Design & Innovation: The implications of embedding design within innovation processes

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Companies and organisations are increasingly exposed to a market environment full of turbulence and disruption. Perry (2017), for instance, shows that only 60 companies were present in the Fortune 500 in 1955 as well as in 2017, meaning that 88% of the companies from 1955 went bankrupt, merged with (or were overtaken by) other firms or were not able to meet the Fortune 500 revenue threshold anymore. It can be stated that many companies have not been able to adapt or to take advantage of changing market situations as they fail to scout and invest in new areas of growth or keep applying existing business models to new market segments (Anthony et al.,2016; Zook, 2014)
Lately, design has received increased attention from companies that want to anticipate on market turbulence. Design is seen as a way to overcome creative destruction, helping companies to maintain their competitiveness in the marketplace. From multiple accounts, design and design thinking are seen to add value to businesses, organisations, (innovation) processes, products and services. However, the fact that the added value of design and design thinking is mainly described by anecdotal cases of businesses and organisations that successfully make use of design and design thinking seems to ignore the process that precedes the situation whereby design is fully operationalised in and adds value to innovation processes.
It is therefore that this research project is executed with the aim of exploring the implications of design when being embedded in a company’s innovation process. Based on current collaborations between the Delft University of Technology’s IDE faculty and various businesses, three companies have been found suitable for examination in the context of this research project. As a result, three cases can be described
through conducting empirical research, whereby further insights into these cases are provided through conducting two rounds of interviews.
The data derived during this research project show that a design project is seen to be initiated by a non-design project brief, that design is positioned in the Fuzzy Front End of innovation processes and that design is employed in a separated type of department. It also becomes clear that an emerging disconnection emerges between the design output and the innovation process that is already put in place. It is found that this disconnection can be traced back to a barrier that is positioned within the higher ranks of companies as well as a barrier is perceived in the way companies have set-up their organisational structure relative to the design output.
It is concluded that design should become an ‘implemented reality’ and it should be incorporated into the ‘thought processes of a company’s organisational structure’ when companies want to successfully make use of design with the aim of arriving at outcomes other than their current innovation processes are producing. Therefore, companies should adapt, revise and/or redesign each aspect of their innovation process that is either preceding or coming after the embedded design element in order to fully facilitate an innovation cycle.