The Framework

The Interpreters

How do you develop a successful design-driven innovation?
Radical innovation of meanings doesn’t come from user-centered approaches. If Nintendo had closely observed teenagers using existing game consoles, it probably would have improved traditional game controllers, enabling users to better immerse themselves in a virtual world, rather than redefining what a game console is. User-centered innovation does not question existing meanings but rather reinforces them, thanks to its powerful methods. Design-driven innovations are instead proposals, which however, are not dreams without a foundation. They end up being what people were waiting for, once they see them. They often love them much more than products that companies have developed by scrutinizing users’ needs.

My ten years of research shows that these radical proposals come from a very precise process and concrete capabilities. Firms that develop design-driven innovations step back from users and take a broader perspective. They explore how the context in which people live is evolving. Most of all, these firms envision how this context of life could change for the better. The word could is not incidental. These firms are not simply following existing trends. They are making proposals with which they will modify the context. Their question, therefore, is, “How could people give meaning to things in this evolving life context?” When a company takes this broader perspective, it discovers that it is not alone in asking that question. Every company is surrounded by several agents (firms in other industries that target the same users, suppliers of new technologies, researchers, designers, and artists) who share its interests. Consider, for example, a food company that, instead of closely looking with a magnifying lens at how a person cuts cheese, asks, “What meanings could family members search for when they are home and are going to have dinner?” Other actors are investigating this same question: kitchen manufacturers, manufacturers of white goods, TV broadcasters, architects who design home interiors, food journalists, and food retailers. All are looking at the same people in the same life context: dinner with family at home at night. And all are conducting research on how those people could give meaning to things. They are, in other words, interpreters.
Companies that produce design-driven innovations highly value their interactions with these interpreters. With them they exchange information on scenarios, test the robustness of their assumptions, and discuss their own visions. These companies understand that knowledge about meanings is diffused throughout their external environment; that they are immersed in a collective research laboratory where interpreters pursue their own investigations and are engaged in a continuous mutual dialogue.