Age of Design-driven Innovation

  • Anna Whicher profile
    Anna Whicher
    29 April 2016 - updated 2 years ago
    Total votes: 4

In the modern experience economy, the notion of innovation is evolving beyond the realm of being exclusively technology-focused and R&D-driven. There is a paradigm shift towards user-centeredness, openness and collaboration. The scope of innovation is broadening to encompass service, social and public sector innovation. Whereas the drivers of technological innovation are predominantly R&D; the drivers of service, social and public sector innovation are, more often than not, based on the end user engagement and co-creation.

It is great to see the whole array of 'innovation flavours' proposed as a starting point for further discussions on the future of innovation in the EU. Not without a reason, I believe, the 'innovation flavours' wheel starts with design-driven innovation. Design is an approach to problem-solving that can be applied across the private and public sectors to drive innovation in products, processes, services, society and even policy-making by putting people first. A growing body of evidence of the impact of design on competitiveness of enterprises and effectiveness in the public sector has built strong rationale for design to be supported by governments.

In 2010, design was included for the first time in the European Commission’s policy Innovation Union, the roadmap for stimulating innovation across Europe for the coming decade. Since then the landscape for design policy in Europe has changed dramatically. Not only is there a European Commission Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation but a growing number of European Member States, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland and Latvia have developed national design action plans. At regional levels the awareness of design is also increasing with governments integrating design into their innovation policies and smart specialization strategies. At local levels, there are more and more design managers within public authorities using design processes to innovate public services. A further phenomenon, which again is prevalent at local, regional, national and European levels is the rise of Policy Labs, multi-disciplinary teams within governments using design methods for public service innovation and jointly developing policy with citizens. 

It has been over 40 years now, since the oft-quoted IBM's Chief Executive declared that "good design is good business" and we see that any doubts about business value of design are disappearing. Design thinking is recognized as being core to innovation by the global leading firms such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Tesla and Amazon. It has been named a top trend in the 'Global Human Capital Trends 2016' report by Deloitte University Press. And this trend is not a fad, more and more businesses realise it is a core business function and implement design principles throughout the organisation. The DesignInTech Report 2016 shows that in one decade 43 design firms have been acquired by multi-national companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe and Yahoo. According to the same report, 36% of the world's fastest growing start-ups, such as Airbnb and Uber were co-founded by designers. Also leading consultancies, like Deloitte, McKinsey, Capgemini and IBM are building their design capacity by acquiring design agencies, hiring tens or hundreds of designers, bringing designers to the boardroom and training staff in design methods.

In coming years we will indeed see more widespread use of design within the public sector, policy and enterprises. However, with the growing demand for design services, there are also a number of challenges facing design research, professionals and education. Design research should focus on scrutinizing the social and economic impact of design, as well as investigate the role and importance of design-driven innovation in public sector. Increased use od design can create a scenario where there is not sufficient design expertise to respond to market demands. Practicing designers need access to, and should make a commitment to continuous professional development to enable them to meet the needs of business and society in the future. Also the design education must be ready to meet new demand by rejuvenating curricula and adapting their education provisions to match the needs of fast-changing market. More needs to be done to support SMEs to use design. The recent Innobarometer study has shown that while 13% of European companies declare design has a central role in their strategies, over half of them do not use design systematically or do not use it at all. Design also plays a crucial role in the transition to the more circular economy. With the increased interest in design at multiple levels of governance across the EU and among businesses, there is an opportunity to strengthen the performance of the Innovation System for the whole Europe.