Unlocking innovation through design

As part of the Future London Academy’s (FLA) Design Thinking and Innovation week, tangerine was invited to share its strategic design and innovation process to an audience of design, brand and product managers, creative entrepreneurs and business owners from a range of sectors.

tangerine Chief Creative Officer, Matt Round, hosted FLA at tangerine’s London studio where he discussed the role of design in the innovation process and how to give it the best chance to lead to effective solutions and outcomes.

“Design is a really important component of innovation. As part of the innovation process, design acts as a catalyst for unlocking insights, generating ideas and focusing paths of exploration through the rapid prototyping of ideas,” explains Round.

Onboard design early

Round discussed how it is imperative for design to be involved in a project at the early stages, with access to decision makers, to increase the potential for design to positively influence and shape the outcomes. This he believes ensures that the right questions are being asked, and a direction is clearly set and understood by all stakeholders from the outset.

Matt used the example of Huawei to illustrate how when design is brought earlier into the process, the outcomes can be more disruptive. “In 2007, when Huawei brought in tangerine to help them enter the European market, it was clear that the company used design as the last step in their R&D process,” says Round. “It was important to change this perception and get design involved early on in the process to give Huawei the best chance of creating a strategic advantage for the company.”

By being involved early in the process, the tangerine team were able to utilise design to create a strategy that balanced the needs of the western market, with the principles of the Chinese business. A testament to the power of design, Huawei now have one of the largest in-house design teams in the world with design centres in the UK, Japan and the United States.

Don’t depend on Design Thinking

Round argues that companies now better recognise the value of design to business because of the popularisation of “Design Thinking,” but argues that some companies still do not understand how to fully utilise its potential.

“The term Design Thinking has been useful in getting design into the boardroom and getting more people involved in the innovation process,” says Round. “However, the danger is that a belief in it becomes a replacement for the introduction of specialist knowledge, skills and experience rather than a method of augmenting the creative process to solve complex problems”.

Companies must, therefore, introduce design to innovation and R&D processes at an early stage to benefit from the uniquely intuitive ways of problem-solving, which designers have honed throughout their entire careers.

Understand consumer expectations

A wider contextual perspective is important for creating innovation. At tangerine, we work across multiple sectors including retail, product, rail, aviation and automotive. Therefore, we understand that key customer experience trends and consumer expectations are not bound by specific industries. We encourage clients to benchmark their product, service or experience against a wider set of industries and business areas to gain a comprehensive cross-sector perspective.

Matt provided the example of how online retailer Amazon has set a benchmark for consumer expectations for availability, choice, speed and convenience of service, by transforming shopping through rapid purchasing and delivery. Regardless of sector, this shift in behaviour has changed consumer expectations and has become a standard for other experiences, such as travelling on a train or shopping on the high street.

“When you are creating a product or service it is important to consider not only the behaviours and trends of your industry but also that of other industries to stay ahead of the competition,” explains Round.

Employ design-led research

Matt was asked by his audience about the research methods that tangerine utilises when working with clients. He shared that the unique benefit of having designers as part of the research team is that they are able to get to the heart of the problem faster through gaining a deeper understanding of consumer’s motivations and underlying attitudes that affect behaviours and decision-making.

“While quantitative research is good for building a business case, you need to introduce qualitative exploration early in the process to build a rich understanding of the context,” explains Round. “During both innovation and design processes, this context informs our understanding of the competitive landscape, how to meet business objectives and enables the identification of opportunities that can be exploited through design.”

It is this design-led strategic process that helped tangerine to create a new service design solution for UK Eyewear company Adlens. After the launch of their adjustable focus lenses, which allow users to manually change the focal length of their lenses by turning a dial, Adlens realised the glasses were not selling as expected because people couldn’t understand the unique benefits of the technology.

tangerine’s team discovered that the reason that the eyewear was not selling as expected was because the opticians and sales assistants did not have the appropriate tools to explain the unique benefits of the product, and the customer was not able to try the lenses for themselves, leading to a lack of understanding of the new technology.

From these insights, gathered through research and service safaris, tangerine designed a new brand, point of sale collateral and disrupted the eye examination and sales process to allow consumers to experience first-hand the unique benefits of the optical technology during their examination to help inform customer purchase.

“There is no quick fix or set process to creating the right ideas and doing something with them to create powerful and meaningful design solutions,” says Round. “The future is often hazy, ambiguous and uncertain, and therefore, broad exploration, scrutiny and instinct are required. To truly innovate you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; there are no shortcuts!”

Collaboration is key

Matt believes that a strong relationship between the client and the consultant is fundamental to getting the right result and therefore organisations must foster a culture of innovation to utilise design effectively.

“Bringing together people with various perspectives is important to unlocking innovation”, says Round. “We encourage our clients to involve a broad range of different departments, skills and backgrounds into the mix so that there is a collaborative process in which different issues can be looked at in a multi-dimensional way.”

Over the last 10 years tangerine has run a Design Immersion programme for a number of clients including Japanese multinational corporation Nikon. The programme involves having members of the client’s team based at tangerine’s London studio, introducing them to tangerine’s processes and ways of working through co-creation on design projects.

The benefit of Design Immersion is that it acts as an accelerated platform for innovation, bringing client’s face-to-face with their customers today while anticipating future consumer’s wants. The programme is about helping companies to initiate conversations about the future direction of their brand, products and services.

Integrate design for business success

For a design to be successful, it should be fully integrated into the organisation. “It is interesting that those S&P companies that integrate design into their organisation, often out-perform those who don’t by 228% (Source: DMI, 2014),” remarks Round.

“Change is certain, but how to change is uncertain. The role of design is central to helping businesses to change by untangling the future”, explains Round. “By identifying patterns, understanding the relationships between different factors, evaluating the importance of the issues, design can create solutions with an emotional pull that draws customers towards a brand”.

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