Design-driven innovation

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Design-driven innovation is an approach that describes how to design an innovation that provides the customer with a new meaning. In this way, a company can drive the market instead of adapting to it. The approach is described by Roberto Verganti after studying successful design companies for over 10 years. [1][2]

The theory

The theory is that the needs of people are not only satisfied by functions (or technology), but also in the form of experience (meaning). The meaning of a product to the user includes aspects like memories, who gave it, the amount of care and repair involved, enjoyability, and how close the user links the product to the definition of himself. A meaning can therefore make a product embody goals, make skills manifest and shape the identity of its users. But a new meaning can also be designed, for example when adding a social aspect to a previously plain functional product.

The applicability of design-driven innovation is shown in Figure 1. A technology push can be created by following an analytical approach. Market pull (or user-centered design) can be created by stimulating open innovation. Design-driven innovation is an approach that makes use of closed innovation networks.


Figure 1. Design-driven innovation[3]

Innovations in the overlap of design- and technology-driven innovation are called technology epiphanies. An example of this are the Wii, that used a radically new technology, but also shifted the meaning of gaming from immersion into a virtual world into a active workout in the real world.

When succesful in innovating the meaning of products, the longevity of the product is much higher than when just innovating the function. In this way, the company can escape the innovation race for a longer period of time.

The process

The process of design-driven innovation consists of three steps:

  • Listening – gaining access to new knowledge with the help of interpreters. These are peers for doing research on how people give meanings to things. They also have an influence on people’s desires. Listening is a very extensive research process.
  • Interpreting – combining the gathered knowledge with your own insights into a unique proposal. The result is not necessarily a product, it could be an artefact, such as a book or exposition.
  • Addressing – addressing the proposal via the interpreters, who prepare the people and context. The goal of this is to support change in sociocultural paradigms.

The steps are described a lot more extensive and hands-on in the book.

The outcome

The value and outcome of the design-driven innovation process are:

  • Increased profit
  • Brand assets (such as brand equity and a leading competitive position)
  • Long-term investments in networks
  • Value for all shareholders

The radical innovation does not necessarily have to be a commercial success, because it still improves the innovative reputation of the company.


  1. Verganti, R. (2009). Design-driven innovation. Harvard business press, ISBN 9781422124826.
  3. Verganti, R. (2009). Design-driven innovation. Harvard business press, ISBN 9781422124826.
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