Innovation from the Lens of Design Thinking – A Customer Engagement user-centric Approach

Innovation from the Lens of Design Thinking – A Customer Engagement user-centric Approach

An acute definition of innovation is that

“An innovation is something original, new, and important – in whatever field – that breaks in to (or obtains a foothold in) a market or society.”

An elementary lined model of innovation has three segments of the technological transformation process: invention, innovation, and diffusion.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter stressed the difference between simple invention and innovation, saying that innovation is about ordering the economic necessities for executing an invention, so we can say that innovation is about scalability.

‘Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs’, a book by Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters identifies ten distinct types of innovation [1]. It says that while many executives have conventionally associated innovation with the creation of new products, in seclusion this often will bring the lowest ROI and least competitive advantage. Assimilating multiple types of innovation enables organisations to develop offerings that are highly differentiated, less easy to copy, and that generate higher ROI.

One of these ten kinds of innovation is:

Customer Engagement- fostering compelling interactions. The development of more meaningful customer connections derived from deep understanding of customer aspirations, needs and desires. Helping people to “find ways to make parts of their lives more memorable, fulfilling, delightful – even magical”[3].

Author Tim Harford in his talk at the 2012 Wired Conference, ‘undercover economist’ and speaks of a tendency to talk of innovation in very generic ways.[2] It is important to understand that innovation focused on achieving incremental improvements or gains is very different from the type of innovation that might yield a step change in a market, service or product field.

Tom Kelley, General Manager of innovation and design consultancy IDEO, identifies ten key roles that people can play in the innovation process. He mentioned these ten roles in his book ‘The Ten Faces of Innovation’ and these roles are very base of the discipline of Design Thinking as well, these roles are split into three areas:

1. The Learning Personas. These roles ensure that businesses keep expanding their knowledge base, make sure the organization isn’t too internally focused, and it is equipped to deal with the accelerated pace of change. The key roles are:

a. The Anthropologist – enters the field often to observe how people interact with products, services and experiences in order to come up with new ideas. These people are empathetic, intuitive observers.

b. The Experimenter – this person models, tests new processes and scenarios to make ideas tangible.

c. The Cross-Pollinator – breaks new ground by drawing associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts.

2. The Organizing Personas. These people recognize how ideas need to compete for time, attention and resources, and are smart about marshalling the necessary resources within the business to move ideas forward.

a. The Hurdler – a problem-solver who enjoys challenges and perseveres to help ideas progress and the status quo to be challenged.

b. The Collaborator – able to bring people together to work in multi-disciplinary teams.

c. The Director – understands the bigger picture, targets opportunities, deploys resources, brings out the best in people.

3. The Building Personas. Highly visible, these people are able to apply the insights derived from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organising roles to make innovation happen.

a. The Experience Architect – focused on turning ordinary customer experiences and interactions into extraordinary ones.

b. The Set Designer – promotes inspired cultures by helping to create work environments that encourage creativity.

c. The Storyteller – is able to inspire action and transmit values and objectives through effective communication and storytelling.

d. The Caregiver – the ‘foundation of human-powered innovation’, understanding customer need through empathy.

Design thinking is widely being practiced for transformation projects leading to innovation has proven to be a source to bring human-centric experience on table for clients, proving to be of such worth that it has changed the way being innovative was perceived. Thanks to Design Thinking. Today, organizations in order to become Digital or Innovative turns back to understand the user’s needs, empathize with their users and involve their users in the process of coming up with a solution for the needs of their users, eventually builds a value chain and becomes user-centric.


1.The Ten Faces of Innovation

2.The Undercover Economist: Tim Harford on Marginal and Breakthrough

Innovation, via YouTube, January 2013

3.Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, Doblin.

4.Catmull, E. (2008) How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity, Harvard Business Review.

About the Author

Nida is an Agile and Design Thinking expert with experience of more than a decade. Her work is spread across consultancy of multiple domains of Design Research, Strategy, Design Thinking, Digital Business Transformation, Business Analysis, Automation, and Agile Project Management. She is currently working as digital transformation consultant with IBM.

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