Design-Driven Innovation: A book review by Bob Morris

Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean
Roberto Verganti
Harvard Business Press (2009)

Does design drive innovation or does innovation drive design?

The answer is “Yes.” The success of each approach depends almost entirely on what Roberto Verganti characterizes as “radical research” and those who either conduct it or support those who do. In his introductory Letter to the Reader, Verganti explains that this is a book on management. More specifically, “it’s about how to manage innovation that customers do not expect but eventually love. It shows how executives can realize an innovation strategy that leads to products and services that have a radical new meaning: those that convey a completely new reason for customers to buy them. Their meanings are so distinct from those that dominate the market that they might take people by surprise, but they are so inevitable that they convert people and make them passionate.” Or what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba describe as “customer evangelists.”

Verganti calls this strategy “design-driven innovation” because design, in its etymological sense, means “making sense of things.” Therefore, think of design-driven innovation as the R&D process for meanings. This book shows “how companies can manage this process to radically overturn dominant meanings in an industry before their competitors so and therefore rule the competitors.” Throughout his lively narrative, Verganti responds to questions such as these:

1. How to innovate by making sense of things?
2. How to integrate design-driven innovation with an organization’s strategy?
3. How to initiative and then sustain productive interplay between “technology-push” and design-driven innovation?
4. Why do some companies invest in design-driven innovation and others don’t?

Note: Verganti’s comments in response to this question will be of great value to readers now determining whether or not design-driven innovation is appropriate to their organization’s needs, objectives, and resources.

5. What are “interpreters” and what is their role in the design-driven innovation process?
6. How to locate and then attract key interpreters?
7. How can an organization develop its own vision?
8. How to leverage the “seductive power” of the interpreters?
9. When establishing what Verganti calls the “Design-Driven Lab,” where to begin?
10. What is the “key role” of an organization’s senior managers and their influence on the organization’s culture?

However those involved are identified (e.g. “interpreters”) and their functions are defined, whatever a given organization’s goals and resources may be, questions such as these suggest critically important issues that must be addressed by its business leaders. If I understand Verganti’s core thesis, it is that the process by which to do that must itself be design-driven. That is to say, a competitive advantage can be achieved and then sustained only by innovative thinking about innovation. Only then can those who are involved “make sense” of what to do and how to do it for their customers.

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  1. Dian Hasan on September 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Bob,
    I thoroughly enjoy your book review. You have NO idea how much that helps. We don’t have the time for all the good biz books out there! I know I certainly don’t, so reading well-written book reviews like yours helps me get the “core message” of the books.

    With your permission I’ve reposted excerpts of your book review in my Ideas Inspiring Innovation blog, about Branding+Innovation.


    San Diego

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