Web of connections - The design ecosystem
Design ecosystem: A web of connections

This is our second guest post in a series focusing on the role of design thinking in successful innovation. In our first post we defined design thinking and explained the critical distinction between invention and innovation. Today we’re talking about what we at Strategic Innovation Lab (formerly the Beal Institute for Strategic Creativity) call the design ecosystem – a term that expresses the numerous dynamic, interdependent factors and relationships that must be taken into account in bringing a new or improved product or service to market.

A breakthrough in the laboratory or at the bench is only the beginning of a complex web of events leading to widespread adoption and potentially to commercial success. Invariably commercialization includes financing, marketing, distribution and other demanding considerations. Given the inherent risks, investors and other stakeholders increasingly want evidence that the results will be worth their time and support. Design thinking and design research offer such evidence. Good designers begin by seeking to understand end users and address their unmet needs. What’s more, we prioritize user experience above all else, striving to achieve something new, different and useful, but also inviting and agreeable. One company well known for demonstrating such obsessive commitment is Apple Inc., whose iPod, iPhone, and MacBook integrate technological advancement within a seamlessly enjoyable package.

While the end user is the anchor of the design ecosystem, other “keystone species” include the client who will produce and distribute the product or service and the designer who plays the essential role of catalyst in the dynamic process. Successful innovation requires a creative and proactive approach to innumerable processes including research, engineering, manufacturing, distributing, marketing, financing, business planning, along with anticipating and engaging with customer needs and expectations, market conditions, social norms and legal frameworks. For a full account of the design ecosystem, consult our paper, “The Design Ecosystem: Designing for Emergence and Innovation II.”

For now, let’s look more closely at the designer, whose role is to catalyze the design process and make sure the product or service not only meets the end users needs but also their expectations and is a source of pleasure and delight. This entails understanding the connection between technology and human behaviour.

Functionality is of course the prime focus of an innovator but success in the marketplace can also depend on seemingly secondary things such as packaging, instructions, support and ease of use. A critical activity in designing a successful addition to the ecosystem is to be able to imagine or envision how end users will deploy one’s product or service. You can achieve this objective through the development of user experience scenarios in which you consider how a product or service will be used by a typical end user.

Design thinking is an integral facet of innovation to achieve success in the marketplace. If you’re interested in learning more about it, we invite you to the launch of the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) next week.  There, Dave Gray, the world-renowned visual thinker and designer (and CEO and founder of XPLANE: The visual thinking company) will engage you in a visual thinking exercise that could help you with your business.

Robert Logan

Robert K. Logan, PhD is chief scientist at Strategic Innovation Lab, Ontario College of Art & Design, and professor emeritus of physics, University of Toronto. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Biocomplexity and Informatics where he has been involved in research with Stuart Kauffman and he teaches at McMaster University where is a senior fellow of the Origins Institute. See more…