Notes from Design Driven Innovation

Kindle notes from Design Driven Innovation, by Roberto Verganti.

Major impressions

  • While lots of inputs are helpful early in the process, it is ultimately up to individuals to craft pointed visions.
  • Focus on the new “meanings” your proposal could bring to people; basically, how will it change their lives in an emotional way?
  • One good way to do this is bring in external designers and inspirations; “bridges” to areas that currently have different meanings from your market.
  • All design exists in an ecosystem of inspiration, resources, and other designers; engaging with that ecosystem is important.
  • Executives need to value design and know how to recruit design leaders. Especially they should appreciate that “the cost of not conceiving a better alternative is often much higher than making the wrong choice among existing alternatives.”
  • They also need to have a direction: “No interesting designer in the world will collaborate with a company that does not know where to go,” says Eugenio Perazza
  • Imitating other firms is not only a poor strategy for success; it also poisons the well, as innovative designers don’t want to work with imitators.

What is design-driven innovation?

Herbert Simon [said] that “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” – 334

The process of design-driven innovation is a research project-that is, it is exploratory, it aims at creating an entire breakthrough product family or new business, and it occurs before product development (see figure 8-1). It is not the fast creative and brainstorming sessions that are typical of concept generation but rather a deep investigation that, like technological research, escapes attempts to imprison innovation in simple, sequential ten-step rules. – 1837

It also plants in people’s minds what Swedish neuroscientist David Ingvar has called “memories of the future.” The work of Ingvar and American scientist William Calvin has shown that thinking about potential future developments opens your mind so that you are ready to see the signs relevant to those developments if and when they occur. – 2044

Three capabilities underpin design-driven innovation: relational assets with key interpreters, internal assets (your own knowledge and seductive power), and the interpretation process. – 2097

Design as “meaning”:

He clarified that “when [ordinary people] … are presented with very personal items, they relate these in the following terms: who gave it to them; how it was acquired; of whom it reminds them; in which circumstances it figured prominently; how much care, service, repair, or even affection it consumed; how well it fits with other possessions; how enjoyable its presence is; how it feels; and how close it is to the user’s definition of him/herself.” – 372

The way we give meaning to things depends strongly on our values, beliefs, norms, and traditions. In other words, they reflect our cultural model. – 640

It is the only thing that Target could not imitate. And when it comes to meaning, people are very sensitive to authenticity. – 1041

When people buy purely functional features, they pay less attention to distinguishing the original innovator from imitators: they look instead for the best utility-price ratio. But when people also seek emotional and symbolic value, possessing the authentic original product makes a formidable difference. In design-driven innovation, people do look for the innovator. Competitors can easily imitate a product’s function and even its form, but they will never be able to imitate its real meaning, because that meaning is inextricably attached to the innovator’s brand. – 2069

Examples of meaningful designs:

The owner uses a remote-control device to alter the colored ambient light according to his mood and the situation. The indigo blue atmosphere, called “dream,” slowly dims as the owner gets into bed. Other configurations of the light encourage relaxation, interactivity, creativity, and love. – 365

The Wii transformed what a console meant: from an immersion in a virtual world approachable only by niche experts into an active workout, in the real world, for everyone. – 728

And TV commercials for the Wii reinforced the overturning of meaning. Instead of showing virtual images, the ads turned the camera 180 degrees toward the people who were playing-typically representing many ages-as they moved and enjoyed themselves. – 732

The Wii does not merely add a new functionality (being sensitive to movements of the controller) to a traditional game console, but creates a radically different meaning that is conveyed by all aspects of the product, including the brand, the product name, and the commercials. – 740

“Doing your physical therapy is pretty boring,” attested a therapist. “If you can make it into an enjoyable activity where you’re moving physically and going through motions that are helping you recover, and as a part of that you’re playing games that are fun, it’s just a great, creative use of the technology.”7 – 776

Alessi’s diagram to measure the innovativeness of a proposal – 1435

The context for design-driven innovation:

Executives who have invested in radical innovation of meaning acknowledge that rather than start with user needs, the process goes in the opposite direction: the company proposes a breakthrough vision. – 586

When investing in radical innovation of meaning, companies such as Artemide and Alessi take a step back and investigate the evolution of society, economy, culture, art, science, and technology. – 662

When we want to develop design-driven innovations, therefore, an interesting question is, What other companies in other industries are targeting the same people in the same life context? Which kinds of other products or services are these people using, or could they use? All these interpreters have some knowledge of the meanings and languages we are investigating. And they would probably be eager to share it and to understand our interpretations, as they confront the same problems and have the same interests. – 1399

Developing a scenario with noncompeting firms also makes it more likely that a coherent way of living will occur in the market, because the actors will create products and services that fit together both functionally and symbolically. – 1404

We found, first, that innovators tend to rely on external designers more than their competitors do. – 1492

If you only have an internal design staff, even an enormously talented one, you are inherently limited by their existing world view and experiences. – 1494

Successful manufacturers have an average portfolio of 11.9 external design firms, compared with 4.4 for imitators, with companies such as B&B and Kartell having about 30 each. That average does not include Artemide and Alessi, which cooperate with more than 50 and 200 external design firms, respectively, each with a different voice in and opinion on the design discourse. – 1500

According to Sottsass, “I’m always offended when they say that I play when I do Memphis work; actually I’m very serious, I’m never more serious than when I do Memphis work. It’s when I design machines for Olivetti that I play.” 19 – 1594

A study by Michael Farrell explains why radical innovations often occur within collaborative circles. By analyzing major shifts in literature, painting, and science, he shows how breakthrough thinking benefits from the interaction, mutual trust, and sense of mission typical of circles. They provide an encouraging, familiar, segregated environment where pioneering minds can explore new avenues. Within this environment, members are more likely to survive skepticism and criticism by the dominant culture. They realize they are not alone, and they sustain each other in early experiments through the frustration of failure. – 1779

In particular, the design-driven lab embraces four activities: The first concerns strategy. The lab is the most attentive observer and champion of opportunities for design-driven innovation…The second role of the design-driven lab is to enable the development and renewal of relational assets…The third role of the design-driven lab is to nurture the interpretation process-that is, to enable design-driven research projects…Finally, the design-driven lab helps your company address the design discourse. – 2189-2205

The design-driven lab is, rather, an enabler-a methodological repository whose role is to value all these companywide assets and direct, harness, focus, build, and transform them into real value. – 2211

The role of executives:

Setting the direction, attracting and selecting key interpreters, and choosing the vision are the three key roles of top executives who want to promote design-driven innovation. – 2285

Executives do not need to be inventors, just as art dealers do not need to be artists. Both build their competitive advantage on their ability to identify, attract, and select key interpreters. The successful art dealer is one who is capable of finding the talents of the future and developing privileged relationships with them while competitors are still looking at acknowledged, mainstream artists. – 2298

On the one hand, they keep an eye on the institutionalized design discourse. – 2319

Sometimes I have the feeling that some executives are afraid of what they offer. If we asked them whether they would put their nametags on their products and services, they would probably decline, saying, “Our product reflects the merit of our design team.” Or, “We start from what users want. Our product is molded on their needs.” This implicitly also means that if the product fails, or if users are not completely delighted, it’s the responsibility of the design team or the users themselves. But Steve Jobs is saying, “We do not think most users will miss the optical drive.” And given that he is saying that, he is putting his nametag on the product. – 2343

Many of these executives are entrepreneurs. They have invested their own money. They are therefore extremely interested in financial payback. And they have shown that management practices can be more financially effective when they are not culturally neutral. – 2365

“We portray the manager as facing a set of alternatives from which a choice must be made. This decision attitude assumes it is easy to come up with alternatives to consider, but difficult to choose among them. The design attitude towards problem solving, in contrast, assumes that it is difficult to design a good alternative, but once you have developed a truly good one, the decision about which alternative to select is trivial. The design attitude appreciates that the cost of not conceiving a better alternative is often much higher than making the wrong choice among existing alternatives. – 2480

How to do the process:

First, Ernesto Gismondi says, the company looks at people, not users. When a company gets very close to a user, it sees him changing a lightbulb and loses the cognitive and sociocultural context-the fact that he has children, a job, and, most of all, aspirations and dreams. – 666

More precisely, the process of design-driven innovation is rooted in three actions (see figure 6-3): Listening to the design discourse…Interpreting…Addressing the design discourse: – 1434

This process is significantly different from the user-centered processes you are used to. First, the process speaks of deep research rather than fast brainstorming, of developing and sharing knowledge rather than pursuing extemporaneous creativity. This process resembles engineering research (although targeting meanings rather than technologies) more than the work of a creative agency. – 1442

The process of design-driven innovation – 1949

You should first identify the life context that is the focus of your innovation strategy. Next you should identify the categories of interpreters who are concerned with that life context. Then you should ask your firm’s organizational units that already have significant contacts with people in those categories to help identify potential interpreters. – 2135

The role of the individual designer (or “interpreter”):

First, a company should define the life context that its innovation project is addressing. For Barilla, that life context is a home kitchen. Second, a company should ask, Who are the interpreters who conduct research on how people could give meaning to things in that same life context, and who are likely to influence the emergence of new meanings? – 1513

The difference between innovators and imitators seems to stem from which interpreters firms choose. – 1526

Promoting a vision in which every designer is alike (see the dashed line in figure 7-3) implies transforming design into a commodity: the same qualities appear wherever you look.? – 1542

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior VP for design, acted as a broker of languages: before joining Apple, he had been an independent design consultant in London. His firm, Tangerine, was involved in designing household products (for example, Tangerine was a consultant for Ideal Standard, then a player in the bathroom and plumbing industry). Ive held the perfect network position to give Apple access to a world of household meanings and languages unknown to any other computer company. – 1624

An important criterion in identifying key interpreters, then, is to look for people who can act as bridges-that is, those who do not belong to your industry but who target your same life context. The more you create bridges to worlds that are relevant for your users but that are unusual for your competitors, the more you have a chance to end up with breakthrough proposals. – 1633

Indeed, a company that wants to start to create design-driven innovations, but has not yet built an extensive dialogue with the design discourse, may find this second type of interpreter, who helps build the firm’s network, much more useful than brokers who provide solutions directly. – 1645

By continuing to talk and write about the product’s role and meaning, the members of the design discourse disseminated knowledge of it to a wider audience. In the end they acted as amplifiers of a message they had helped to construct (see figure 8-2). – 1883

How to work with design interpreters:

However, most companies use regional centers only as antennas to detect local trends rather than to mediate local talent. The result is that large corporations often have no knowledge of the rich web of local relationships developed by their units, and they seldom leverage the full potential of global design. – 1704

Yet if you ask Mendini why he cooperated with Alessi, his answer has a completely different tone: “It is hard for me to distinguish if I’m working for Alessi or if Alessi is working for me.” – 1713

“No interesting designer in the world will collaborate with a company that does not know where to go,” says Eugenio Perazza, – 2107

How to introduce meaningful designs:

Prototypes make authorship manifest so that the interpreters in the design discourse can help the innovator build and defend its reputation. From that moment on, other companies in the industry will seldom use a similar vision, unless they acquire a reputation as imitators-not only among customers but also among interpreters. And imitators are not considered attractive by elite circles. – 2073

What makes this imitative strategy ineffective is that market feedback is-at an initial stage-very ambiguous, with several languages coexisting. As we have seen, the design discourse consists not of linear discussions but of open debates, as participants consider different visions simultaneously. Imitators-less skilled at design-driven research-can hardly interpret the meaning of these debates. In the beginning, it is unclear which product will be the winner, as new meanings introduced by an innovator often convert users slowly and take off gradually. Imitators perceive semiotic chaos and eventually chase everyone and imitate everything, launching products with different meanings and languages, further jeopardizing their brand. – 2079

Followup:

www.designdriveninnovation.com – 264

Regarding media, see Jay Greene, “Where Designers Rule: Electronics Maker Bang & Olufsen Doesn’t Ask Shoppers What They Want; Its Faith Is in Its Design Gurus” Business Week, November 5, 2007; Jeffrey E Durgee, “Freedom for Superstar Designers? Lessons from Art History,” Design Management Review 17, no. 3 (Summer 2006): 29-34. An example of the superstar stereotype is Van den Poop, a fictional superstar designer invented by IKEA to challenge high-end furniture manufacturers. Van den Puup, who appeared in IKEA advertisements in the United Kingdom, is the quintessential personification of the capricious and elitist design guru. A flamboyant figure, physically halfway between Philippe Starck and Marcel Wanders, he dictates the latest rules of luxury lifestyle and throws fits when he sees that IKEA can manufacture similar things at a low price. See his fictional Web site at [http://www. elitedesigners.org/](http://www. elitedesigners.org/). – 2645

“Memphis Remembered,” Design boom, [http://www.designboom.com/eng/ funclub/memphisremember.html](http://www.designboom.com/eng/ funclub/memphisremember.html). – 2671

Hargadon and Robert I. Sutton, “Building an Innovation Factory,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2000): 157-166; – 2683