Before, I was a designer... Since the 'Design Thinking', apparently I have a brain.
In reality, nothing has changed for us designers, except that we are being increasingly perceived as problem-solving professionals, and that many of us are increasingly at ease with being artisans of innovation.
Designers are the men and women of innovation.
They know how to draw that methodological and collaborative path that will lead the whole company towards tomorrow’s model. Yet, competitiveness depends largely on innovation. So then why, while they are at the centre of the driving force of competitiveness, do companies under-exploit them? The rate of design utilisation by companies at the strategic level is low in Europe, barely 40% for instance in France (See in particular a study conducted by the APCI, Cité du design and the Institut Français de la Mode on behalf of the French Ministry of Economy, Industry and Employment in 2010). This finding is not new, but it is becoming increasingly preoccupying for our competitiveness. Better understanding their inputs and integration into the company is therefore a major issue!
Back to innovation for a moment before talking about its artisans, there is innovation when a market exists around an idea; when people take over an idea. Otherwise it remains merely an idea. I agree with the analysis of the Beylat-Tambourin report entitled “Stimulating the Growth of Innovative Companies” which was commissioned by the French Ministry of Productive Recovery: the successful innovation, the one that will ensure the growth of the company, is “a process [at the end of which] new products, services or processes are being created and which show that they meet various (market or non-market) needs and create value for all the stakeholders. […] One can find that there is [innovation] through the commercial (or societal) success it encounters […]”. We know that registering a patent does not guarantee commercial success, no more than inventing a new offer automatically meets a need.
From my point of view, successful innovation and its implementation within the company rely on 5 main components:
- The capacity to establish a scientific and implacable methodological approach that will accompany the actors and map out the discovery of new territories. For, while innovation cannot be decreed, one can certainly create conditions for its emergence. I am surprised to find how much of a gap there is between the strategic importance of innovation, and the lack of professionalism to cultivate it.
- The ability to catch and understand the evolution of a usage: what, for whom, at which rate, to do what… because today, common practices and the deep needs of users and consumers are the ideal breeding ground for innovation. In this regard, have a look at this amusing video, which imagines how inventing the wheel could have been reduced to nothing by a focus group… Luckily for the history of humanity, the wheel was born of an observation well-advised by a few innovative ancestors!
- The capacity to project ideal experience solutions. When current practices are clearly understood, it is then advisable to design tomorrow’s ideal experiences and to only focus on the notion of our users’ experience, because it is this position that prevents us from sticking rigidly to constraints of brand, production and organisation which keep us away from opportunities. It also prevents us from missing out on breakthrough innovations!
- The capacity to incarnate and show tangible solutions, whether it is about an object, a real or virtual space, or a service.
- The capacity to mobilise skills and wills within the company, because in the end, fear of innovation and internal resistance to change are obstacles to success. The clue: make people like innovation!
To set up conditions for the success of innovation in the company, managerial will, as indispensable as it is, is not enough in my opinion. The company needs professionals with specific skills.
Yes, the designer is the company’s practitioner who summarises the 5 skills required for innovation. He controls the 5-phase equation required for generating innovation:
1/ Understanding the strategic questions and establishing an adapted methodology. His job is to solve problems. He is specifically trained for that purpose. His iterative methods and his abductive reasoning facilitate the rapid and non-dogmatic resolution of problems. He knows he cannot work alone.
2/ sounding out the society by acquiring objective knowledge on the evolution of usages, as far in advance as possible, from human science professionals.
3/ scripting the ideal experience for users so as to define the epicentre of innovation, and building the strategic vision that will carry it.
4/ incarnating by designing and making a prototype of the solution in the short, medium and long term with a view to giving a direction and the steps to reach it.
5/ mobilising by explaining why we must do this for our future consumers, by stimulating and rallying around a subject that will make us feel like changing.
Recently I was reading an article that was asking whether a designer was an engineer or an artist. This question shows the extent to which our vision is conditioned by one century of Taylorian productivism. The role of a designer does not stop where that of the draughtsman begins (as he is usually perceived). This could be summarised with the famous saying of the Design Council: "design the right thing, then design the thing right"
- the right thing, because its point of departure to conceive the “right” thing is “for who?”
- the thing right, because he seeks to conceive the solution correctly, with exactness and elegance so that it can really reflect the user’s aspiration.
The position, knowledge and tools of designers are specific and unique to them.
My experience shows that successful innovation comes from scientific methods. Designers work in an iterative and dynamic manner to solve problems. They constantly come and go between the strategy, the concepts and the conditions for their implementation, until they refine the solution and come up with the obvious for the user and the company: the novelty that will naturally be adopted in the usages.
Iterations are naturally at the centre of the designer’s process, not when taking into account the constraints following the definition of a concept, which would inevitably lead to “misprints”, but by integrating them in his vision. These iterations partake of the validation of the teachings (the basis for abductive reasoning), and make it possible to mobilise all the stakeholders on the common business project which, in essence, is evolutionary. For the company, this has the advantage of working in a flexible and light mode, with a progress which can be measured at any time and which everyone can appropriate during the project!
Designers apply an abductive reasoning which, according to the definition of Brigitte Borja de Mozota, suggests new, valid and robust concepts, elaborated according to a complex scientific observation methodology. In this, it clashes with deductive reasonings (elaborating predictions stemming from a known paradigm), and inductive reasonings (elaborating laws from observed facts).
Then, to be able to innovate, one needs to understand, in a subtle way as well as in depth, the everyday life of users. To this end, the designer’s approach relies on gathering objective information from human sciences.
Designers “know that they know nothing”. They do not become last minute analysts or researchers, and do not decree anything by guessing. They fetch their raw material from their best allies, men and women from the human sciences who observe changes in social structures, in the way of life of human beings and in their daily usages. On the basis of this complex amount of information, designers carry out structured analyses of what I call the “epicentres” of experiences. These are the striking elements which make the most sense in the experience of human beings today. It is thanks to dialogues with sociologists, ethnologists and ergonomists that designers manage to catch and understand the evolution of a specific practice.
Designers actually differ in this from engineering and marketing approaches. Engineers aim at inventing and industrialising, i.e. at reproducing an operation without any variation; marketing people aim at imagining new offers for their current consumers (I will probably come back sometimes on the incapacity of marketing studies based on declarations, to reveal real shortages and needs, and therefore to build the new and impacting offers of tomorrow).
Innovation comes from synthesising multiple signals which are often incoherent, and from interactions with very different actors. Designers know how to evolve in and understand complexity so as to shape it. They highlight and represent in a simple, accurate and intelligible manner context as well as vision; this is a strategic advantage for the company!
Just as thought is intimately linked to language, a designer’s approach cannot be conceived without representation, which is at the centre of his methodology when re-transcribing observations (extracting a “pattern” from apparent chaos), scripting the experience (representing the ethereal) and federating energies around a project by implementing representation and communication processes.
That is why representation methods are extremely varied and adapted, depending on the object and information sought, whether a video, sketches, strip cartoons, prototypes etc., although in each case the language will be visual and accurate.
N.B. By “accurate” I mean exact and precise, adapted to the content and the interlocutor, non-distorting and without any judgement.
Designers conceive above all the usage experience that concretely solves a problem: the innovative product or service will follow afterwards.
The work of a designer is based on the observations of ethnologists. He is working on usage scenarios. He “shows off” current usages as well as their irritants and limits, in the form of illustrated reports. He then conceives scenarios of ideal usage experiences that will solve the problems. The idea is to refuse the appearance of the solution for as long as possible (whether it is an object or a service, whence proposals that sometimes can appear iconoclastic, and therefore rupturist)… As designers, our main difficulty consists in deferring for as long as possible the switch from “what problem to solve and for whom” to “how should I innovate”! At that stage, the designer remains focused on his strategic objective by seeing to it that he does not alter it with false problems.
All in all, a designer’s presence is healthy for companies in search of innovation:
* It gives the company a chance to tackle the ongoing experiential (as opposed to industrial) revolution.
* It ensures collaboration with a professional from the world of innovation who will be very keen to be a relay for the company’s mutation, and who will restore its taste for innovation…
* It makes the company become part of a culture and a society: the designer feeds on the various cultures, and helps the company to experience its social, economic and market mutations...
Europe has an exceptional know-how as regards design applied to companies… it’s up to all of us, designers and entrepreneurs, to build on it in the best way possible, for the competitiveness of our companies!