Placing Design into the Innovation Equation

Let me be clear, this is not my blog entry I really wish it was. It is the relevant part of a blog written by Sarah Stein Greenberg ( that just seemed to hit one of those ‘buttons’ that sum something up so well, and in this case, I think the best compliment is to just share it. I’ve put in what I feel are appropriate headings for ease of reading only.

It is about the power of design and interaction to make something new happen fast.

Tackling messy problems

“A pressing question for more established economies… is how to foster more entrepreneurship and innovation despite greater stability and predictability. One method that companies and individuals are adopting is design thinking—the approach of scaling or “group-sizing” the way that solo designers have always worked to enable to cross-functional teams tackle messy problems that don’t fit neatly into any one person’s job description or academic discipline.

Design thinking is one way to simulate some of the extremely dynamic conditions of an emerging economy and foster entrepreneurship in the US.

Forcing direct contact with users

The idea is to put teams in situations where they are forced to synthesize meaningful opportunities out of a lot of highly subjective data about the world and the needs of end users. At the Stanford, for example, classes are all project based, and require students to have direct contact with users to gain empathy and test ideas, including the use of ethnographic research to quickly gain insight into unfamiliar environments, communities, and systems.

Imposed constrained time lines

The projects also force students to operate under highly constrained timelines. This can effectively replicate the whirlwind conditions that entrepreneurs in emerging markets experience – consumer needs and the whole ecosystem are changing so rapidly that they have to adopt an iterative approach to nearly everything. Cultivating skills in quickly assessing complex situations with fresh eyes – and swiftly getting prototypes out into the world to test ideas concretely are what allow design thinkers to conquer uncertainty and create concrete opportunities from open-ended project mandates.

A wonderful example of  taking a ‘raw’ idea into a fast prototype

Two graduate students taking a course this past spring used design thinking to go from idea to revenue-generating product in just 6 weeks. That product is Pulse, which quickly shot up the iPad app charts to become the number one selling app. Pulse is a newsreader that allows users to rapidly toggle between multiple sources and articles.

Once they had the original seed of the idea from conducting user research, the Pulse founders sat in a café and tested a low-resolution version of their product with potential users. They quickly iterated in response to feedback, coding new aspects of the software in the time it took to drink a latte. Unconcerned with whether the next version was 100% ready or “right,” their bias was to learn from low-res prototypes as quickly as they could.

By using design thinking to collaborate and innovate, these two students were able to upend what seemed like an established market for digital newsreaders and compete with major incumbent players like the New York Times. Skills in design thinking are a foundation for finding hidden patterns and making something real and actionable emerges from an uncertain environment.”

My comment: this is such a great illustration of the power of design interacting with potential users, so as to discover if the idea firstly ‘gels, meets a need and can be worked on really fast in prototypes to deliver on that.

4 thoughts on “Placing Design into the Innovation Equation

  1. Pingback: Reducing confusion, promoting diffusion for new knowledge in innovation | Paul4innovating's Blog

  2. Pingback: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion : STRATEGIES

  3. Pingback: Reducing Confusion, Promoting Diffusion | Innovation Management

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