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How a design project bred a blueprint for innovation

Design Works

By Heather M.A. Fraser

(Rotman-UTP Publishing, 254 pages, $34.95)

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In 2005, Procter & Gamble, eager to accelerate its innovation, decided to try to institutionalize throughout the company the new, fuzzy notion of design thinking. It turned to Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, one of the leading exponents of integrative and design thinking. He in turn gathered help from colleagues at Stanford University and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Their efforts proved so successful that it led to the creation of a DesignWorks studio at Rotman, led by executive director Heather Fraser, where they refined their methodology while working with companies such as Nestlé, Pfizer, Medtronic and Frito-Lay, as well as public institutions and government teams.

Ms. Fraser now shares those ideas in Design Works, which argues that business design brings out the creative side of individuals in a workplace without compromising the rigour needed to have a meaningful impact on the market.

"This approach has proven to get to bigger ideas faster, by engaging more minds in a common ambition, with the buy-in and traction required to make important things happen in a strategic and productive manner," she writes.

The approach revolves around three gears to get your innovation motor running:

Gear 1: Empathy and understanding

To understand the opportunity that might exist, you must start with empathy for others and an understanding of what matters to people. Usually, we rely on market reports and surveys to get a handle on potential customers. But she says that while that gives you a good measure of the customer characteristics, habits, and values that you believe to be important, it often does not contribute to a deeper understanding of their underlying motivations and unmet needs.

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"Understanding them more holistically entails understanding them more completely as individuals apart from the direct consumption or use of your current product or service," she points out. "Considering the wider activity surrounding your products and services expands your perspective on opportunities to create value in new ways."

Gear 2: Concept visualization

With that understanding, the hunt can begin in earnest for the breakthrough idea. You now have licence and ambition to explore new possibilities, including some that would have been considered beyond your operating scope, rather than limiting yourself to the familiar and obviously doable.

You will pick from a variety of tools to generate ideas, design new and ideal experiences, develop multiple prototypes to test your ideas, and create with your potential customers the best possible offering.

It will be vital, however, to stay focused on the user rather than becoming diverted at this stage by the organizational impact.

Gear 3: Strategic business design

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Now you can move on to consider the organizational side of things, developing a strategy to deliver the vision. Ms. Fraser warns that this will take the same rigour and ingenuity required to develop your new breakthrough proposal. Often things can fall apart here, as organizations find themselves with lots of promising ideas but don't know how to fit them with other ideas and programs into a formidable strategy.

"Gear 3 … calls for a healthy dose of both creativity and analysis at appropriate points," she notes. You'll require solid collaboration from your team, detailed prototyping, and a plan that maps out some quick wins to keep enthusiasm high. She warns that this step is often the missing link in many innovation projects and why the initiatives fail to provide a solid return of investment.

Prototyping is increasingly important to understanding whether ideas have possibilities. She urges you to keep the first efforts low-cost, and reveals that the DesignWorks studio generally limits itself in the early stages to $20, using cardboard, markers and Popsicle sticks. The idea is to communicate intent, not to resemble the final product. You'll be less invested in it if you put the prototype together quickly with little money; and the people who test it will be able to give you more advice if they can use their imagination to fill in missing pieces.

The first half of the book, about the three-gears process, is somewhat stilted despite the case studies woven in; it's certainly not as absorbing as Designing for Growth, by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie. (And the horrendous choice of typeface – pretty, but sans-serif and very thin – added to my reading struggle, as it was physically hard to focus on the words. The irony of poor design choices in a book about design was not lost on me.)

But the book's second half – essentially a series of fast-paced, practical tips for implementing the ideas – was more enjoyable, and would be valuable to anyone interested in the business design path.


Pinterest is the latest hot social media tool and, inevitably, guides are out to help you market on the website. In Pinfluence (John Wiley, 190 pages, $23.95), consultant Beth Hayden shows how your business can reach out on the site. Social media blogger Kelby Carr takes you through the steps of organizing your boards, running contests, and launching products through the site in Pinterest Marketing for Dummies (John Wiley, 196 pages, $23.99).

Toronto-based consultant Eric Bergman offers advice to improve your presentations in Five Steps to Conquer PowerPoint (Petticoat Creek Press, 163 pages, $$30.45).

Sudhir Diddee, who works at Microsoft, has compiled 99 time-saving tips for Windows 7 and Office 2010 in Priceless Computer Tips At Your Fingertips (independently published, 155 pages, $14.75).

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