Danish Centre for Design Research
Strategic Design

Design as Innovation Facilitator

Workshop. Theory, cases and group sessions were on the programme when the Kolding School of Design held a workshop on design-driven innovation. The photo shows Sabine Junginger, guest professor at the design school, who takes up a position as associate professor of design management at the school on 1 May 2012.Photo: Kolding School of Design
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Design-driven innovation in companies can result in both actual product development and the development of processes and business strategies. That was one of the points made at the workshop Design Driven Innovation – Organizing for Growth held at the Kolding School of Design in December 2011. Furthermore, the role of the position of design in relation to the individual company or organisation was emphasised.

By Hans Emborg Bünemann

CONFERENCE Many people with physical impairments have benefited from a rollator or rolling walker, which improves their mobility far more than conventional crutches and walkers. The rolling walker is an example of a design-driven innovation process that has incorporated contributions from designers, users and stakeholders in the surrounding society. The example was discussed by Professor Poul Rind Christensen of the Kolding School of Design in his introduction to a workshop on the topic of design-driven innovation on 6 December 2011.

“The handlebar, the basket, the frame etc. are all familiar and commonplace components. Here, they have simply been brought together with a radically new perspective in mind – a new vision. The example illustrates how we can use design-driven innovation to create new meaning and value for both customers and society – and in this case, in particular for elderly people with physical impairments,” said Poul Rind Christensen.

Innovation Driven by Design

In his presentation, Poul Rind Christensen distinguished between the following types of innovation:

  • Technology-driven innovation: Innovation is driven by technology, and the users are viewed as the target of the technical development process
  • User-driven innovation: Innovation is driven by the users’ insights and needs.
  • Design-driven innovation: Innovation takes place in a process that involves designers, users and other stakeholders.

According to Poul Rind Christensen, a characteristic of design-driven innovation is that insights derived from the process of form-giving and conceptualisation play a crucial role in the process, and that user groups and stakeholders are involved in creating value in the process of developing a product or a service.

Human-Centred Design and Innovation

The rolling walker is a case of human-centred design and innovation, said Associate Professor Sabine Junginger of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. As guest lecturer at the Kolding School of Design, she gave a keynote presentation at the workshop.
“A key aspect in the development of products like the rolling walker is our basic perception of the users – in this case, senior citizens and people with physical impairments. Are they and do they remain disabled, or can innovation enable their independent living?” she asks rhetorically.

Design as an External or an Internal Resource

Sabine Junginger’s research is focused on the innovation power of organisations. In this context, the location of design in relation to the individual organisation is essential. In her keynote lecture she presented a visualisation of the four locations that design thinking can occupy in relation to the organisation.
“The most common location for design in organisations is on the periphery. But few organisations know where, when and how they use design, and that is where this visual tool can be useful,” says Sabine Junginger.

The model illustrates how different relative locations of design thinking produce different effects in the organisation. The black bubbles represent the organisation, while the white bubbles illustrate the location of design in relation to the organisation.

Illustration: Sabine Junginger
  1. Design on the periphery as an external resource
    Design thinking and design methods have no continuous presence in the organisation. Design is considered an add-on, limited to traditional design problems such as form, function and communication.
  2. Design as part of the organisation
    Design thinking and design methods are practiced somewhere in the organisation and apply to specific products and services.
  3. Design at the core of the organisation
    Design thinking and design methods are highly visible and occupy a central position. Design unifies products and services across the organisation.
  4. Design integral to all aspects of the organisation
    Design thinking and design methods are applied at the top level of an organisation as a means of inquiring into a wide range of organisational problems. The aim of this is to develop integrated solutions that reflect a high degree of coherence between the organisation’s internal processes, values, products and services.

Innovative Business Model

At the workshop, Director Jonas Sverdrup-Jensen of the design agency Seidenfaden Design described a specific example of a cooperation process involving a design agency and a business client.

Jonas Sverdrup-Jensen was in charge of the agency’s effort to create a new, innovative business model for Rosendahl, which manufactures and markets utilitarian design objects with an emphasis on home accessories and kitchen utensils. At a time when the sales of Rosendahl’s luxury products are in decline, Seidenfaden has developed a new business model revolving around a design strategy.
“The strategy we chose was to develop well-designed products for the average consumer,” says Jonas Sverdrup-Jensen. “In a time of crisis, these products are easier to sell than luxury items.”

Design and business. The design agency Seidenfaden has developed a new business model and design stra�tegy for the client company Rosendahl; as part of this process Seidenfaden also designed a new porcelain series called Tasty.
Photo: Seidenfaden Design Copenhagen

Designers Taking the Risks and Reaping the Benefits

In many cases, designers work strictly on a royalty basis with their client companies. A special feature of Seidenfaden and Rosendahl’s collaboration is that they have also included a manufacturing agreement. Under this agreement, Seidenfaden is in charge of product development, manufacturing, packaging and distribution, while Rosendahl provides the brand name and handles sales to supermarket chains. This shifts both the risk and the potential for additional earnings onto Seidenfaden.
“The key idea here is to shift the uncertainty onto the designer along with the potential rewards. In the future I think that we will see lots of ‘design producers’, where small design firms are in charge of their own manufacturing,” Jonas Sverdrup-Jensen explains.

Insights and Dependencies

Sabine Junginger sees substantial benefits for Seidenfaden, the design agency, in this form of collaboration. As a company, Seidenfaden is permeated by design thinking and thus qualifies as a Category 4 case in her model. However, the relationship between Rosendahl and Seidenfaden is best illustrated as a Category 1 case, as Seidenfaden acts as an external design resource to the client company, Rosendahl.

Sabine Junginger explains that as an organisation, Seidenfaden is in a good position to learn from the collaboration and maintain continuous change. For the client company, however, this sort of collaboration can be harmful in the long term, if the insight that is generated by product development and innovation is not absorbed into the company. In the specific case, Seidenfaden acts as an external design resource, assisting Rosendahl with product development and a new strategy, but Rosendahl does not achieve any organisational development and thus risks losing competences and innovation capacity over time, says Sabine Junginger.
“Only if the brand is the product can this approach lead to success,” she argues. “Nonetheless, there are clear issues of potential dependencies here, and these do not appear to become smaller over time but rather more pressing.”

Effect and Involvement

The purpose of Sabine Junginger’s model is to facilitate an awareness of the location of the design competence and a better understanding of the value of integrating design thinking into organisations – private as well as public. She argues that the focus should be shifted away from the traditional perception of design activities and toward a use of design that is more effective and promotes a higher degree of involvement in the individual organisation.
“Design thinking has an untapped potential for generating scenarios, visions and strategies for the organisation,” she says.

However, she also points out the potential benefits of deliberately placing the design competence on the periphery of the organisation.
“Some organisations have a certain degree of stubbornness and tend to stifle innovative developments within their own internal structure. In some cases, it might be better to make a deliberate choice to let the design competence enjoy the freedom of occupying a peripheral position and to use it to generate visions and explore the potential for organisational change,” she explains. 

Design Driven Innovation

The workshop Design Driven Innovation – Organizing for Growth was held at the Kolding School of Design on 6 December 2011.

Workshop Presentations

Poul Rind Christensen, professor, Kolding School of Design:
Introduction to the theme of the day: What is Design Driven Innovation?

Case 1: Veksø AS: From Good to Great – A Design Driven Growth Strategy
René Tristan Lydiksen, sales and marketing director

Sabine Junginger, Ph.D., associate professor, Lancaster University, United Kingdom:
When Design Drives Organizational Change

Case 2: Seidenfaden Design: Design Based Manufacturing Solutions for the World
Jonas Sverdrup-Jensen, director and owner

Martin Woolley, associate dean, School of Arts and Design, Coventry University, United Kingdom:
When Design Drives Innovation in SMEs

The workshop was organised by the Centre for Design, Culture and Management and Design2innovate in cooperation with the Danish Centre for Design Research.


Mind Design #45, 2012

Edited and published by the Danish Centre for Design Research

Reproduction allowed and encouraged with indication of source