3 Ways UX And Design Shape Innovation Strategy

Innovation is on our minds these days, every company wants to generate great ideas and capitalize on them.

A successful innovation strategy, though, is a complex endeavor involving the entire organization. Here I want to focus on three ways that User Experience and Design can help minimize risk and reap big rewards in your innovation strategy.

Seek out customer needs

The many approaches to innovation can be roughly grouped into methods that are inward focused — often driven by technology breakthroughs — and those that are outwardly focused, motivated either by looking at markets or at customers

The consultant group Strategy& from PricewaterhouseCoopers calls this last method “Need Seekers” and, according to their most recent Global Innovation 1000 Study, the need seeker model is followed by companies that report higher revenue growth and profitability than their industry peers. UX is at it’s core. UX is the discipline of seeking out customer needs and synthesizing that data into outcomes. 

Interestingly, the most innovative companies highly value UX while not believing they are the best at it. They see room for improvement.

“Overall, the top innovators seem to recognize that when it comes to gathering customer insights, no company is ever done learning.”

Global Innovation 1000 Study

Foregrounding UX is the least risky and most successful innovation approach.

Facilitate internal change

Innovation strategy is often separated from regular business operations, instead of integrated into them. Becoming innovative requires organization-wide change, and failure rates for change efforts are high. Some estimate that 50%–70% of initiatives fall short.

Combat change failure by turning the need seeker approach internal and conducting UX research with your own teams, and use those insights to keep your innovation strategy on track.

UX and Design are the common denominator working with all departments and stakeholders. We leverage outputs everyone understands to drive outcomes everyone shares. We are perfectly positioned to help integrate an innovation strategy across an entire organization.

“We are the glue that holds the organization together.”

Sarah Tinsley

82% of need seekers —strategies that foreground user experience — said their organization’s culture was highly supportive of the innovation strategy.

“Need seekers are far better at turning their corporate culture to their advantage.”

Global Innovation 1000 Study

This statistic makes perfect sense from a UX perspective, because customer needs are a superior unifying force that leapfrog many potential obstacles and take ego out of the equation. When UX and Design achieve their full potential we become an organic tool for successful strategy integration.

Kill your darlings

One of the most important steps in the innovation process is culling ideas: throw out the bad and hone in on the gems. This is core to the creative process and where designer involvement can pay huge dividends.

70% of long-term project costs are locked at the project selection phase

Global Innovation 1000 Study
A dish shattering against the ground
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Need seekers were found to put more emphasis on the project selection stage that other innovation strategies. As any designer knows, poor project selection means wasted ideation and dismal results. No amount of business management later on can overcome poor project selection decisions.

Killing your darlings is a critical tool, one that designers forge in the hot, ego-destroying fire of their careers. Foreground designer’s skills during ideation and project selection to mitigate risk and lock in huge benefits. 


Russ Sommers, Sarah Tinsley. “Using Data for Outcome-Focused Creative Team Management” Adobe Max 2021, Adobe.com, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.adobe.com/max/2021/sessions/using-data-for-outcomefocused-creative-team-manage-s611.html

Brad Goehle, Barry Jaruzelski, Robert Chwalik. “What the Top Innovators Get Right.” Strategy+business, 30 Oct. 2018, https://www.strategy-business.com/feature/What-the-Top-Innovators-Get-Right.

“Leading Change in a Company That’s Historically Bad At It.” Harvard Business Review, 6 Aug. 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/08/leading-change-in-a-company-thats-historically-bad-at-it.