This is the fifth in a series of blog posts sharing the results of our study on the business value of experience design. In this post, we explore the value of innovation: Bringing diverse and fresh ideas and perspectives to help the organization think differently, differentiate and future-proof its investments.
Sometimes you need to build a simple web page to let people know that your café is open for business and see what’s on your menu. The page design reflects the warmth and character of the dining room, and it even has some nice shots of the signature dishes. Then there are times where you need to figure out how to transform your little café for touchless ordering and curbside pickup – and keep your staff safe from a global pandemic. The former is creative expression. The latter is innovation by demand!
There are several definitions of innovation, but my favorite (from Paul Sloane) does a great job of connection creativity and innovation: “Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.” Creativity and innovation are inextricably linked but innovation is not an everyday requirement. But when innovation is the only option, design is critical to understanding the problem and finding a way forward.
Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.
Before we go too much farther, we should probably level-set on what innovation really is – and is not. Just because something is new, doesn’t automatically qualify it as an innovation. Like Sloane’s definition implies, if it’s not implemented and used in some practical way, it may just be a good exercise in creativity. Secondly, while technology is responsible for many high-profile innovations, not every new technological accomplishment is an innovation. In fact, Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation calls out the diversity and creativity found in process, service, channel, and many other tactics to innovate on. Finally, not all innovation needs to be disruptive, turning the tables over and reinventing entire industries. In the Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen points out that sustaining innovations are equally important to make continuous improvement and protect existing models and market share.
One of the most understated and often surprising elements found in successful innovations is the perspective that an outside, unbiased view can bring to the process. The “think out of the box” cliché exists because it is a challenge for teams to change their limited mindset. But no matter how hard we try to do this, we are limited by our own experiences and interpretations. Until we invite a diversity of thought, opinion, and experiences, that box will remain limited. As mentioned before, it starts with customer empathy and revealing what they see, but extending the view from other industries, demographics, and practitioners can be a great tool for stepping back and seeing and noticing things differently.
I’m sure you’re heard the rally cry (or found it on a t-shirt): Innovate or Die! Sounds like a good reason to drop what we’re doing and start building the next greatest mobile app to transform our business! Again, let’s level set. We agree that some part of your business should be innovating and solving new problems. But it’s not realistic to devote time and energy to innovation projects at the expense of keeping the lights on or simply keeping up with customer expectations and competitive pressures. You need a system to balance the effort and make informed decisions about the innovations necessary to stay relevant, differentiate, and grow the business.
We are partial to a couple of systematic ways to bring design and innovation together. Design Thinking is a collection of tools and approaches to develop customer-centered empathy and apply iterative experimentation to solving business problems and create true innovations. It’s been described as “business people thinking like designers thinking like business people” and it can be a challenging experience. But those challenges are exactly what breaks open the problems that Design Thinking teams are solving. Now/New/Next is Perficient’s unique approach to finding that balance between sustaining and disruptive innovations and figuring out where to spend your time on new designs and innovations. It’s a fun, informative, and fast way to get clarity and start making progress.
Next in the series I’ll share how designers can thrive by understand what’s possible – and what isn’t – with the technologies they are working with.