Innovation Strategy: The Power of Design Thinking

Design thinking is key to innovation strategy.

For a long time, design was what happened after somebody else had the ideas. Designers just created the wrapping paper around the actual concept. But as innovation strategy has shifted, a new idea has come to the fore, where designers are intimately involved in the process of creation, not just the presentation of it.

Design And The Innovation Process

To some degree, design thinking is as much a matter of practicality as anything else. While ideas are the beginning of innovation, design is often how they’re teased out of the thoughts of your team and shaped into tangible things. It makes sense designers would have some innovations of their own during their process.

It also helps foreground practical applications and potential unforeseen issues. The best example of this is Apple’s celebrity designer Jonathan Ive. Ive first discovered Apple because Apple’s computers made sense to him in a way others didn’t. Ive understood the company’s products so well, he was second only to Steve Jobs and even designs Apple’s internal systems.

But design thinking is for more than just consumer products. The design firm IDEO was tasked by Kaiser Permanente to redesign how nurses went on and off shift at several of the company’s hospitals. The design team was on the ground in the hospital, speaking to staff and observing how they actually went off-shift or got up to speed at work. They designed their software to genuinely reflect how the staff operated, instead of some abstract of how they were supposed to operate.

So, how do you incorporate design thinking in your innovation strategy? It all starts with the designers themselves and your goals.

Using Design Thinking

Start with a design focus for better products.

The first step in using design thinking is to sit down with your designers and gather their ideas. Depending on your process, your designers might already work fairly closely with the rest of your team, but they likely have idle observations or ideas they haven’t shared, and you should encourage them to share their thoughts.

The next step is to bring the design team in as early as possible so they can help brainstorm ideas and look more closely at concepts. Again, with smaller companies, you’re likely doing this already, but the more closely your entire team works together, the better.

As an ongoing process, as well, you should have other departments regularly meet with your design team so they can discuss design and how they approach their work. Just like ideas can feel opaque and difficult to grasp until you see them in action, the thought process of designers can be a struggle for some who focus on what’s “under the hood,” instead of how customers and users approach it.

Finally, make sure the design team is present when their ideas are being tested. Design thinking is just as useful for iterating ideas and refining concepts as it is for discovering whole new ones.

Unlocking the power of design in your innovation strategy is a tactic that pays substantial dividends. It won’t just lead to better products, but a better focus on both the technical achievements and making them usable for any customer. To get started with optimizing your innovation strategy, join our newsletter.

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