3 Reasons To Use Design-Led Innovation

Innovation based on consumer research and trend analysis feels comfortable for big, marketing led, businesses. The methodology feels close to their day-to-day business and provides empirical data to help make decisions. But is this the right approach anymore?

In the last decade few established consumer brands have innovation success stories to brag about and many of the world’s biggest FMCG brands are in decline. Conversely the Internet is accelerating change elsewhere. Entrepreneurs are taking full advantage and upsetting the old paradigm - using advocacy rather than advertising to gain share, finding new, more direct channels to market and importantly a collaborative and hands-on approach to innovation. Big business can’t just emulate the entrepreneur’s passionate ‘seat of the pants’ approach, but they can adopt their instinctive, design-led methodologies: collaboration with their partners, peers, influencers and customers to work out what’s right. Letting their imagination fly, but thinking things through before investing meagre resources, and, as they are starting out on a journey, their investment in the future, not the past.


Similarly designers, by their very nature, are collaborative, imaginative, logical and future focused. So, in this fast changing world, a design-led innovation partnership offers distinct advantages over conventional approaches.

1. Future focused

Designers, like entrepreneurs are invested in the future. We exist to make the world a better place. In our world change is not scary, but exciting and good. It feels counter-intuitive to look to the past to decide what to do in the future. Research to gain understanding is essential, but using research to judge and decide what to do tomorrow is hopeless, and using consumers off the street to generate new ideas is just facile – folk will just tell you what they already know - Henry Ford’s faster horses. Designers use research to understand what’s happening now, in all its social, economic and technical richness, but then, critically, we extrapolate out to create future contexts where we can identify new opportunities and new design solutions. This requires a certain specialist knowledge, experience and skill not held by the average focus group participant. This also places designers along with influencers, entrepreneurs and the avant garde as architects of the future.

2. Collaborative

Don't get us wrong we love consumers, or rather ‘users’ as we like to call them (a more tactile and immediate term in our view). They keep us from being egocentric artists, focus us on the reality, value and utility of the matter. We like to step into the shoes of users to design from their perspective, bringing all our skills to bear for the sole benefit of them. We do this by collaborating. Working with people through observation to gain their perspective, co-creating to develop ideas, prototyping and testing with them to tune our thinking. Our desire to collaborate doesn't stop there. Innovation requires the interaction of a whole host of specialists. Designers have the ability to bring them together using our expressive and visual abilities to foster understanding, debate and resolution. There’s nothing like a quick sketch to get everyone on board with an idea.

3. Imaginative and logical

The designer’s fundamental ability is to balance their imagination with their sense of logic. Contrary to popular belief, good innovation is not about creative leaps or break-through ideas; it’s about progressive thinking.  Leaping about just makes everyone nervous from investors to customers. Directional progression built around a mission, a vision and a set of practical steps is both exciting and confidence building. Designers imagine a future, bring it to life and then work out how to get there. We have our heads in the clouds and our feet on the ground, we are thinkers and makers, and our delivery is both in sketches and plans.

The Age of Enlightenment was the start of freethinking and the desire to improve the lot of mankind.  It can therefore be seen as the genesis of all innovation and is exemplified by Denis Diderot’s founding principles of Memory, Reason and Imagination that are as relevant and vital to today’s designers as they were three centuries ago.  We need to have a memory and understanding of our provenance, history and achievements, but we also need to apply logic and reasoning in equal measure with imagination and creativity to figure out what to do next.

We'd love to chat further. Please email nick@echobranddesign.co.uk if you would like to discuss any of your brand challenges.