Innovation by Design :: UXmatters

The Power of Design

The authors of innovation by Design provide familiar, but well-researched references to prior writings on the value of design—such as the Design Management Institute’s now familiar Design Value Index, which synthesizes research that illustrates how design-led organizations tend to outperform their peers in publicly traded markets by more than 200%.

Of particular interest to me was the inclusion of Richard Buchanan’s “Four Orders of Design,” a concise description of the relationships between a variety of design disciplines. As Buchanan demonstrates, an organization’s design maturity observably follows a consistent path:

  • graphic design—Design starts in the visual space.
  • product design—It then proceeds to the physical space, where value becomes manifest in well-designed visual communications.
  • interaction design—It expands further and more broadly into experiences.
  • system design—Finally, it comprehends the design of organizations and relationships.

I expect that many of us who have been in the design profession for long enough would recognize the evolution of a designer—and by extension their organization—through these steps. Lockwood and Papke build on this articulation of design maturity by adding a fifth step: awareness design—that is, designing cultures in which design is a strategic tool across functions and organizations and design methods transform organizations entirely, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1—Five orders of design
Five orders of design

Innovation Needs Design

Many corporate leaders cite innovation as a key concern because they either aren’t fast enough, aren’t disruptive enough, or simply aren’t happening. Traditional firms struggle with innovation, largely because they follow the traditional ways of running a business. They turn to engineers and scientists, who have been trained for the last 200 years to focus on efficiency, repetition, scale. Thus, they are focused on reducing divergence. This artifact of the industrial revolution may have been fine for a while, but it runs counter to the needs of innovation—to embrace divergent ideas, experiment, learn from failure, and push the limits of our human potential.

Leading organizations have recognized the power of design and the authors provide several pieces of evidence for this fact: Organizations as obvious as such consultancies as Capgemini, EY, and McKinsey, as well as less obvious firms such as Capital One, Steelcase, and Salesforce have either acquired or taken equity positions in leading design firms. In addition to buying design competencies, major consulting firms such as “Accenture, Deloitte, GE, and IBM are all rumored to be hiring 1,000 designers each.”

Even more telling is an anecdote in the book that conveys GE’s commitment to integrating design into its business strategy. The company’s new headquarters in Boston is to house 800 employees—three-quarters of which are designers. And these are not engineers who are just called designers. They are human-centered designers, design thinkers, and similar professionals who will bring greater customer focus and creative thinking to the company’s leadership team and strategy.

Tactics for Success

Based on their work with a variety of organizations, Lockwood and Papke provide a series of tactics that anyone can use to understand how to innovate using design thinking. Recognizing that different organizations have different cultures, the authors roughly divide types of cultures into three segments, each of which has its own set of values and a best way of engaging for success:

  1. Expertise based
  2. Authenticity based
  3. Participation based

Likewise, multiple factors that exist in an organization’s culture can influence the success of design-thinking initiatives. The authors identify ten such factors, including co-creation, the pull factor, and others. Different cultures may have different profiles for these attributes. For example, a culture that values participation might embrace co-creation with its employees and customers. As the authors share in their book, this is the case at Marriott, where a functioning property is a work in progress, with guests contributing to the evolution of Marriott’s offerings.

As the authors note, we shouldn’t see the factors they set forth as a checklist or a specific process; this would be too contrived. It is important to understand that each organization is unique. Therefore, integrating design thinking into a specific culture requires a distinctive mix of factors.


Innovation by Design would be helpful to design professionals who find themselves in a position to make big contributions to their organization, but need advice on how to succeed in their task. It would likely be best for a mid-to-senior level professional who has broad experience with different cultures and can relate the content to their own experiences. In this way, the book can crystallize the experiences of a person who has lived a career in design.

The book’s inclusion of organizational-development content from experts in the field brings greater relevance to the application of design in organizations. 

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