must do experimental innovation to test and find the borderline – If your offering is too safe or too aggressive it won’t find its optimal success
  • Finding and securing the best interpreters of meaning will determine whether you can succeed at design-driven innovation
  • Building, listening, and participating in a design discourse of the right interpreters is a key to design-driven innovation success
  • It is possible to integrate design-driven innovation together with user-centered design and traditional industrial design if you use the outputs of one as inputs into the next
  • The relational assets of the design discourse need to be actively cataloged and managed
  • Top management has an important role to play in attracting, selecting, and directing

Taken all together I found Design-Driven Innovation to present a clear vision for how organizations can use design to drive innovation, but I wonder how many organizations not already pursuing this path will actually have the courage to pursue this riskier but potentially more rewarding approach to innovation. But is it riskier? If all of your competitors start pursuing innovation , and do so in the same exact manner that you do, will you actually achieve competitive separation?

I would love to hear what you think in the comments (especially if you’ve read this book).


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

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5 Responses to Design-Driven Innovation

  1. I’ve read 2/3 of the book, italian version. I believe it is not useful only for managers and executive that want to stay on the edge.
    The book lead the reader to be aware of how different could be the approach to innovation. From a designer or engineer point of view, incremental or technical-driven innovation are the natural way to evolve their products/systems/process. To know how design-driven innovation can be achieved, could drive your work in the right direction.

  2. David Gross says:

    Point he makes about financial analysis should be bolded with an exclamation point.

    I’ve worked as a financial analyst, and I know a project is going nowhere when an internal advocate is trying to get me to prove some wonderful financial payback to his CEO. The numbers are good for backing up an exec’s intuition, but they rarely sell a project on their own.

  3. Pingback: Innovation | Pearltrees

  4. Claudia Saviera Winzen, Consultant and Change Agent says:

    Creating “Meaning” for all users is for me one aspect … Meaning I would define in a wider sense with sustainable positive effects for the whole chain.
    How does the innovation serve all people involved not only my target group?

    What consequences does it also have for those that are involved indirectly? So what is the foundation for creating “meaning”?

    From my point of view it is to have the right intention/purpose behind it.

  5. Pingback: Design-Driven Innovation | Infoglobalbusiness

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