Designing at an Innovation Management Company


innovation mangement

When I joined IdeaScale in late spring of this year, I set out to discover how I could help our customers create and maintain an innovative culture at their company through our crowdsourcing tools. I also set out to discover how I could influence culture at IdeaScale to better support design methodologies and best practices necessary in building successful products. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about designing at an innovation management company so far.

Being the only designer can be rough. As the only designer on my team, I tend to design on an island. I’m outnumbered by sales reps, account managers, and overseas developers. Besides my manager, there aren’t team members I can easily turn to for feedback and guidance. This presents a challenge to my work process because design is an iterative process, and constructive criticism is crucial in order to make progress.

As a solo designer, my role is to teach my team about design. In lieu of having a larger design team, my role is to empower other departments to give feedback and criticism on projects I’m working on. To do this requires a bit of extra work: educating my team on how and why certain exercises and research methods are used, how to give useful criticism during critiques, and even just establishing regular critiques as part of an office routine.

Design thinking fundamentals should be embedded in product design.  Introducing customer interviews to guide IdeaScale’s product has been the first step in educating team members about product design. Product design can’t be successful without customer input. It sounds like a no-brainer, but until I spoke to our customers, their experience with our software had not been a part of the design or development process. For instance, most of our customers believe they are purchasing a crowdsourcing platform — and they are. They can use IdeaScale to crowdsource ideas from within their organization or sometimes from the public, and then follow voting trends to see which ideas float to the top. But what some customers do not realize is that beyond finding popular ideas, our platform gives them the opportunity to grow a culture around innovation. Voting for ideas and honing in on the popular ones aren’t the cornerstones of creating that culture — taking care of the people who participate in posting and sharing those ideas is.

Adopting design methodologies can strengthen our product offering. “Taking care of the people” was an insight I uncovered after conducting my first round of customer interviews. Out of all the interviews, there was surprisingly little to no mention of ideas with popular votes. Popular votes did not influence the day-to-day work of administrating and moderating activity within an IdeaScale community. Of course voting is a powerful refinement tool in a sea of hundreds of idea submissions. However, I learned that the goal of many of our successful customers is making sure community members feel they are valued and being listened to, regardless of whether or not their idea garners many votes. This insight highlighted areas of weakness in our current product, and heavily influenced our roadmap moving forward.

Incorporating user research has been a monumental design-thinking change for IdeaScale, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. As a designer, I still have big questions I seek to answer. What are our design principles? How do we define our product’s voice? Can we look at our roadmap and answer: Why us, why now, why this? Design cannot have a dignified role in our organization if these questions aren’t commonplace for everyone to answer.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Madeline Frechette, Product Designer at IdeaScale.

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