So What is Design Innovation?

For my literature review I’ve been grappling with what design innovation actually is. As it’s an emergent discourse, rather than an established field, the terminology that different authors use is inconsistent, and the boundaries are blurry. Here’s a quick summary of design innovation that I’ve researched and written. It shows my understanding of the field so far, but I’m sure this will evolve as I keep researching this year.

“The biggest single trend we’ve observed is the growing acknowledgement of innovation as a centerpiece of corporate strategies and initiatives.”

– David Kelley


The scale and complexity of issues that designers face have both increased, and with these changes, the role of design has changed (VanPatter 2-3). Design has grown from its beginnings as a trade activity (Buchanan 5) to a human-centred approach to problem solving and innovation (VanPatter 3). Because Design has changed so radically, approaches and practices have had to evolve (Fultron Suri 53).

Design innovators are focusing less on end of line activities such as styling and ergonomics, and instead are involved in development processes from their beginnings, assessing needs, opportunities and possible solutions (Bezerra 2). Design innovators are no longer designing previously specified products, but deciding what products or systems are needed (Verganti “Design as Brokering of Languages” 34).

There are certain conditions that can facilitate design innovation. Firstly, critical thinking must be encouraged. Secondly, strategic thinking is essential. Goals, resources, and methods must be contemplated. Finally, a human-centred approach is important. Design innovators must firstly examine who they are designing for, then what the design solution will be, and finally how they will implement it. The resulting level of success is directly related to the value it brings real users in their everyday lives (Bezerra 2).

You can find links to the articles referenced above on the resources page.

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