The Multiple Dimensions of Design-driven Innovation

The Multiple Dimensions of Design-driven Innovation

By Susana Gonzalez Ruiz

By: Susanna Gonzalez Ruiz

The design company Lékué shows us that radical innovation is multidimensional and breaks with the mainstream. It goes beyond design, the product and even the company itself.

Lékué is a leading design company that creates all kinds of silicone molds to enjoy a healthy, practical and fun cuisine. Its headquarters are located in Barcelona (Spain) and their products have come to more than 40 countries. I’ve talked with Nathalie Pereira, Innovation Director, to know better this highly innovative company with a vison and strategy which makes me think of the design-driven innovation, described by Roberto Verganti.

The Lékué’s Innovation Department is quite recent -just two years-, and its creation is the result of a shift in the overall innovation strategy of the company.

Until then, their goal had been focused on product innovation, to differentiate themselves through design. However, nowadays most companies have incorporated design into their strategy, being no longer an advantage. Design has become a commodity. The market is full of a wide variety of products and to be of value for the user they needed to step back and understand the real reasons people use their products.

They stopped talking about products and focus on people and their context. The key question wasn’t how to create more innovative products but how they could help people eating more healthily. To do this, they needed to look in depth at the nutrition and feeding issue.

Lékué used to canvas their distributors on their perceptions to know which products could be more successful. With the change of strategy, however, a question arises. Who is the product aimed at? Distributors or users? The answer is clear. The user must be in the center.

Consequently, two researchers joined the Innovation Department, whose main function is to observe people, travel to the main design capitals and monitor fairs and exhibitions. In short, gaining privileged access to knowledge about how and why people relate to food, detecting new meanings and observing how society evolves.

However, even the most talented team is limited by their own perceptions. Knowledge is often diffused throughout a large number of agents and, therefore, the Lékué innovation strategy relies on an ecosystem of key informants.

Lékué attracts the attention of external designers who send proposals for new products. Collaboration with these designers allows them to incorporate new knowledge and identify hidden needs. Not all the proposals are incorporated, however. Accepting any designer would be counterproductive and, therefore, Lékué only selects the most disruptive proposals, those that complement their collections and, over all, that are aligned with the mission and style of the company.

The company’s project is to expand this ecosystem of informants in two ways. First, incorporating foreign external designers and, secondly, looking for collaborators outside the field of design.

When the company no longer focus the attention on products and, instead, places people at the center, when the aim is not to create innovative products, but to help people eating more healthily, understanding the cultural and social context of eating habits becomes as important as design.

This is why Lékué also incorporates into their ecosystem of informants experts from other areas that can help them to gain a deeper understanding of people, culture and society. This is the case of the Alicia Foundation, a research center devoted to technological innovation in cuisine and to the improvement of eating habits. Together they organize co-creation sessions to develop not only products but also new services and content.

Beyond designers and experts, the user has also an active role as a privileged source of knowledge, allowing Lékué to detect the seeds of new trends. Often, users are an agent of innovation when there are no products fitted to their needs. The Innovation Department collects anecdotes and home tricks and looks for rudimentary inventions created by the users themselves. An example could be the student who cooked sausages only with a fork, as if he was roasting marshmallows over the fire.

Sometimes, inspiration comes indirectly, through extreme users. An association devoted to helping people with acquired brain damage and another one devoted to fostering personal autonomy of people in wheelchairs contacted Lékué to thank them for creating the Steam Case. This product helped people with disabilities to eat autonomously. In fact, Lékué had never raised this use, but following this experience they want to initiate a project to rethink the paradigm of cooking through the design for the extremes.

steam case lekue

Steam case, Luki Huber

For all this knowledge from experts, users and external designers be useful, the Innovation Department needs to process and filter it through internal research.

In addition to the two researchers, Lékué has designers, product managers and innovation managers who combine external insights with the results of their own research. In this way, they imagine possible scenarios and create groupings of ideas from which they can conceptualize new solutions. Although they use design thinking techniques, their working process is flexible, always promoting the most disruptive and crazy ideas.

In short, Lékué shows us that design-driven innovation is a multidimensional process, closer to people than products, incorporating a wide range of actors. This allows them to make new proposals to people, while their competitors only improve what already exists.

Image credits:
Skewer maker, Hector Serrano

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