User Centered Innovation is Dead

With a cheeky little link to Tom Kelly’s The Art of Innovation, Roberto Verganti (author of Design Driven Innovation) suggests in not so many words that User Centered Innovation, IDEO’s claim to fame, is dead.

While tech experts were busy commenting on the qualities of the iPad, what struck me was the level of excitement that the event created. On Tuesday, the day before the product was unveiled, a Web search for “Apple tablet” produced more than 17 million links! On Wednesday, hordes of people attended the news conference remotely. Everyone was anxiously waiting for Apple’s interpretation of what a tablet is.

This was validation of Apple’s peculiar innovation process: Insights do not move from users to Apple but the other way around. More than Apple listening to us, it’s us who listen to Apple.

This contradicts the conventional management wisdom about innovation. In fact, one of the mantras of the past decade has been user-centered innovation (cheeky link here!): Companies should start their innovation process by getting close to users and observe them using existing products to understand their needs.

I disagree with this approach for these kinds of efforts. User-centered innovation is perfect to drive incremental innovation, but hardly generates breakthroughs. In fact, it does not question existing needs, but rather reinforces them, thanks to its powerful methods.

With the iPad Apple has not provided an answer to market needs. It has made a proposal about what could fit us and what we could love. It’s now up to us to answer whether we agree.

I fully agree with Robert’s analysis. As I always say, consumers are horrible in telling you what they like. Listening to them gets you as far as optimizing your design, true innovation requires critical insight and a leap of faith. Apple is just so good at doing that.

Astute readers would remember a similar discussion on this issue. In my previous post, “Don Norman believes Technology comes first, User Needs Last. What?“, I concluded with:

So yes, Technology first, but if you put needs last or if technology does not collaborate or “handshake” with consumer needs, what is the point of being first?

So how is this different from this discussion?

Basically, in that earlier discussion, I indicated that Design should be used as a means to link innovation primers, in this case technology, to users. This makes technology meaningful, and a likely success. In this discussion and in Tom Kelly’s book, the idea of going to users to look for these innovation primers, which I’m sure you are convinced, is not always the right way to go if you want to challenge paradigms.

The game is changing; it is no longer enough to make things better. We have to rethink products to really make a difference.

Via: HBR

  • nicole

    March 10, 2011 at 7:06 am Reply

    The point is to ask users “How or Why” they do something no what they want. Really? This is not insight, or even commentary on how user centered innovation is dead, it’s just someone’s rant because they want to be right. Steve Jobs leads great products, not because he asks people what they want … Apple looks at what people DO, and make it better

  • arun

    January 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm Reply

    The basic needs and wants of consumer does not change. A consumer may not a scientist or an analyst to provide an innovative means of resolving his problems. Many a times, he may not even think of upgrading the tools but looking for an alternative tool that makes his life easier.
    Hence asking a user on innovation may not be useful.
    It is the responsibility of the designer to come out with a tool with an economical technology and price to resolves the problem.

  • David Kellmeyer

    June 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm Reply

    btw, have we crowned the ipad the next big thing. I’m not sure it won’t flop, I have one and I use my iphone all day, every day. I use my iPad … hmm … when friends come over and I want to show them I have an ipad.
    So, maybe this gets to the larger point. I know what I enjoy and want technology to help me do it better, easier, more often (good ole incremental improvement) … I guess in my personal life i’m not looking for technology game changers that ask me to invest more of my time, just to give me more time to get away from technology.
    For me enjoyable game changers have been Snowboarding replacing Skiing (until I went huge off a flat-top and broke my back, come to think it, never had insane jumps until boarding replaced skiing…) and I soon look forward to Kite Boarding replacing all my huge quiver of windsurfing equipment. Oh, and oversized tennis racquets that actually allow me to hit the sweet spot more often than with my childhood T-2000 (long live Jimmy C.)
    But i’m over 40 and getting more enjoyment out of not changing than changing so probably why I gravitate to a methodology that will produce more products that help be do what I enjoy more often. But just for my curiosity: plz provide me a link to the innovation method that produces these new innovations better than UCD and brainstorming.

  • David Kellmeyer

    June 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm Reply

    User-Centered Design or Innovation is not about asking someone what they want but rather seeking to understand not just what they need but also what they aspire to. One must take the time to find the fringe users and then have the time are creativity to get to not what they are doing but what they would like to be doing. Often they don’t just come out and tell you this word for word, rather this must be interpreted by the designer. The old saying goes “you have 2 eyes, 2 ears, and one mouth use them in proportion”. Well good advise to look and listen more than talk but I find it more valuable to look than listen. How people act tells more truth than what they say. But this takes more boring research time, something many designers are not willing to invest.
    How you select users, how you engage users, how you observe users, and how you (and a very good multi-diciplinary team) interpret users and finally brainstorm ideas determines how innovative your solution will be.
    Now is UCD going to produce mega-game-changers? Probably not, but then again NO method is going to have a high success rate at that. At least if you don’t change the world you can fall back on a useful solution!

  • zippyflounder

    February 13, 2010 at 2:59 pm Reply

    One final thought, I was reminded what a old friend(now departed from this mortal coil)told me long ago that “many look but few see, many listen but few hear, many talk but only a few act.” So to me how well we do all of these things is that makes the difference in the outcome. Do this well, you are rewarded, do it with pre conceived notions or a big ego and you get…crap.

  • Dan Zollman

    February 13, 2010 at 6:13 am Reply

    Also, on a side note, it is not a new tool or strategy to reject old tools and strategies. If someone were to argue that user-centered innovation should be done away with because we now understand innovation better–they better explain what it is that’s going to replace user-centered tools. I’ll hold off on continuing this point, though, because I haven’t read Verganti’s book.

  • Dan Zollman

    February 13, 2010 at 6:08 am Reply

    DT – then perhaps we are in need of a clear distinction between user-centered incremental innovation and innovation that is driven by user-centered principles. (By the way, it may even be a mistake to say that there is any innovation that isn’t user-centered–there’s only innovation that is more or less sufficient or insufficient in meeting users’ needs.)
    Zippyflounder’s argument about the Wii is a perfect example.
    And Creative? Creative’s mp3 players are fundamentally no different from iPods with regard to serving needs. I know plenty of people who have bought Creative mp3 players because of of the RAM, battery life, software compatibility, and design. Those mp3 players certainly meet needs and wants in the same way iPod do, but for a much different segment of consumers. The iPod appeals to and serves the needs of a much bigger segment than the other does, but that doesn’t mean the iPod is a better product in an absolute sense.
    But back to what DT said about the definition of user-centered innovation. I completely agree. When we discuss user-centered innovation as a specific set of tools and processes, then yes, maybe it is “dead.” But…here’s how Verganti defines user-centered innovation in his article: “Companies should start their innovation process by getting close to users and observe them using existing products to understand their needs.” That’s very different than what DT might be referring to. Verganti makes it sound like any designer who wants to “get close to” and “observe” users is old-fashioned; it SOUNDS like he’s suggesting that a good designer is a designer who ignores users and takes guesses about users’ needs…which is to ignore all of the lessons learned from the movement surrounding user-centered design.
    Whether or not we take Verganti’s article seriously, one of the big distinctions is between tools and principles. Perhaps the traditional tools of user-centered process are limited. The principles and strategies are another matter. What I’m trying to point out is not that people perceive [user-centered tools] as excluding [other tools]. I’m saying that [user-centered principles] should not be understood as separate from [other innovation principles]. So, no, the tools applied on a deeper level will not produce radical innovation. The _principles_ applied at a deeper level produce radical innovation. For example, the iPad was created with the awareness of user needs and behaviors related to laptops, phones, mobile computers, e-readers, et cetera, and that user-centered view was used to create an (arguably) radical product rather than make incremental changes to laptops.
    That’s why it’s dangerous to interpret Apple’s strategy, or other non-incremental innovation, as a rejection of user-centered principles.

  • zippyflounder

    February 13, 2010 at 4:39 am Reply

    DT: Let us look a the Wii, the market space was not growing much so the question was asked, what consumer base is not in play the answer was non gamers. The non gamers were asked “why” and the answer came back to the learning curve of the controls and the primary focus on shoot em ups and the like. The answer is the Wii a non traditional IO that was a direct responce to the needs and wants of the un-served market.

  • zippyflounder

    February 13, 2010 at 4:35 am Reply

    DT: your example of creative is functionally wrong, anytime a well financed, well marketed product go’s up against a pipsqueak the latter gets killed. Apple offered a end to end product, what the customer wanted and had the money and facilities to make that happen.

  • gwen

    February 13, 2010 at 12:37 am Reply

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but a lot about user research is in many ways at the heart of a good designer.
    Michael Bierut: 5 Secrets from 86 Notebooks – he presented at 99% behance conference and I love what he feels is important. Understand his background is in graphics design and most of his conversation is about branding, interior design, and graphics.

  • DT

    February 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm Reply

    Hey @dan thanks for your comments. Perhaps my example might be a little simplistic but you might have missed my point. Firstly I’m not saying that any of the tools should be exclusive, in fact they should be part of an arsenal of tools one could employ. Anyways, what I’m basically saying is it is all about intent and what or how you intend to use the tool for.
    There is another issue lurking in the background here (that was prompted by a tweet from Adam Richardson from Frog) and that is the definition of user-centered innovation. Perhaps this tool has evolved, I’m not 100% sure, but if we follow Robert’s or IDEO (old?) definition you are not going to get any kind of radical innovation from that process. Therefore I disagree to your point that user-centered innovation applied at a deeper level is going to give you radical innovation.
    Ok proof is in the pudding. I could probably identify a number of radical products (Palm Pilot, SMS/Texting, Nintendo DS or Wii, iPod, iPhone etc.) that has made an huge market changing impact, but did not find it’s conceptualization via a user-centered process ie asking what people really want or observing what people need. On the other hand, I struggle to even identify one product that is what we define a radical innovation that came from a user-centered process. Perhaps you might know of a few that we can dissect and study?
    @zippy, there is no dreaming here. Just the facts and the difference between paradigm changing, memorable products vs. the “oh hum”. Let’s look at it this way, do you know about Creative Technologies? They are in fact the creator of the Mp3 player and even the iPod User interface. Apple basically killed them, with the launch of the iPod. Creative responded by believing they could beat Apple’s iPod by giving consumers what they wanted. More RAM, Drag and drop songs, longer battery life, and even huge color choices etc. So let me ask you, does anyone even remember their products, or even what this company is? These days people even call Mp3 players iPods.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s all a game, and all about how businesses make money. You can make money in any way and many ways. If you go with radical innovation, expect high risks but sustainable profits. Opt for incremental Innovation, we get and easy sell, quick kill but ultimately not sustainable. The options are there, it’s up to the businesses to do a little navel gazing and figure out what they really want in life.

  • Dan Zollman

    February 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm Reply

    The problem is in the statement “we could use user-centered innovation OR we could …”
    Why not employ user-centered innovation AND a multidisciplinary approach/critical insight/[et cetera]?
    DT suggested looking at migration trends, traffic flow, and room positioning while designing a door-like innovation. zippyflounder said we could look at market segments, social networking aspects, etc. Those are all user-centered. They’re all about understanding a) user needs, and b) user behavior. They don’t involve asking users what they WANT, but that’s never the primary method for user-centered design.
    Why are we discussing this under the assumption that user-centered innovation and [alternative] are mutually exclusive?
    The difference comes down to the extent to which different strategies are applied: user-centered design is about understanding behavior and uncovering needs. When that’s applied on a relatively shallow level, you get incremental innovation. When it’s applied on an especially deep level, you get a “rethought” solution. (Well, both are rethought, but again, it’s about the extent to which the designer rethinks.) The latter is closer to a “breakthrough” innovation.
    If one looks at the idea of “user-centered innovation” on a superficial level, it LOOKS like it’s about need-driven optimization and incremental improvement. Yes, that’s the most common result of user-centered innovation. (It’s the most common result of any kind of innovation.) But if user-centered thinking is applied at a deeper level, it’s no different than these other kinds of innovation we’re talking about.
    So, again: why are we arguing based on the assumption that these innovation strategies contradict each other?

  • zippyflounder

    February 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm Reply

    ” However if we did not use user-centered innovation, and approach this from a multi-disciplinary angle or with critical insight, we would question why we even need a door? We would probably look at the migration trends, traffic flow, or even the position of rooms and facilities. We would then create a entrance system solution out of that.”

    You forgot “how the “door” feels, will it like it’s job or feel marginalized? The mapping of the user experience of using the “door” could be explored, is it empowering or confining (guess that depends on if its locked or not). There is the opportunity to explore the regional and economic market segments for the “door” not to mention the social networking aspects. It comes down to this, if you are spending somebody else money, go ahead and dream up a storm, if however your using your own, ask the end user first.

  • DT

    February 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm Reply

    Hello all! Wow fantastic discussion and I really love it when people take the discussion to another level. One thing, if I may add, to help clear things up is for us to consider user-centered innovation as a tool. This then leads us to look at how it is applied. Take for example. Let’s say we were asked to design a new door.
    If we applied user-centered innovation we would probably design a door that would swing better or smoother, and perhaps even create a little view window to see if anyone is on the other side before we open the door. We would also make sure that the door handle and position of the bar to be ergonomically correct, as operate with enough pressure so as to not hurt your hand.
    However if we did not use user-centered innovation, and approach this from a multi-disciplinary angle or with critical insight, we would question why we even need a door? We would probably look at the migration trends, traffic flow, or even the position of rooms and facilities. We would then create a entrance system solution out of that.
    Maybe not the best example and perhaps overly simplistic, but one solution results in a optimized door, another totally rethinks the door. One is an easy sell, the other is risky business as it could either flop or revolutionize the idea of doors. I’m also sure you can draw a parallel of what Apple has done with all their products, not necessary only with the iPad.
    Hope this helps?

  • zippyflounder

    February 8, 2010 at 5:20 am Reply

    Jim: Nice article, nowhere in it doe’s it state what was finely used to render the zeppelin impotent for bombing, the incendiary small caliber machine gun round.
    Jim your right, find the problem, ask the people intimately involved with the problem questions and then design the solutions. “In the summer of 1916, three new types of British machine gun ammunition which had been under development for years became available for general use. Two types, named “Pomeroy” and “Brock,” after their inventors, were explosive bullets. The third, called “Buckingham”, was a phosphorus incendiary bullet. Any one of these bullets was only marginally effective when fired at a zeppelin, but when mixed, they formed a lethal combination. The explosive rounds blew holes in the zeppelin’s gas cells, allowing the hydrogen to escape and mix with the oxygen outside, forming an explosive mixture. The incendiary bullets then ignited the mixed gases! This new “mixed ammo” sequence was to become Britain’s wonder weapon against airships ” from

  • zippyflounder

    February 8, 2010 at 5:02 am Reply

    Akio Morita said:
    “We don’t ask consumers what they want. They don’t know. Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we’re there, ready” That was when he (as legend goes) ignored the testing results they were getting from consumers just before they introduced a little thing called the Walkman.”

    Nice story but as with lots of story its mostly wrong. His Akiro had introduced the pocket transistor radio years before, because he had a lock on the use of transistors and the pocket radio could only be created via that technology. There were other “portable” radios, but they were pretty large but had a place in the market. He just did a normal small step innovation, make it smaller/cheaper and launch. In time they lost the high margin on them as competitors came out. The saw that the cassette was gaining traction as the best alternative to 8 track tapes and did the logical thing, put it into a pocket format. Did he listen to the consumers, yes, pocket music was successful so pocket pre-recored would likely be as well. The evolution continued with tape and radio to ultimately CD.
    In the end, be Santa Clause and ask the “kiddies” what they want. To do that you need to use your database (existing product), engineering knowledge (new tech) and insight (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, others times it’s not) to get close to what they say they want. Show them the offering, and LISTEN. You want to piss away a ton of money, get all self centered and develop a product that is “SO COOL IT CANT LOSE” and launch it. The market is littered with them, (web van, most dot com’s)so don’t ask your market at your own peril, but hey its just your companies money after all.

  • Jim Rait

    February 7, 2010 at 3:14 am Reply

    I have been studying 100 year ago innovation in aviation as a model of what we get upto today. It struck me that the needs of air gunners trying to shoot at Zeppelins over London; they knew they were missing their targets but had no way of articulating the real need to the right people. June Barrow-Green in this lecture [] describes how technology and need came together to solve the problem.. understand the problem, assemble the right people to solve the problem, communicate the solution in a digestible way!

  • stephen chininis

    February 7, 2010 at 2:48 am Reply

    It’s a matter of balance . . . right? Listen to the consumer too much and you get mush. Follow just the technology and you get DOS/prompts and defragging your hard drive. I have always found the place in the middle is what allows innovation . . . you might get a clue from a consumer, but they will tear-you-up in a focus group if you give them what they “asked” for.
    This is of course not new . . . does anyone else remember all the way back to 1984 . . . Akio Morita said:

    “We don’t ask consumers what they want. They don’t know. Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we’re there, ready” That was when he (as legend goes) ignored the testing results they were getting from consumers just before they introduced a little thing called the Walkman.

    Industrial Designers are (I thought) supposed to be generalists. We look at the details AND have an ability to step back and be objective. If you analyze the iPad by looking at the details you will of course see how clearly it could never succeed. If you step back it is obvious that the details don’t matter AT ALL. It is a well conceived design that is intended to be a fluid system that can change and morph until the consumer’s desires and needs are met. Apple’s biggest innovation might just be showing us a controlled way to introduce a product to get real sales and real feedback, and leaving room in the design of the product to give the consumer what they are asking for AFTER they have bought it. After it becomes clear what the consumer really wants. In other words . . . I have copy and paste on my iPhone now, thank you. Now if someone could only figure out how to do that with car design!

  • CS

    February 6, 2010 at 10:04 pm Reply

    “Listening to users” does not equate to user centric design. That would be too simple and superficial. The key is in understanding people, sometimes more so than how much they understand themselves.

    I will say Apple saw an opportunity to offer users a much better experience in consuming online / media content after observing and understanding how these activities are
    currently carried out. iPad likely stemmed from them noticing a void in the computing user experience and not from “listening to users”. Still, the user is in the core of their vision.
    We can extract different types of information from users; however the most useful bits may also not be the most obvious.User centric methods may fail to produce breakthrough innovations because of the tendency to only extract the most tangible bits (what people think & say they want).
    1) user centric design = listening to users, validate these “insights” with data and act on it
    2) user centric design = try to understand the user, define potential unmet needs and have the confidence to act on these unvalidated “insights”
    Perhaps most companies are doing more of 1) than 2)?

  • Barb

    February 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm Reply

    I would have to agree with the statement:

    “As I always say, consumers are horrible in telling you what they like. Listening to them gets you as far as optimizing your design, true innovation requires critical insight and a leap of faith.”

    However, if that is the kind of research being done (just asking people what the like) then we are asking the wrong kind of questions and looking for the wrong stuff. If you observe and ask open ended questions, you can find insights into what people need, not just what they think they want. Wants are fickle, needs are lasting.
    Apple – however they drive their innovation – has insight into the things people don’t even know they need.
    Thanks for your post.

  • Paul Trumble

    February 6, 2010 at 8:46 am Reply

    This is too simplistic. Apple does well because they have in Steve Jobs an expert designer who has the talent to execute expert design. Unfortunately, people like that are few and far between.
    User-centered design has never been a process of asking people what they want, it’s a process of finding out what their motivations and needs are. If you ask them what to design for them, you are guaranteed not to meet their needs. It’s about understanding the problem you are trying to solve.

  • gwen

    February 6, 2010 at 8:12 am Reply

    true… taking a break from it all, is good. among the people i work with (market analysts) they are not pushing what is already out there in the blogs or the student concepts in yanko (yanko is a blessing but a headache!), etc.
    I am noticing it is not that easy to just “trail” off into random thoughts, I end up “coaching” people to discover new insights in what they found.
    Helping them to break down a student concept or a blog post into “elements” – the ingredients of a potentially new idea that branches from the source. Again it is not that easy cause they will keep bouncing the same concept/blog again and again in different projects……….

  • zippyflounder

    February 6, 2010 at 7:56 am Reply

    IDO’s missive, just a PR “I love me” peace that will make their clients feel all warm and fuzzy about paying 5x for derivative work. Want to be creative, innovative, even come out with disruptive products? The simple answer is unplug, switch off. To be creative you need to let your subconscious ramble around, not be blasted by your phone, ipod, twitter, texting, music, movies, and all that jazz. Do your research, and go out and just relax in the country, let your mind go for a walkabout. Then you will have a flash, maybe even a original thought, rather than a re hash of something you saw, heard or noticed from the flood of drivel that is pouring into our heads.

  • Philipp

    February 6, 2010 at 7:30 am Reply

    @nina & @zippyflounder: very true points.
    Top-management is a key success factor in innovation. And Steve Jobs is a great (and probably the most used) example. You won’t believe how many companies ask for the iPod/iTunes/iPhone for their industries…
    To be successful in a market (specially with radical stuff) needs more than insights, ideas, concepts, iterations, etc. It also requires an organization that is willing and able to bring it to life – which is harder the bigger you are. (read: Stunning and tragic. RT @mkapor: Former Microsoft VP analyzes Microsoft’s failure to innovate
    PS: IDEO was not involved with the iPad, this was never implied. (Edited on behalf of Philipp)

  • zippyflounder

    February 6, 2010 at 3:51 am Reply

    Here is reality, 99% of “innovation” is and should be incremental because its by far the most profitable. If you want real innovation or game changing revolution you only will see that from start-ups that have no vested interest to protect. Game changing innovation is hugely risky, it fails over 90% of the time because you not only have to guess the features, price point, market segment, distribution partners but also do it at just the right time. So how do you do good incremental (profitable) innovation, watch your customers, ask questions, look at new and upcoming tech then shake and bake.

  • Leong

    February 5, 2010 at 8:22 pm Reply

    I believe Verganti’s view point is point heavily towards the merits of radical innovation rather than incremental innovation. User centered design as first coined by David Kelley in IDEO is talking about using creating products with deeper user involvement as part of the process. That translate to better usability and design. User centered design used by both of them are defined differently.

  • Nina

    February 5, 2010 at 9:45 am Reply

    The thing that I feel like this is missing is the fact that I do think that Steve Jobs is user focused. He just doesn’t follow Ideo’s process, but that’s fine because Ideo’s process is supposed to be more scalable. For Jobs, the question is, “What do computer users really want to do?” He looked at the tablet and said, “What can I deliver in this package that will be useful to people?” Yes, the tablet is very media focused, but I would argue that’s largely our fault – we consistently gave Apple indicators that we wanted to consume digital media (by buying these products). Again, given the backlash on the tablet, this might have been wrong, but the last time such a backlash happened, the original app store was created. Part of the process is being iterative and listening to people. And saying that ALL successful companies must participate in user-centered design in order to be successful is a little small minded, honestly. I never heard anyone screaming that user-centered innovation was dead because Microsoft refused to participate.

  • gwen

    February 5, 2010 at 6:45 am Reply

    What really bothers me is not one of critics or bloggers have touch, smell, taste, used, or even taken the ipad into their daily activities. And that is something i am most curious about. (i will admit i don’t own apply except for the 5th gen ipod, but i don’t even use itunes.)
    The stripping of all elements (features that people seem to can’t live without) has to imply a “reflection” of what do people really really need? do we really need the memory card slot? of course i can’t live without flash but does apple know something that we don’t?
    And this happen when ipod launched, so many people in the music industry were like “who is crazy enough to buy a 500 dollar music player?”
    User research, human centric, insight market (the new jargon on the block) is all for the data oriented companies. Data – is a sense of reliability. I agree with everyone that data, focus groups, surveys, etc does not lead to market break through. I mean when Johnathan Ive mention that they don’t do focus groups i applaud but also i think that message was more for the other competitors out there to get angry and worst confused.
    In terms of technology, and definitely with this year being all in the smartphones, smartbooks, and the tablets. How can you conduct user research when these products are not established in people’s homes and integrated in through their daily tasks? How does one knows that a 50 year old NEEDS a tablet, when there is no such technology out there? Granted the kindle is here but that is comparing apples to oranges, completely different experiences involved with a touchscreen verses a non touchscreen.
    As for the art of innovation book, when a firm like IDEO or frog launch a book about their methodology-it is usually for PR purposes and those methods they explain within are done and over, in which case internally the organization have moved on to new methods of actions. Cause as a good business perceptive i would sell a book of all my old tricks to get a bit of profit but also to get me on the reader’s pedestal of admiration.
    BUT there is another side to making the book, innovation is about sharing. The more people are willing to share their thoughts the easier for others to contribute and feel that are part of the idea which leads into an innovative product. Communication is Innovation.

  • Dan Zollman

    February 5, 2010 at 6:00 am Reply

    I agree with Eduardo and Philipp. Verganti makes a big mistake in his article: he thinks the iPad is not a user-centered innovation.
    But the fact that the iPad is audacious and perhaps radical does not mean it is not user-centered. Verganti says, “Insights do not move from users to Apple but the other way around.” What?! The iPad is based on users’ needs as much as it is based on a market opportunity. The iPad is radical because it addresses different needs than other products have addressed, and it addressed them through strategies that are newly conceived.
    The idea that user-centered innovation contradicts radical innovation is a straw man. Radical innovation MUST be user-centered. The claim is that user-centered innovation almost always produces incremental innovation and rarely produces breakthroughs. If that’s the case, it’s because designers almost always use user-centered strategies to meet known needs in better ways and rarely use such strategies to question needs. It depends on the designer: As long as the designer is ready to break paradigms and rethink needs, user-centered innovation is perfectly suited for radical innovation.
    (Anyway, DT, thanks for always posting insightful and thought-provoking ideas.)

  • DT

    February 5, 2010 at 3:40 am Reply

    @Eduardo: Thanks for sharing, indeed it is very true that the path to innovation is by understanding users more than they do themselves.

    : Ah a representative from IDEO, welcome! Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. Let me see if I can respond to some of your points.
    Indeed this is a limited view on Innovation and I agree with your comment that many companies like Dell have found success in incremental innovation, or even being close followers like say Samsung to the Motorola Razr. No argument here. But things start to look different when you consider the game the market leaders like Apple play and I think this aligns closer to Robert’s view, that Radical Innovation is what companies need to really do if and only if they want to be ahead of the pack. Sure, companies may be contented being followers and letting companies like Apple take the plunge, but in my mind, if you want to be in the game, be in it to win or at least be in the top 3. And to be in the top 3 companies cannot afford to rely on an incremental innovation strategy. Again though, it is how you define success.

    (Human centered) Design is a way to start looking from that side and to avoid falling into the trap of promising business models and/or new technologies. The examples of these unsuccessful innovations that forget the human side are endless…
    Also – you should not forget that companies like IDEO can never talk about all the work they actually do for their clients – so maybe some of the revolutions you have seen have actually been produced there – and by starting to look at people.

    Oh I’m almost sure that IDEO has evolved their methodologies from that book which is what easily more than, what, 5 years old? That was why I said it was cheeky of him to do so. Taking a pot shot like that. So are you implying that IDEO had a hand in creating the iPad? Well, don’t answer that, I would not want to put you on the spot! 🙂 Kidding aside, you might be right, the human centered approach may have been the seed to some massive product revolutions, but IMHO those are few and far between. The majority of such effort tend to result in products or designs that just optimize.
    Finally, there is no confusion over the role of Market Research. MR is used in a similar fashion where I work and if you look at my other post (, I have no illusions on its strengths and weaknesses and what it can do. It is but a tool, where the problem is always how we apply this tool. This is perhaps also where Robert is coming from, then again its hard to say as it looks like he is doing a plug for his book! Again, kidding aside, MR is a very powerful tool that bridges the gap between business, technology and consumers. But, as you probably know, MR is not design. Thinking that it is design is the problem and why we are having this discussion. Apple probably did their homework and knew that digital medial or even ebooks was going to be huge. But their articulation of the solution, (iTunes etc.) is not going to come from any MR, observations or consumers. It probably came from a rigorous design process, lead by some of the best minds in the industry.
    Regardless, thanks for reaching out and pointing my readers and I to that great article by Jane. Please keep in touch?

  • Philipp

    February 5, 2010 at 1:52 am Reply

    I think this is a limited view on innovation.
    There is obviously incremental, evolutionary and revolutionary innovation – and all are needed for businesses.
    There are a lot of very successful innovative companies out there – not just Apple. And when you look closer you find that there are a lot of different ways/cultures/methods to be innovative – that can be very different than the well known way Apple does it – or how IDEO does it.
    There is no golden rule and it takes more than a process or a single person.
    In the end the user/consumer/human votes.
    (Human centered) Design is a way to start looking from that side and to avoid falling into the trap of promising business models and/or new technologies. The examples of these unsuccessful innovations that forget the human side are endless…
    Also – you should not forget that companies like IDEO can never talk about all the work they actually do for their clients – so maybe some of the revolutions you have seen have actually been produced there – and by starting to look at people.
    And please don’t confuse that with market research. If you do that I suggest that you should read Jane Fulton Suri’s “Informing Our Intuition: Design Research for Radical Innovation”

  • Eduardo

    February 5, 2010 at 12:56 am Reply

    Steve Jobs quote: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new”.
    I believe users will always be the focus of any design project. Even if the guidelines aren’t set by what we hear from them, the guidelines will still be set with the user in mind.
    Perhaps the path to real innovation is to understand users more than they understand themselves.
    Technology is a tool but it is not a product’s purpose.

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