Brett Lovelady, consumer design expert at PA Consulting, and Andy Goodman, a service and user experience design expert at PA Consulting, explain how design and innovation are connected in a podcast with Kaitlin Milliken from Innovation Leader.
Kaitlin Milliken: So to get started, let’s talk about how design and innovation are connected. Why is it important for innovation teams to incorporate elements of design in their work?
Andy Goodman: Design actually is innovation, the two are inseparable, they’re the same thing. It’s about bringing something into the world that doesn’t exist. That’s what design in its purest form is doing. And it always has done since the first cave person picked up a flint, and thought “We could sharpen these.” But what it does in a really specific ways, it brings a different type of thinking into the proces. A lot of thinking in business is deductive, looking for evidence and drawing conclusions. Design is much more about intuition, which is about making these leaps of imagination to create completely new things that couldn’t have existed before.
Brett Lovelady: You asked about why it’s important for innovation. I mean, as designers were the human advocates in the process, and it’s kind of our job to advocate throughout the process, but also understand and identify how to build relationships between customers and products or services and the kind of the human elements of things.
Kaitlin Milliken: Working to improve that human element, that’s a really big mandate design is also an incredibly large field. When it comes to design, what elements matter most to innovators is that building the product from an engineering type standpoint, is it design thinking?
Andy Goodman: Whilst technology is a critical input to creating innovation, design is a way of framing your thinking that actually helps you come up with new ideas. Design, the actually design thinking itself, are a way of tapping into visual processing in your brain, which makes ideas emerge in a completely different way. So by actually picking up a pencil and drawing, you’re actually accessing a different part of your cognitive functioning. So even on this biological level, design drives you to think differently.
Kaitlin Milliken: Yeah, and you sort of mentioned the idea of whiteboarding or sketching being one activity teams can engage in unlock that different way of thinking. Brett, do you have any other activities to add that teams can do to encourage building design into the innovation process?
Brett Lovelady: Quite often for us, it’s sort of aligning with what’s the appropriate tool and process for the moment. One of the things I guess it’s really important to start with, though, in the beginning is to understand what your role in design is, are we to catalyze thoughts from like a workshop or exploration or brainstorming and bring those to life so that people can get a good sense of that? Or are we really actually diving in quickly to solve problems and produce and commercialize? And sometimes those require different tools. You know, you hop on a whiteboard, you can do amazing things with a whiteboard and session and post it notes, as we’ve all seen, or you can let those marinate over time and let people kind of go and do their thing and come back, and then have summits where you do workshops, and roll up your sleeves and try to solve problems together. It really just depends if it’s that or jumping into a CAD system, or an illustrator program to define something so they can go to production. Fortunately, a lot of times, we get to do all of those — start with a blank whiteboard, and fully commercialize until we’re delivering a product.
Andy Goodman: It’s often said that anyone can come up with a good idea. Good ideas are 10 a penny. I’ve been in many ideation sessions, where you come up with 100 ideas for a new business. It’s actually how you execute on that idea that makes a difference between a success, success and failure. And design is all about execution. It’s about applying very precise craft skills, and thinking in a very well rehearsed process to make something real that works.
Kaitlin Milliken: Does that process have to include people who are trained in design or UX? Or can steps of the process be taught to people who didn’t go to RISD to learn specifically how to do this type of work?
Brett Lovelady: I think it helps to have a designer involved in every type of program, but I’m biased a bit. You know, we’re an ADD-driven, promiscuous bunch. We want to get involved in everything. One of the things that we’re quite often asked to do, which is hear what all the input is, provide our own input, and a point of view, and then help crystallize that. Quickly sketch something up and say, “Is this what everyone’s thinking about?” If it is, that’s great. If it’s not, that’s great, too, because it’s a baseline to say, “No, I meant this or I meant that.”
Kaitlin Milliken: At what stage should designers get involved in the innovation process? How big does an idea need to be before you start pulling in those experts?
Andy Goodman: Design is strategy. When you look at a company like Apple, design is strategy. Design drives, not just their product development, but also their tooling, and their and their business strategy. And there are companies that have that, that have that presence in the boardroom. A designer is there in some form or another.
Brett Lovelady: The other part is design often is the catalyzing inspiration to kind of like, help people move from idea or theory into something tangible. And if you wait to, you know, to do that, you may miss a lot of opportunities that designers can bring alive quickly, you know, or, you know, at least more in a full bodied sense to make them actionable.
Kaitlin Milliken: We talked about a lot of best practices so far during the conversation, it’s always nice to make that tangible. Do you have any examples from clients or projects that you’ve worked on? About how design really elevated something an innovation or r&d team was working on? If you want to get started? Andy, that’d be great.
Andy Goodman: So about six years ago, I was lucky enough to work with the National Parks. And they had come to us with a really interesting brief, almost contradictory, “We want to create a digital park.” Surely that’s the opposite of what anyone going to a national park wants is to have their attention drawn to a screen. And so what became apparent is really the challenge was how do we enhance and extend the National Park experience? How do we create a boundaryless park, one when you leave the park, you’re still able to experience it in some way. However, when you go to these places, there’s a lot of information that’s there that isn’t very accessible, and figuring out how you deliver that in a really subtle way. But also how you connect up the experience. Because if you’ve ever been to a national park, you’ll realize that each of them is run like a little franchise, they’re not connected, you can’t plan your trip. You can’t do anything, basically. So there’s this big service design aspect to it. But at the core, and this is the design process, we went and spoke to rangers to management to visitors. And what became really clear is that what is essential about the National Park is this phrase that this amazing ranger told us, he said, “It’s the power of place.” That’s what we need to create in this thing. Our process was like looking at this two lenses. One, how do we extend the boundary to how do we make this a journey, and not just a moment in time.
Brett Lovelady: A lot of companies we work with, big companies, want to act like startups. And so we happen to work with a lot of startups. And the combination of going back and forth. And learning what works in those environments is important and overlaps. With one particular startup that we’re working with here in San Francisco, tapped into our brand communication practice within the studio, to help a company communicate something that they’re pioneering in. It’s something they like to call cultivated protein, which is basically lab grown meat, or in this case, lab grown salmon companies called Wild Type. And our job was to help them essentially change and elevate and communicate the positioning and perception of lab grown protein into something palatable, that gets people excited, and they want to adapt in their everyday life. You know, one of the things we tried to do is to bring something familiar to unfamiliar things. And we were able to do that with Wild Type and the identity system. The packaging, the look, the feel, the illustration, so that it didn’t feel like it just came out of a lab, but it actually came out of the wild. But that’s all a design conversation from start to finish working with the elements of very smart people trying to do magical things.
Kaitlin Milliken: What’s one piece of closing advice each that you want to leave with innovators who are looking to level up design of their products or use design as a competitive advantage and growth accelerator?
Brett Lovelady: Design for me is something… We live at the crossroads, the epicenter of design activity and process. And fortunately, we get to see a little of a lot early on, if we’re fortunate to be there when it’s a blank whiteboard. And because of that, I always feel like it’s on me — and I would say this on any innovation team —to try to learn and gain perspective on the other disciplines that are involved in actually producing something and bringing it to market. So the more I understand of the opportunities and constraints, if you will, in manufacturing, or marketing or supply chain, I feel like that’s on me as a designer, and an innovator to try to get some semblance of that understanding, and then put it into,use the tools and the power of design to put it in context.
Andy Goodman: One of the best compliments I or my team ever got was, we working for one of the biggest banks in the world. And the chief mobile officer, he came to us and said, “I love working with you guys, because you don’t know anything about banking.” And at first, I thought it’s an insult. And I realized, no, it’s an amazing compliment. Because what he was saying, and of course, this is true is that designers are agnostic. We’re not experts in your industry. But we’re experts in people. This is the superpower that designers bring to your company. Because it’s very easy to get focused on these kind of metrics that we’re all looking at to product success. All of these are driven by having something that people want. And if you don’t see that as being the actual underpinning of all your success, you’re not going to be successful.
Kaitlin Milliken: Perfect. I think that’s a wonderful note for us to end on. Thank you so much Brett and Andy for your time.