So how does a company become an engine of innovation? Although humans and the organizations they create are all unique and unpredictable in their strengths and shortcomings, most successful innovators follow some common steps in the innovation process. In his new book A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business, frog design founder Hartmut Esslinger presents these steps in a broad and simple outline.
Photo: frog design collaborated on Apple's design language in the early 1980s

Photo: Bionic extension from Master Class Esslinger, University of Applied Arts, Vienna

"For the designer, working successfully with major corporations requires some smart and honest networking, resulting in alliances that extend well beyond the business unit or division one is working with. It's also essential that designers do their homework to fully understand the business model, its goals for the innovation process, and its financial capabilities, limitations, and expectations. When everyone engaged in the process grasps and pursues the strategic interests and intentions of the 'higher-ups,' the innovation team develops a single-minded focus that generates great upward momentum."
Photo: In the 1990s, Lufthansa asked frog to create a new image for the airline.

"The collaborative team should include representatives of all relevant areas of the client's business. ... I also like to have top management involved to the point that the CEO or division leader always knows what is going on, along with strong representatives from marketing, engineering, finance, and factory (supply chain). The team should include some highly critical members, but there's no room for people whose main interests are protecting their turf and promoting their own careers."
Photo: frog's "black box" design for Sony ushered out the "wood grain and brass" tradition in home entertainment systems.

Photo: frog licensed the Disney brand for consumer electronics in 2001.

"Brainstorming can deliver major benefits when it's planned and conducted in the right settings. ... Although the frogTHINK process we use isn't set in stone, typically, sessions involve three stages, each of which has a specific time limit and theme. The first stage is about ALTERNATIVES (or free association), which allows participants to start from what they know and then move out in a comfortable exploration of associated ideas. The second stage is RANDOM, and it challenges the participants to push the alternatives further and to consider surprising ideas. The third stage is driven by PROVOCATION or REJECTION, which motivates the innovation team to take its ideas to their extreme--and unexpected--conclusions."
Photo: Retro-futuristic designs for the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder cruise lines.

"After the initial ritual phase, participants in the collaborative process must stop to fully explore how the innovation can change the future--for the company, the consumer, and the world."
"Although most creative collaborators are eager to share their ideas with as many people as possible--and especially those at the top--this phase of the creative process gives the team an opportunity to first firm up its understanding of the ideas being proposed and how they fit in a larger and more universal context. "
Photo: In 1998, from "humanized" SAP's R/3 enterprise software.

"The final phase of the creative collaboration step involves developing a cohesive picture of the innovative idea and building a plan for supporting and shepherding it toward the third and final step in the process--marketing. ... This is the stage during which innovation passes the border between the right and left brain. Collaborators must engage in a structured cooperative process, guided by strong, rational leadership, but aimed at promoting new ideas and innovative solutions that will build the client's successful future."
Photo: The Apple Macintosh SE from 1984 established the role of design as a key driver for business strategy.

Photo: Louis Vuitton's signature prints were developed with frog design in the late 1970s.

Refining and Proving the Innovation's Benefits "Collaborative teams must have a well-structured plan for proving the innovation's benefits. Creative consultants are likely to lose if they base their arguments on emotion; instead, they must bring hard data to the discussion, analyze similar business cases, and provide some economics-driven options. Begging weakens your position in this situation, and it reflects badly on the strength of the team's leadership."
Photo: frog's design for the Wega Concept 51 Home stereo, from 1971.

"Successful implementation of any design innovation requires that the innovation team fully embrace the goals of its business partner and work to fit these final stages of the process into the company's business model. Mies van der Rohe once said, "God is in the details." But when it comes to making the economics of your innovation work for both the business and its consumers, 'God is in the implementation.'"
Photo: Introduced in 1971, the Wega System 3000 transformed the company into a major brand.

"Success in this stage is defined by totally different and much more traditional parameters than the previous stages. As the innovation enters "public space" and competition, ideas and implementation aren't the only factors that determine its success. Financial backing, competitive strategies (some of them very unfair), conservative markets, and the prevailing economic conditions also play a determining role. As we've seen in other phases of the innovation process, without adequate resources in the launch phase, innovation doesn't have a chance."
Photo: Robot from Master Class Esslinger, University of Applied Arts, Vienna

Adapted from A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business by Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design. Copyright Jossey-Bass, 2009.
Read more or purchase the book at the official site.

How to Innovate, Step by Step

So how does a company become an engine of innovation? Although we are all unique and unpredictable in our strengths and shortcomings, most successful innovators follow some common steps in the innovation process. In his new book "A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business," frog design founder Hartmut Esslinger presents these steps in a broad outline.

So how does a company become an engine of innovation? Although humans and the organizations they create are all unique and unpredictable in their strengths and shortcomings, most successful innovators follow some common steps in the innovation process. In his new book A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business, frog design founder Hartmut Esslinger presents these steps in a broad and simple outline.
Photo: frog design collaborated on Apple's design language in the early 1980s

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