100 participants came to the conference last Thursday, which we organized together with our partner mc markt-consult for the third time. The focus was on the importance of design research and design strategy for the economic success of companies and fortunately the topic is of interest in more and more industries!

Newly gained insights from the presentations of the international experts from China, the USA, the Netherlands, and Germany could be directly implemented by the participants in their own interaction in various workshops and resulted in a common conclusion: The integration of design in various development processes accelerates and optimizes the creation of innovations.

The greetings from Dr. Carsten Brosda, State Councillor for Culture, Media, and Digital Affairs of the City of Hamburg, and the two initiators – our Managing Director Karel Golta and Arnd von Romatowski of mc markt-consult – immediately made clear the importance that design has today: Companies now think in design-oriented terms across all process stages; this has also led to an understanding of design research. Design is considered to be a value-added process, and thus it is always a question of making design measurable. At the end of the day, the aim is to produce commercially successful innovations that add value for the consumer.

The presentations paid tribute to these goals: Philip Hambach and Markus Klopfer, responsible for Global Consumer Strategy & Insights at Adidas, demonstrated a paradigm shift within the Group: Consumer Centricity as the imperative within the business with the result that design nowadays has to be ‘democratic’. The customer himself moves into the focus, to an unknown extent; he and above all his feeling and his attitude both to life, to culture, to technologies, to sport and ultimately to the product must be completely understood and internalized – and the customer must have a say. In this way, he himself creates the design that becomes a holistic brand experience.

Johnson Li, Executive Director Consumer PC Design at Lenovo, enlightened the audience about the state of design culture in China. The country has already experienced what design can achieve: from the USP for medium-sized companies to the creation of a design brand or the creation of an industry leader. Lenovo itself has several products whose successes have come through design. For example, the concept for the ‘Yoga’ tablet alone won a red dot back in 2004 and developed into a commercially relevant innovation that is partly responsible for Lenovo being among the top 100 technology companies in the world today. Like Adidas, the process center has changed in recent years: There has been a shift from a focus on technology to human-centered design.

Philips’ new flagship project ‘OneBlade’ also represents innovation through design, according to Jens Andersson, Design Lead in Consumer Lifestyle. Not surprising in a company that has just celebrated 90 years of design, but this product development shows the added value that design can bring when the discipline is implemented in the company and accompanies the process as well as roll-out and marketing right from the start. Close cooperation in multidisciplinary teams ensures that complex projects, including all problems, are viewed differently and better, and risks are minimized.

Philipp Thesen, Senior Vice President Design at Deutsche Telekom, not only presented exciting insights into the development of innovation within the Group, but also brought a particularly striking aspect to the stage: Why is design thinking meanwhile accepted and actually applied? In this context, he focused on the special skills of a designer, including the ability to solve problems creatively, his view of the big picture and his openness to change, as well as the necessity of design within new technologies, such as user interfaces. It is not without reason that designers are nowadays also an integral part of teams in management consultancies, successful founders (e.g., Pinterest or Airbnb) and CEOs in corporations (e.g., Burberry or Nike). With the Design Academy, Deutsche Telekom is taking account of the development of design into a strategic discipline, namely the anchoring of design and innovation throughout the entire company: From Design Doing to Design Thinking to Design Being.

The participants did a kind of mental excursion in the morning: FBI profiler Mark Safarik provided deep insights into the reconstruction of crimes, focusing on the question of the perpetrator. Although from a completely different subject, the meaning of his expertise became clear already within his thrilling lecture: the development of offender profiles shows clear parallels to persona development within innovation development processes: Quite apart from the comparability of the factors (crime scene = user environment/ motive = values/ intention of the perpetrator = customer goals, etc.), both cases are about facts, not opinions. It is important to step out of the context and distance oneself from one’s own way of thinking.

The continuation of this followed in one of the four workshops, from which the participants were allowed to choose two. Mark Safarik built a bridge to the topic together with our colleague Armin Kreiner-Norkunas, Head of Innovation and Design Management at Indeed, and had the participants use their newly gained knowledge to develop personas, which in this case were potential customers for fitness wearables.

The other workshops also focused on interaction and practice: For example, participants in Arnd von Romatowski’s group learned the Boosted Pretotyping method as a new procedure that interlinks design development and research and ensures optimization within the design process, helping to accelerate the innovation process.

Another group analyzed and clustered signals to generate insights for a new product – in this case a wearable. The goal of the workshop, which was also led by two of our colleagues – Maria Krüger and Alessandro Brandolisio, Innovation & Research Manager and Creative Strategist at Indeed – was to equip participants with a technique that would enable them to turn unrelated information into a profound basis on which to make relevant decisions in a design process.

Geoffrey Hildbrand, strategic planner, and design researcher at mc Markt-Consult, started one step earlier. The question his group addressed was: When looking at the market environment, can the search field for innovations be structured in such a way that, among other things, design insights are created? The framing technique, which he introduced to the participants, organizes knowledge about the external world of a market in such a way that it can ultimately be used to develop contemporary products and services and to expand the portfolio in a meaningful and promising way.

A tough workload – nevertheless, the interested and inquisitive participants had time for networking and many questions to the speakers and initiators. The smooth finale: in-depth discussions with beer and wine in front of certainly one of the most innovative backdrops in Germany, Hamburg’s HafenCity. Design Research & Design Strategy Conference #4 – we are coming!

Karel Golta

Karel J. Golta

CEO + Founder

Karel, CEO and founder of INDEED, is Swiss but far from being neutral. When he's not planning "the next big thing" with clients, you can controversially discuss with him the value of design.

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