Innovation by Design Conference 2017: What I Have Learned

A March of Design
“Design has become an important catalyst for innovation, economic competitiveness and better living, in a world where ideas matter more than ever. Leaders in the public and private sectors are recognising that design is more than aesthetics. Good design is good strategy. Companies, communities and economies are using design thinking to raise productivity, unlock new opportunities for growth, and improve the quality of everyday life.” — Innovation by Design

I attended the 2-day conference with impressive line of panel speakers and moderators. While we all believe that innovation changes lives for the better, sometimes the change really starts within ourselves. These are my few takeway mindsets from the conference:

1. Passionate

I realise speakers who took the stage oozed the confident aura. They are passionate in their topics, or they know what they want to present. I guess if you are passionate about something, naturally it will show. Otherwise if you feel this is an area to improve on, you can always start with ‘fake it ’til you make it’ method.

2. Leverage on relationships

Wallpaper* has been around for 20 years and since 2010 they started looking at artists, designers, manufacturers for collaboration on one-off bespoke items of furniture, fittings, food projects and more. 2,000+ commissioned projects later, Wallpaper* Handmade has travelled from Milan to London, Miami, Shanghai and now at Gillman Baracks, Singapore!

3. Evolve

Barry Wacksman from R/GA says the Fortune 500 companies in 20th century expanded brands by employing 2 key strategies: horizontal and vertical integration methods. Under Coca Cola Company, one customer can choose among Coke, Sprite, Fanta. This is horizontal integration. Looking at Coke and Sprite, there is not much added value or connection between them. Proliferation, customer choices, commoditisation galore.

Exxon Mobile Corporation, on the other hand, is Barry’s example for vertical integration. Vertical integration means one company owns its whole supply chain: retail, distribution, manufacturing, sourcing. Such common ownership results in closer geographic proximity thus improving supply chain coordination.


21st century, however, sees successes in business growth of companies with integrated ecosystems. Guess who are the 3 pioneers on successful functional integration? They are not surprisingly Apple, Google and Amazon.

Barry also shared that R/GA worked on Nike+ campaigns — from the original desktop website and shoe chip till Fuel wristband, and various mobile apps. Nike has since established itself as enabler for human potential. With rapid technological advancement we see emerging new fields in ecosystem design, service design, organisational design, and workspace design.

Think of visceral touchpoints in customer’s lives and make it as the product mission. Because once you established relationship with customers, you don’t need to advertise for them.

Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, tells us that in a social media driven society, traditional retailers must now be in the ‘experience’ business, just because:

  • 77% millenials are more likely to be influenced on brand decisions by in-store experiences
  • 78% millenials would rather spend money on experience rather than a thing
  • 47% would want brands to provide inspiration for things to make or do
“We compete with the latest song of Beyoncé, with the latest telephone from Samsung or Apple. We compete for mindshare and relevance in the life of people.”

Read good insights from Mauro as he’s discovered three phases “every designer building a new organization should be aware of.” He also shares excerpts from his talk here.

4. Innovate

Daan Roosegaarde of Studio Roosegaarde created this chair.

Too often, whenever there are new ideas people tend to say ‘yes, but..’. This prompted Daan to create this special chair that electrocutes the sitter when spoken ‘yes but’ is detected by its voice recognition system. Swell idea.

Other than this funky chair, Daan and his team is also the creator of the world’s largest smog vacuum cleaner. The Smog Free Tower uses patented ion technology to produce smog-free air in public space, allowing people to breathe and experience clean air for free.

The point is, don’t be afraid to execute when you have strong feeling about an idea. Innovate, create, …just get your hands dirty. Creativity is the new economy, Daan assures!

5. Absorb and explore beyond your field

Coming to the conference with an open mind, I have listened to leaders in the fields of design, technology and innovation, design thinking, customer experience, human behaviour and organisation transformation. The design disciplines presented in the conference are broad in spectrum, but we must understand that innovation and design in any disciplines are the game-changing capabilities for the greater good.

The London-based shoe designer Beatrix Ong was invited to be part of Wallpaper* Handmade, and the collaboration produced this shoebox tree:

Beatrix’s modular design merges a totem pole and shoebox stack

So look beyond your current discipline; make use of your creativity in other positive way; educate yourself with peoples’ experiences.

6. Expand thy soft skills

Daan pulls out a chart from World Economic Forum that indicates the top 10 skills in 2020, compared to in 2015:

See how there’s a big jump in creativity, because it is still widely accepted that creativity cannot be transcribed by machines at this point of time.

Creativity would still be critically important in motivating human beings to consider products. Masters of the craft would still exist and be immensely valuable.
- Forbes

I can understand how people management will remain a critical aptitude to have. You have people with comb skillsets now and managing their expectations, or even training for their professional development will really put your psychosocial skills into practice.

Ernesto Quinteros, Chief Design Officer at J&J (So many CDOs for brain pickings at the conference!), shares during hiring process, he would look into grooming the next CDOs or the next global design leaders.

7. Give back to society

Philanthropy projects are in minds of big companies like Phillips and J&J. Phillips have teamed up with local non-profit organizations in Kenya to provide free ultrasound screening for 150 expectant mothers living in the outskirts of Nairobi. Similarly, J&J has funded Project HOPE in Indonesia, and vows in their vision to improve the course of human health by 2030.

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