Designing Innovation: The Next Frontier
How design collaboration powers innovation success
In the past decade, you couldn’t open a business magazine or attend a design conference without reading or hearing about design thinking and the importance of design in business. The company most cited for being on the forefront of this trend? Apple.
While Apple still leads in design thinking, the conversation around design and innovation is changing. In this webinar, Arlene Gould, Strategic Director of Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC); and Course Director, Design Placement, at York University, interviews Shikatani Lacroix President Jean-Pierre Lacroix about the changing role of design in innovation.
This webinar discusses:
- The biggest challenges and greatest opportunities in design today
- What is driving change in the industry
- The benefits of collaboration
- How to collaborate with clients
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JP: Good afternoon, Arlene. Thank you for joining us. It’s great to have you again. You’re the strategic director of Interiors Design Industry Advisory Committee. You’re also the course director for design placement in the Bachelor of Design program at York University. Wow. And you’re the academic coordinator for the Design Management Certificate program at Ryerson University. Quite an accomplished set of roles and responsibilities. Thank you for coming.
Arlene: I wanted to start by asking you, JP, there’s a lot of talk about innovation today. But you don’t often see design connected to innovation. Why is that? And what can we do to change it?
JP: It really is a reflection of how innovation is created in the marketplace. And it’s really a siloed structure. So when you look at new products that are launched, or if you look at innovation in the automotive industry, or in the manufacturing industry, it really starts with engineers looking at capabilities and opportunities. In some cases it starts with marketing based on customer need states but very often it’s a result of some kind of capability that’s discovered and then the need to find a market for those capabilities. And so often, you know, design’s not considered or even thought of because it’s all about, you know, how do you capitalize on that technology? And so, it’s a mindset that has been around for a long time. Very few companies have the Apple passion for design where design is at the core of the innovation idea. You know, I’m sure that when they’re coming out with a new remote control or a new element in a car, a new feature in a car, that manufacturing of those features, and the cost benefit of those features are what takes precedent, and design is somewhere down the line when they’ve kind of validated that it’s a viable proposition when, had design been there at the beginning, they may have discovered how that feature could even be better.
Arlene: So, can we have successful innovation without design?
JP: Yes. We can have very successful innovation with design. Design is all about fundamentally creating desire. You know, I was just reading automotive magazines over the weekend looking at these different cars, and yes, they talk about the features, you know, the warning lights, and the elements on the dashboard, how functionally beneficial they are to the driver but, at the end of the day, it’s about the aesthetics of the experience. You know, we buy based on our emotions. You know, I think 80% of all buying decisions are emotionally driven. Cars, for example, those big-ticket items are very much driven by desire. And so I think there’s this conflict happening in innovation. We’ve got this left brain thinking about feature and benefits, and manufacturing costs, and ability of getting it to the market quickly, and then you’ve got the right brain that says it’s really about the experience. It’s about the emotional needs of the customer, the gaps that are in the marketplace. And I think those two elements really conflict each other because they really start from very different places.
Arlene: You have said that the new power of innovation is design collaboration.
Arlene: So what do you mean, exactly, by that?
JP: To truly be innovative, and to truly stand out, you need to look at all the different facets of an idea. And you can’t do that when you’re working in silos. You can’t do that when a solution is derived in engineering or in manufacturing, and then once it’s kind of refined, sent to design, kind of decorate it. Ideas need to be generated from a variety of different perspectives, not all from the same camp, not all from the same silo. And so collaboration’s about this ability of starting a project with different perspectives, looking at that problem from different angles. Angles that maybe you wouldn’t have considered, you know, in your silo, in your department, in that group of individuals. And by having collaboration, not just with designers, but collaboration with the customers, which is a huge trend now. If you like P&G and Unilever, they’ve created these networks where they’re going out the marketplace and asking anybody for an idea. They’re open to receive ideas from anybody, from anywhere, and that opens up true innovation, allows ideas that you may have never considered from your perspective to be created, naturally answer those needs in the customer.
Arlene: So, how do you collaborate with your clients?
JP: We’re fortunate that our clients see the value of design. I mean, obviously, they spend a lot of money in development of design concepts and design execution. We’re seeing a shift where we’re not involved, like, take a look at PepsiCo and the launch of the emojis, which has now been a global success story. That project started by the client going to all of the creative disciplines, from advertising, public relations, experiential, us, graphic design, and asking us all to come to the table with ideas that will solve a key challenge for them. And then through that process of how various ideas were presented, narrowed down and selected, and how we could then collaborate it across these different communication disciplines to execute and deliver that concept…and it was a huge success…that demonstrated the power of collaboration. That demonstrated that ideas should come, not from silos or from dedicated channels of ideas, they should come from a variety of stakeholders.
Arlene: Over the past few decades, you’ve built SLD from a graphic design studio to a business that really crosses many boundaries, different design disciplines, different business sectors. So, what drove that change?
JP: It’s our clients. It’s then finding a need that was missing in the marketplace. You know, when you look at a solution, it’s never just one thing. You know, if you look at a retail experience, it’s as much about the retail environment as it is about the digital signage inside the store, the packaging, the sales choreography, the training for the staffs, and then the online e-commerce experience. If you look at M&M Meats, the success that they’ve had through their brand transformation that we helped lead, it’s all about all those moments of truth that the customer comes into contact with. We saw a gap, you know, the handing off from one discipline to the other, the ideas got diluted. You know, the vision got watered down or it got redirected. And what started as a brilliant idea, a brilliant value proposition, by the time it got executed across all these different disciplines, got watered down, got fragmented, lost its focus. And so we saw a huge need in the marketplace to provide that holistic coherent approach to delivering innovation.
Arlene: JP, you’re trained as a graphic designer, but you called graphic design a legacy business. So, what do you mean by that?
JP: Well, you know, unfortunately, terms define us. And they also limit us. Clients pigeonhole industries. They pigeonhole architects, engineers, and us designers. And when you say graphic design, it really narrows, and undermines, what we truly deliver. We deliver breakthrough ideas that can be translated in a virtual world and in the physical world. And so the word graphic is a legacy of the past, when the primary form of communication was print. And if you look today at print, look at magazines and newspapers and the media and how we consume communication, what we realize is that print, graphic, is such a small percentage of how we absorb information. And so, to me, we’re actually limiting what we truly do as a profession by calling ourselves graphic designers.
We’re designers, you know, for Shikatani & LaCroix, we’re designers of immersive experiences because we realized that the power is creating these emotional connections between a client’s brand and the consumer. And what we as designers are very well qualified to do is to understand those dynamics, understand what are going to be the triggers, you know, from a century of visual, you know, elements, that are going to create that connection. And that bodes well for the industry but, obviously, graphic design reminds me of typesetters when I first got into the business. You know, you couldn’t do a project without going to a typesetter. You know, you were at their mercy, the schedule, your galley, your proofs, within their schedule. And within just a mere two or three years they disappeared because they didn’t remain relevant. And that’s a danger we as graphic designers have is, by holding onto the legacy of graphics we’re limiting what we truly can deliver in the marketplace.
Arlene: So, in your view, is print dead or on life support?
JP: They said that about LPs, vinyl records, right? Look at the resurgence of vinyl records, they’ve become collector items, they’ve become special. No, you know, print will never go away. You know that tactile feeling, you know, the smell of paper, the glossy color, you know, how it feels on your hands, the ability of being able to read it and flip it and toss it, rip it, all of those tactile things will never go away. However, the influence print will have on how we absorb information’s gonna diminish. It’s going to have a place, that’s going to be very relevant for a certain need, but it will be relegated to a support role versus a primary role.
Arlene: You’ve spoken about the relationship between big data and design. Now that business has embraced big data, what challenges and opportunities do you see ahead for designers in working with these kinds of businesses?
JP: I’m working on a book called “Desire By Design.” And I’ve opened the first paragraph of my book by saying that, you know, it is very foolhardy to rely on data to make decisions based on the fact that people are irrational, consumers are irrational. And a great point is Trump’s election. I actually called, you know, that he would win, not because I am a fervent supporter of his beliefs but because he stood for change. And Hillary stood for the same. And the American public wanted change. And they were willing to accept change from whoever was able to deliver that change and obviously Trump was that sole voice that talked about transformation and change but the data was all wrong. You know, the pollsters, all of these extremely intelligent people with vast amount of resources and money got it wrong because they relied on data and data will never be able to predict the desires and wants of an irrational consumer.
And that is the danger that people like Tesco in the UK went through when they focused a lot of their decisions and direction for their offerings based on big data, only to find out that they all came into the marketplace and the consumer really wanted to be empowered to be smart about saving money. And Tesco lost, lost the battle, lost the shares, significant market share to a new-entry retailer who really met the deep emotional desires of the British population. And the other conversation is artificial intelligence. Will they really be a precursor, predictor, to success? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think things like neuroresearch that we’re heavily involved in, are better predicators of how people feel, and how people feel is really a clear indication of what they’re going to do. If we can tap into those understandings of how people feel, we’ll be in a better position to predict what they’re going to do.
Arlene: Is there more that designers can do to make big data usable, really relevant to clients, to the business sector…humanize big data?
JP: Well, they can start by spending more money on design versus spending it on big data. That would actually help a lot, how design impacts business, so spending more in the manufacturing of great products that incorporate great design. But designers can help big data by helping management visualize what big data means. There’s such a wealth of information. There’s actually an overload of information. We have too much data and with Internet of Things coming on the rise and being a big factor, we’re gonna have so much data that we won’t know what to do with it. And so the role of designer will shift, especially if we move away from being called graphic designers. If the role of designers will shift in companies visualize big data, creating dashboards and visual tools that bring meaning to all this complexity of information. I think that that’s where designers will play an important role.
You know, 10 years ago and today, infographics are everywhere. All right, that’s how we consume, today, information. We look for infographics on a summary of all the key metrics, all that big data summarized with some key visuals and some key numbers that bring meaning to those mathematical algorithms. So I think big data and design have a place together, and that place is about visualization. And the other thing that I think is really important, you know, you talk about innovation, you know…I’m a techie, I’m a Star Wars fan. I look at Star Trek and I look at, you know, the transcoder and look at the way they communicate, creating that visual created a hunger for a solution that today gets solved with earpieces that connect to your smartphone or an Apple watch that connects to your iPhone. I mean, that vision seeded ideas that resulted in innovation in the marketplace. And, designers, we have an incredible role of being able to create visuals of what the future could be. All right?
And I truly believe that when people can visualize what the future looks like, we’re that much closer of creating that reality. The challenge with innovation is I don’t think enough time is spent on what is the visual of what that looks like? You know, what impact does that have in a person’s life? You know, what does that life look like with this new innovation? And what does that innovation look like from a design standpoint, aesthetic, texture, feelings, even smell? Design plays such an important role because design’s about visuals, you know, primarily visuals and visuals are a doorway to your heart. And I come back to say that people buy products they desire. They’re willing to forgive a lot of things if that product talks to their emotional needs. And design is such a powerful tool because it allows you a doorway from that physical world, product world, into the customer’s heart.
Arlene: So, what advice would you have for designers launching their career today? What will be their biggest challenges and their biggest opportunities?
JP: When I graduated in design in 1978, I was the only student that got a job that year. I call it the design dark period. You know, design really wasn’t seen as something of great value. And students today are fortunate. They’re fortunate because design thinking is at the forefront of most organizations. I look at some of the largest manufacturers and brands around the world, they’re all building extensive, you know, internal design departments. You have chief design officers at equal importance as CMOs and CFOs, and they’re at the table making and contributing to the success of the organization. So, design today is very topical. So, you know, they’re fortunate they’re entering a marketplace where the value of design has been well documented, well understood, so they don’t have to talk about the category to convince. They need to come to the marketplace, however, with an understanding of the business of design. They need to come to the marketplace understanding how design plays an important role at building and growing businesses and that’s all about, you know, the foresight, the insights, the design strategy, design thinking because the reality is the execution is becoming commoditized.
You know, when we started we were magicians. Clients didn’t understand the design process. It was magic for them that we could create things. But today with technology, you know, clients clearly understand the power of design, but they also understand the design process and things like production and design adaptation are becoming commoditized. And so designers need to move up, to be further up the strategy part of the decision making process where, obviously, innovation plays an important role. And they need to be there by having skills and talent around strategy and innovation and foresight, consumer understanding and behavior. These are all things that today’s designers need to have if they’re gonna succeed in the marketplace.
Arlene: What is the benefit of designers collaborating across the design disciplines? Are there real benefits to government, to the business sector?
JP: Our industry from interior designers, architects, engineers, you know, product development designers, graphic designers, we have grown up in a culture of collaboration. It’s part of our DNA. We collaborate. We have to. We have to collaborate with photographers, illustrators, writers, you know, videographers, in order to bring our ideas to life. And so, by that nature, we’re collaborators. But what we can do, is where design thinking has been a nucleus for change, in business, where an organization like P&G have embraced design thinking as part of their go-to-market strategy. I think we need to evolve that. We need to look at what is next, and next is really design collaboration. And design collaboration is about this coherent, integrated approach to problem solving.
It’s about not only collaboration within our disciplines, it’s collaboration within the clients’ disciplines. You know, the big issue with most organizations today is they’re built around silos. And these silos are efficient but they really cause barriers for new ideas to come to market. They create resistance to change and to transformation. And what we can do as designers is empower these organizations through design collaboration of learning how to work across the different silos within a company but also align the resources around very focused, successful goals. And that’s what we can do. And I think that’s the future role of design is to move from design thinker, design collaborators, and imbue that unique capability that’s part of our DNA within the business community.
Arlene: The Canadian government is developing a new innovation strategy. I wonder how you think we should be connecting design to that strategy?
JP: You know, it’s unfortunate when you look at that strategy from the government. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the word design because, simply put, the government’s interested in creating jobs. You know, that is one of the metrics that they use to evaluate their performance, or we use to evaluate their performance. It’s been Trump’s platform in the U.S., create jobs, you know, that “Make America Great Again.” It’s every politician’s dream to create jobs. It’s the one metric that is actionable and clearly identifiable. And I always say, “What gets measured get’s done.” And what gets rewarded? Being re-elected gets repeated. And so the issue is, innovation’s all about creating jobs. It’s about driving our manufacturing capabilities in Canada, which has been dwindling over the years, and design is not seen as a job creator.
Arlene: And yet, can we bring manufacturing back to Canada without creating unique and compelling products, unique brands…
Arlene: …for those products?
JP: The reality is that if you want a product to succeed in Canada, you really need to ensure it’s well designed…it meets needs of customers. And if you look at other countries…we do a lot of work in China, we have an office in Shanghai…they have a huge commitment to design, a huge appetite for great design, and they’re willing to take that great design from anywhere, from their own country, from outside their country, from Canada because they understand the power of design. They understand that a well-designed hybrid vehicle is gonna sell globally, that it’s gonna appeal to the needs of their own population and the needs of the population abroad. And we need a government that understands that to truly innovate and to grow manufacturing in this country, they need a bigger commitment to design. They need to understand that design is not an add-on, a nice-to-have, it is actually the fundamental core of innovation. It’s at the center of innovation and innovation’s success. It is not at the fringe.
Arlene: I think if we can communicate that to our business sectors, we will have a winning streak.
JP: The other thing that I think we need to understand is that we’re a country in the shadow of a large other country, the U.S. And a lot of our manufacturing is an outsourced manufacturing from the U.S. Think of our automotive industry. We have some of the best plants, the most efficient carmakers, in Canada but we’re making American cars.
Arlene: And still designing them in America.
JP: I am hoping that more innovation is manufactured in this country and is supported by the Canadian government. And those new startup companies and these innovation solutions will only succeed if they drive desire with their customers. And we can’t drive desire with our customers if we don’t have great design. Thank you very much, Arlene, that was fun talking.
Arlene: Thank you, JP. My pleasure.