What Is Design Innovation & Why You Need To Know It

Published in
10 min readMar 5, 2019

🤔 What is Design? 🤯 What is Innovation?

Before we begin, I would like you to answer 2 questions.

  1. What are the first 3 words that come to your mind when you see the word ‘Design’?
  2. What are the first 3 words that you associate with ‘Innovation’?

Take a minute or two to think about the words that came to your mind. Do you see some of the words you thought of appearing in these word cloud images?

Word cloud for “What is design?” by Codomo

Whenever we are asked to do a talk or a design workshop, we ask the same set of questions to various groups of audiences. Although each audience is from a different demographic group, you can clearly see that some of the common words are repeated across all 4. Words that appear biggest are the most frequently submitted words among the audience. Front and center, you see words such as innovation, creativity, and art.

How do these words compare to what Google says about Design? A Google image search on the word Design looks like this:

Google image search result of Design

Design, the word alone, through Google’s search algorithm is mostly associated with graphics and visual aesthetics, but is that really the case? As an education technology and design company, we readily disagree with this bias representation of Design.

Design is user-centric and that makes it universally applicable to any area of the human experience.

What we mean by this is that we should also see products, services, programs, learning, and complex systems appearing as the top image search results too. They are all intentionally designed to improve the human experience.

If we look at Innovation, the most commonly occurring word associated with Design, this is what we get:

Google image search result for innovation

This time around, the gist of ideas, mindset, and technology surfaces among the images. From the audience's responses, the words, new, creativity (again), and unique appeared the most. This is not too much of a disjoint between what the audience associates with it and the search results.

Word cloud for “What is innovation?” by Codomo

What happens when we combine the two words together? Considering that there is only one word added to it, the image search result for Design Innovation radically differs from what we see on both Design and Innovation individually.

Google image search result for Design Innovation

A recurring theme is seen across all the images that popped up is a Venn diagram with the words feasibility, viability, and desirability.

Design Innovation Framework Diagram

Design Innovation, as you can infer, is a process used to create innovation.

It focuses on addressing people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and devising a viable business strategy to derive value from this market opportunity.

This is the definition that we as individuals and as an Education Technology and Design startup subscribe to. It is something we practice daily, our mission is to empower the creative minds of students and educators with Design Innovation so that they are able to (teach children to) take on complex challenges of today and in the future.

🔁 The Process

Design Innovation is a unique blend of design thinking, computational thinking, maker culture, and business. They are repeatedly used throughout 4 main cycles which we call Gears of Design innovation, something we adapted from the Innovation Pipeline by Board of Innovation to enable younger age groups to understand the process to create successful products, services, or systems (PSS) that resonate with users.

Gears of Design Innovation

The 4 main gears span across the three grids of desirability, feasibility, and viability, evolving across the different stages of the innovation cycle.

  1. Proof of Value (POV) — finding out what are the problems and what is of value to the users by co-creating with them.
  2. Proof of Concept (POC) — testing the effectiveness of the prototypes in delivering the value/eliminating problems.
  3. Proof of Market (POM) — ensuring the sustainability of solution as a business through iteration to achieve product-market fit.
  4. Proof of Impact (POI) — showing the potential to deliver impact to the masses through proven customer successes

All 4 of them work synergistically to produce the best results of creating value for users and for your business. Many of the large companies and startups across various industries managed to turn themselves around with Design Thinking.

The Double Diamond Design Framework (DDDF) is one that Codomo uses to engage children as young as 6 years old and working professionals of varying industries.

This framework encapsulates the first 3 cycles, Proof of Value, Proof of Concept, Proof of Market and transpires over 4 main stages: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. The diamond shape is used to visually represent 2 main types of thinking at the different stages: divergent and convergent thinking.

Double Diamond Design Framework

💠💠 Proof of Value

In the Discover stage, we attempt to find out everything we can about our users and the problems they face. The idea here is to go broad so that we cover every aspect and not be blindsided by biases or assumptions. Both primary and secondary research will be conducted along with the other user-centric analysis methodologies. Meeting customers in the real world is the best way so that you experience the environment and empathize with their pain points. A lot can come out from doing this just for a day. This workshop conducted by Standford d.school to look at improving the patient experience through Design Thinking is a good example of the potential impact that can be derived just by emulating and talking to users. Look at some of the activities that are typically used in this stage below.

Activities that can be done in the Discover stage

The Define stage is where we make use of all the data collected and make sense of it. Analysis frameworks and methodologies that cross the fields of psychology, business, organization behavior such as Persona Development, Affinity Diagram, and How Might We, are conducted to prioritize user needs. The focus here is to make data-driven decisions to scope down a well-defined opportunity statement that allows room for the exploration of ideas. This UX designer did a great job of explaining his team’s design thinking process and the analyses they generated through many diagrams, maps, and illustrations. Their user needs research on the waiting experience in airports was well clear and informative. This makes the translation of needs into functional design requirements straightforward.

At this stage, we will use the Customer Segment map of the Value Proposition Canvas by Strategyzer to define the customers who will end up paying for the PSS. This ensures that teams fulfill the Desirability circle. Not every product has the same customer and user group.

More about the Value Proposition Design book here

In the case of our Potato Pirates card game, the main customer segments identified are tech-inclined parents, STEM/computer science educators, and board game enthusiasts.

Differentiation in customer vs users

Creating a value proposition canvas for each of the customer segments will help to clearly define how we provide value with regards to their jobs, pains, and gains.

Discover and Define are the most crucial stages of the DDDF/POV cycle. It really ensures that teams are focused on solving the right problems expressed by users on a relatively large scale, before developing a desirable solution, which correlates to the Proof of Market cycle.

🛠 Proof of Concept

Develop is where the Proof of Concept begins. The feasibility circle of the Venn diagram takes the limelight here.

Creativity runs wild in the Develop stage, teams generate tons of ideas, build them, test them, learn from them, and repeat. Divergent thinking is once again at play. Using the identified user needs as a guide, a list of functional requirements is generated. With multiple means to an end, exploring a range of concepts is always advisable, ideate solutions that lie between the spectrum of non-technological and full technology reliance.

The prototypes do not have to be fully functional, POC is about getting the idea across to users. Any method of simulating the experience would suffice. This TED-ED video of Tom Chi’s talk perfectly summarises the art of rapid prototyping and testing. Doing and sharing is the best kind of thinking, it eliminates the time taken to try ideas that … suck in the users’ perspectives 🤭.

Low-fidelity prototyping kit materials

📢 Proof of Market

Selecting the more feasible and popular ideas to prototype is what happens in the Deliver stage. This stage is shown with converging lines because we are culminating in a final solution. By delivering the solution and pitching them to our users, we get instant feedback to improve the idea. Co-creation with users leads to better products that resonate with them. However, balancing between user-input and designer/business judgment will always be a struggle, adding more information on a page does not mean the product will do better, it might just confuse your audience.

As teams continue to refine the final solution at the end of the DDDF, a high-fidelity minimum viable product/prototype should be ready to roll out for actual usage. This means that the basic functionalities should be able to showcase the core values of the PSS to users who would pay a sum of money for it. Liking a product is one thing, paying for it is a whole other story. This is where the tougher part begins — Distribution.

The Business Model Canvas by the Strategyzer team is a good tool to help teams plan out and experiment with business and marketing strategies. The customer segments and value proposition identified through the Value Proposition Canvas feeds directly into the canvas, allowing teams to focus on finding the right distribution and marketing channel.

Business Model Canvas by Strategyzer

Planning your business on a map can only get you so far, the major focus is to execute it, test, and iterate the model. Delivering a good product pitch and demo to users determines half of your success in acquiring them. A study for startup pitch decks reveals that the best pitches include variations of these 10 points, modify it accordingly to appeal to your customer segments.

Talk benefits, not features! The most important thing is to show benefits, not technological features your PSS contains. Traction would be the second most important thing to emphasize, it shows the interests and successes the team had so far, allowing users to gain confidence in the product. Just take a look at crowdfunding videos for inspiration. Most projects launch with just their prototypes, their success relies heavily on the perceived value their audience can get out of the product. That is the basis for marketing. Here is a list of growth hacking and marketing books that we refer to frequently when we were preparing for the launch of Potato Pirates on Kickstarter.

♻️ Proof of Impact

The impact we talk about here applies to scale and sustainability. Businesses should be sustainable, in a financial and an environmental/social sense. In order to thrive as a business, there is no doubt that profits have to be generated. However, this does not mean we should neglect how our businesses can benefit society while they prosper. Incorporating a social angle into your business model should not be an afterthought. Be inclusive, charitable, and mindful of less privileged communities and give back to society. The impact created in this way is much more meaningful and possibly create a ripple effect of positive and tangible outcomes for underserved communities.

To be in the growth-fit stage would mean that the PSS is stable and ready to be adopted by a large number of markets across the globe. Every country or city has its own cultural nuances and habits. Be agile and adapt to the changes based on consumer trends and feedback. Conduct surveys to better understand the satisfaction among users, and the improvements they wish were there. These survey results will help you make decisions on how to appeal to more user groups and thereby expand your reach because when consumers discover a good product, they would be the first to share it.

While capturing your growth, try to be prepared with the next level of offering to consumers. Become a pioneer over and over again. The potential next steps in the value ladder that you could offer should be anticipated, conceptualized, and experimented quickly. The Design Innovation process is cyclical. You can go through it in 1 day, 1 week or 1 month depending on the fidelity of prototypes you want to achieve. Do not treat it as a linear process and stop after reaching the viability and growth-fit grid, the Gears of Design Innovation are always moving ⚙️.

📥 If you are interested in reading more about the other activities used in the other stages of DDDF or running a Design Innovation boot camp, download a full set of Design Innovation activities guide here!

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