Building an innovative culture


Building a culture that is fertile for innovation will vary from organisation to organisation. By it nature innovation is often creative and non-systematic, and cannot therefore be achieved by following a number of prescribed steps (Witte 1972)

We can however recognise good practice and apply approaches where suitable. Cooper(1998) suggests some critical factors for success:

  • A unique superior product
  • A strong market orientation encouraging a customer focused new product process
  • The right organisation structure, design and climate
  • Sharp and early product definition
  • More emphasis on consistency, completeness and quality of execution

It is worth commenting further on points two and three in relation to building a culture of innovation. The second point Cooper makes relates to a marketing practice and approach called ‘marketing orientation’.

… the marketing concept focuses on customers. A company that adopts the marketing concept puts the customer at the centre of all business decision-making and planning. A company with this approach is said to be marketing oriented

(Lancacster and Withey 2008)

This is fairly significant as design is also user-centred.

…design, by its very nature, takes a people-centred approach to problem solving…”

(Best 2010)

In being ‘user-centred’ the two processes are intrinsically linked and provides the means for a dialogue between two business functions.

The third point touches upon the subject of management styles. As noted in Design Drivers (2005) “Many companies today have turned to developing dynamic products in order to deal with a world in perpetual change… The management style and company culture asssociated with these products needs to be willing to change and able to adopt a creative approach to seek out new concepts and market opportunities”.

The older mechanistic organisation is being replaced with a more ‘organic’ organisation, the differences are compared in the table below.

Characteristics of a mechanistic organisation Characteristics of an organic organisation
Hierarchical structure with stable departments based around different functions Flat structure with temporary work groups/teams
based around specific projects
Vertical communications dominate Lateral communications dominate
Rigid job definitions set by senior management Flexible job definitions defined by individuals through interaction with colleagues
Power and authority based on seniority in hierarchy Power and authority changing with changing circumstance, based on individual skills and abilities

In a mechanistic structure communication tends to be top down, problems are broken down into a series of specialisms, typically an organisational chart would show this set up as a pyramid. In an organic organisation communication tends to be more lateral and can be represented by the idea of ‘design circles’.

Circular teams

People quite often do not understand what someone else does. They do not know what information the other needs to do his job, and they do not understand how one person’s decisions can affect the work done by others. Design circles help to alleviate all of these problems

(Hollins and Hollins 1991)

These circles can be used at all stages of the design process to review the design, personnel in the design circle changes as a project progresses through the design process. The concept of the design circles helps give structure to design teams in organic organisations with the benefits of improved communication and informed decision making.

Developing a culture will take a time and effort, having someone championing these processes – managers with the right mind set will help. From experience PRINCE 2 project management, if taking too literally, can kill a creative project leaving it dead in the water. On a macro level a ‘waterfall’ approach is useful but you will need to think more ‘agile’.

The face of the UKs skills gap!


The “skills gap” – it’s a common thread to be heard amongst businesses and in the conversations I’ve been privy to businesses usually place the blame squarely on the educational institutions. For me one problem here is the people doing the complaining do not seem to be doing anything to rectify their quandary. So I thought I’d do a little digging and put in my 2 pence.

According to research by The Open University the skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2bn a year as companies struggle to find workers with the right attributes,

Companies are claiming they have to shell out extra on higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing to fill positions with people that have the right skill set. Businesses say they have found it difficult to recruit workers with the required skills in the past 12 months and so had been forced to inflate salaries above the market rate to attract talent.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics UK’s unemployment rate is at its lowest for more than 40 years sitting at 4.6pc in April 20017, meaning the pool of talent has become shallow which is forcing wages up.

So a side effect of the ‘situation’ is that companies are also having to hire less qualified people and train them on the job. Apprenticeships are on the rise, due in part to the governments apprenticeship levy, and are expected to double in 2018.

So it all seems very real.

However, no holds barred, the ignorance of living in our economic system and then complaining about the supply and demand of labour is staggering.

In economic theory, the law of supply and demand is considered one of the fundamental principles governing an economy. It is described as the state where as supply increases the price will tend to drop or vice versa, and as demand increases the price will tend to increase or vice versa. And this is precisely what’s happening in the job market.

The skills gap is nothing more than unwillingness for business to pay for the skilled labour they want or the desire to train people in the required skills they need. Businesses talk about having to pay above the going market rate but fail to recognise that going market rates alter continually as a natural force of economics.


7 Guidelines for Designers to Become Involved in Strategy


Design has a lot to offer the business world and if the power of design is ever going to be realised it requires us, designers, to build an equal partnership between decision makers and creators.

To help take a step closer to this utopia are seven guidelines that can assist designers to realise the strategic significance of their role:

  1. Be thought leader – realise that sometimes you can be thought leader in your organisation.
  2. Be passionate – it’s part of your job description, go out on a limb. In being extreme you can be wrong. If you do not have set backs you are not pushing your ideas to the maximum.
  3. Be thorough – do your homework, the key here is research, research, research. Impress people with your careful approach.
  4. Listen widely – ideas can emerge from many places within an organisation. Insights and wisdom can be found in every corner. A designer is there to harvest ideas as well as to generate them.
  5. Think the unthinkable – be willing to question everything, it’s necessary to question the status-quo in order to enable change
  6. Win friends – organisations are political, as well as all designs, especially when it can lead to change.
  7. Be flexible – design often require a rapid response to new situations.

Designers bring energy to strategy, they find ways forward. They can enable their organisations to build competitive advantage. Remember in the most part everyone is doing the same, in the same environment, design can react to a changing environment and deliver value quickly, keeping your organisation in the lead.

Design Teams

How to improve customer service – a practical guide


This article provides a method by which you can identify where to improve customer service and by extension the experience a customer will have. 

There’s also a handy download Customer Journey Template.

It is important that you gather together a mixed team from along the length of the service delivery. If you have the time and budget you may want to run the session a couple of times and with different teams. One team consisting of people who are delivering the service, and another team consisting of the executives, those who need to allocate resources to support any findings and suggestions.

The set up

Find yourself a suitable space for 5/6 people. A big part of this working is to be visual. You’ll want a white board, paper on the desk and some template sheets (see bottom of article) to help people take notes. You probably don’t want to run a session for anything more than 4 hours. Even then this is the upper end. People get frazzled out and lose interest.

Make sure you plan your time, if you only have one session available, you’ll need to be structured.  If this is the case you’ll probably want to talk to management first, this can help you steer the session to get the most out of the time you have.

Ideally a couple of sessions are best. It allows the team to rest up and let the information sink in so they can come to the next session with thoughts in place.

Customer journey maps

Essentially a timeline of interactions that a customer has with your organisation, or brand touch points if you’re talking to enthusiastic blue-sky thinkers! Simple enough right, draw a line and start plotting out all those interactions, even the smallest of details, starting with first contact to waving the customer goodbye after an enjoyable transaction, and beyond, service bundles, extended warranties, follow up calls to ensure everything is satisfactory etc.

Next map out customer satisfaction against each stage along the journey, this information can be garnered from complaint reports and from the experiences of those people around the table. This can help to form a priority list of where to focus on first.

Down load example of a customer Journey

Map out the tasks

So once you’ve identified some key areas you want to focus on you’ll want to list out the tasks that happen and the order and time they take do deliver that part of the service.

You now have a fully mapped out visual customer service overview for you to start dissecting and start coming up with some solutions and improvements.

The mixed team will mean potential hook ups between departments might become apparent, small changes that could have big effects later on down the line, extra detail that could be captured to ensure the flow of service delivery.

By writing out tasks it becomes easier to spot were we could develop more efficient workflows or introduce new technology to support staff.
Here’s a quick example of a real life journey map.

Website delivery times need speeding up

This section describes service design innovation in practice at a web development company supplying the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom industry.  The project falls under the definitions as provided in the Cox Report and resulted in the successful application of new ideas.

The web development team were under compounding pressure. Successful sales and marketing campaigns saw projects under way, at any one time, grow to around 30 sites. With growing complaints, and revenue slowing ( a direct result of sites not going live) a concerted effort was need to improve the situation. Weekly project meetings were already in place and the first step was to ensure a portion of that time was devoted to improving the process. The weekly meetings consisted of the following people which adapted over time to become a loose ‘design circle’:       

Design Teams 

The circle consisted of a core five people, the designers being the key project handlers. Over the weeks service delivery continuously improved based on true (and current) customer experience. Ideas could be tested on a small scale and the responses gauged before implementing new processes fully into the service delivery.

Three issues were identified both from a customer and management perspective. Improvements in these areas would serve as indicators to success:

  1. Poor customer satisfaction, unrealistic expectations and low customer involvement
  2. Long production times, missed deadlines due to large work load
  3. Reducing debt on account, delivering a consistent product

To help recognise where things were going wrong a ‘service blue print’ was put together.

“Service blue prints are a way to specify and detail each individual aspect of a service. This usually involves creating a visual schematic incorporating the perspective of both the user, the service provider and other relevant parties that may be involved, detailing everything from the points of customer contact to behind-the-scenes processes”

(Stickdorn and Schneider 2010)

The diagrams below give a flavour of the changes made. The resulting findings which drove these changes are more complex than shown here but in shows how a service can be made tangible and became possible to explain to directors where real changes were being made.


12 week process old

The process had the team map the service delivery week by week, comparing what was happening in terms of real time projects against a project delivery utopia. The adaptable ‘design circle’ meant expertise could be drawn upon quickly to inform process decisions.


12 week process new

The results of the project saw marked improvements in the service delivery which addressed all of the issues raised, customer complaints have been reduced to a bare minimal and a steady flow of ‘signed-off’ completed websites has been achieved. The review meetings still remain in place but a shift has occurred from discussing the delivery of the service to the technology used, the consequence being that the product itself is improving.