Design thinking for innovation is more than innovating completely new products and experimenting with them in the market. Instead, it is about systematically generating ideas from strategic areas for nurturing, sustaining, and creating new wave of innovation.
In the discourse of design thinking, some of the common phrases are applied creativity, product development, and business impact. We also feel the urgency of systematic innovation, creative problem solving, and user-centered innovation. Well, comprehending how all these phrases fit together is often a daunting challenge, let alone practicing them in an integrated manner. Hence, this write-up on design thinking for innovation attempts brings discipline. Instead of challenging creative minds for randomly generating ideas creating business impact out of innovation, it provides a framework for thinking along some strategic dimensions. The challenge of designing thinking is not about generating a list of ideas. Instead, those ideas matter which focused on extracting value from the market. Ideas are like ferrets in the market. They need to chases opportunities in meeting customer requirements better than ever before. And they must do it by outperforming the competition.
Empathy—offering tools to customers to get jobs done better
Customers are always after products to get their jobs done better, preferably at decreasing costs. They would like to spend fewer resources, and they would also like to involve less to perform their jobs. Producers have the challenge of delivering them at a profit. But how to meet this conflicting situation? In fact, this is the mother of innovation. In creating business impact, both for the producers and customers, the focus of design thinking should be to create more value out of fewer resources. Hence, design thinking for innovation is not about playing with creativity in producing ideas like popcorn. In fact, empathy in design thinking should be for both the customers and producers.
Business impact out of design thinking for innovation—profitably ferreting out value from the market
Often, we entice to think that design thinking means innovating completely new products. That sounds very interesting in an idea competition. However, business impact does not depend on releasing one after another product and praying for the luck. It’s too expensive to perform such random experimentation. Unfortunately, our current product innovation practice looks like this, as more than 80 percent of products end their life before ferreting out profitable revenue from the market.
On the other hand, companies like Apple or Toyota are extracting value from the market through only a handful of products. The globally most successful company Apple has not been showing magic out of its capability of releasing tens or hundreds of new products every year. Moreover, Apple is not selling the same iPhone or iPad year after year as magical innovation of Steve Jobs. Creating the business impact of out of innovation requires a laser focus on design thinking.
The convergence of multiple products for getting the scope advantage
One of the areas in which design thinking should focus on is to converge multiple products to make a business impact. For example, 30 years ago, we used to use multiple software applications to produce publishable documents. Notable ones are text processor, graphic tool, and many more. Producing ideas of keep converging them started making the product more useful and lowering the total cost. Let’s look into the success of the magical smartphone.
Over the last 20, the focus of designing thinking has been to converge one after another product within the mobile phone handset. It began the journey of converging PDA, leading to the camera. Over its journey, smartphone has gobbled up at least more than half a dozen products. Consequentially, customers are getting a better tool for getting their jobs done. And it also opened a profitable opportunity for the producers for extracting value from the market out of ideas.
Feature addition and enhancement for incremental and sustaining innovation
Let’s look into the microwave oven or the automobile. Over the last 100 years, automobiles are evolving with the addition and enhancement of features. Incremental innovation is vital for increasing the utility and also lowering the cost. Apparently, feature addition increases the cost and also complexity. But not always. It also has the potential of lowering the cost and reducing complexity. For example, the automobile’s VVTi engine feature has lowered the automobile’s life time cost due to higher fuel efficiency. Similarly, it has lowered the complexity of engine tunning. Hence, ideas for incremental innovation are vital for creating a business impact out of innovation.
Furthermore, innovations behave like a seasonal crop in the competitive market. Let’s look into even magical iPhone. Why has Apple been releasing successive better versions at regular intervals? Why did once unsinkable Nakia disappeared upon failing to release the next version, strong enough to fend off the invasion of the iPhone? In fact, innovators are compelled to keep releasing successive better versions to bounce back the willingness to pay for sustaining innovation in the competitive market. Hence design thinking is not about just exercising with creative problem solving or applied creativity. It’s about focusing on those ideas which help the innovation to bounce back from the competition pressure.
Creating the option for 3rd party plugins for leveraging externality
Leveraging the externality is another area for design thinking for innovation should focus on. Design thinking should come up with ideas for creating options for the 3rd party component plugin. Smart exploitation of this option keeps increasing the value of the product after leaving the factory. The product becomes the integrator for extracting value from 3rd party innovations. For example, 30 years ago, televisions did not have an HDMI port. The addition of this feature has opened the opportunity to plug in a growing number of devices, starting from laptop computers to DSLR cameras. In fact, increasingly, products are having the 3rd party plugin options. In retrospect, Apple’s decision to have 3rd party app downloading was a very smart design choice for creating iPhone’s magical performance.
Applied creativity in design thinking for innovation should focus on Innovating 3rd party plugins
Design thinking for innovations could be for producing 3rd party plugins for major products. There have been many success stories of innovating such plugins. In fact, many of the industrial products require accessories. And these accessories are not mostly produced by OEM. Instead, 3rd party plugins supply them. If we carefully look into our automobile, we will observe many such plugins. Often, OEM offers the option of choosing accessories from a list of suppliers.
Creating network externality effects
The ubiquitous access to the internet is expanding the option of creating the network externality effects. For example, the underpinning of Google’s and FB’s successes has been smart design ideas for creating a network externality effect. Starting from like options to a number of views, there are many such design ideas. Particularly, once we transfer service to digital space, the opportunity of leveraging network externality opens up. Designing thinking for innovation should intelligently take advantage of it. In fact, this is a very powerful means of creating business impact out of design thinking.
Reducing and simplifying human role in using the product—a key area for systematic design thinking for innovation
As mentioned, human beings would like to reduce their engagement in using products. For this reason, they like the camera at the back of the car. Similarly, they like the remote controller to operate an array of devices. Hence, designers have been meticulously coming up with ideas for transferring operation roles from users to machines. Moreover, they are making the human interface with machines increasingly intuitive for lowering the cognitive load. In fact, Apple’s success in both PC, iPod, and the smartphone has been due to its excellence in the intuitive user interface. Besides, the software is increasing the scope of delegating many roles from human to machine. Further, through software, designers have the freedom to come up with ideas for making user interfaces to tolerate errors.
Delegation of roles from hardware to software
The growth of computationally rich, low-cost hardware, connectivity, and ease of software development has been expanding the scope of delegating roles from HW to the software. Already, user interfaces of many of the industrial products are benefiting from it. Besides, some internal functions are also being delegated from HW to the software. For example, data packet switching has been moving from HW to software switches. Besides, in certain cases, some of the HW features will disappear altogether. For example, the transition to autonomous driving will make the steering wheel and different meters on the dashboard irrelevant. Hence, design thinking should focus on ideas for transferring roles from HW to the software.
Changing the technology core should be at the core of design thinking for innovation
Technology cores of products mature, slowing down the scope of generating ideas. To overcome this limitation, designing thinking for innovation should focus on ideas for changing the technology core. Besides, if timely ideas are not pursued for changing the technology core, innovation suffers from the risk of experiencing disruptive effects from the next creative wave’s uprising. Despite its immense importance, often, innovators suffer from a decision dilemma, leading to behemoths’ tumbling.
Therefore, design thinking for innovation is more than exercising creative problem solving for generating a flow of ideas. For extracting value from the competitive market, creativity alone is not sufficient. Applied creativity should be linked with the nature of the market and product life cycle for systematic innovation for generating consistent business impact.