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Design + Innovation: Why Aren’t These Disciplines Better Friends?

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A Panel Discussion at the Back End of Innovation 2017 Conference 

Moderator: Julie Anixter, Executive Director at AIGA, The Professional Association for Design 

Panelists: Patrick Meyer, CEO Futurist & Business 3.0 Expert at C-Level Advisor for Fortune 500 Companies and Brian Rice, Senior Director, Design & Packaging Innovation, Georgia-Pacific Consumer Business

Innovation happens often in the realms of engineering, RND, brand, marketing, or product management. Despite having the “D” word in the beginning of its definition, the world’s foremost Innovation method, Design Thinking, rarely has the benefit of having designers on its projects. 

Why don’t design and innovation work more closely together?

Visual thinking adds a powerful complement to words.  Design “makes innovation easier, because you can see it. You can feel it. You can better imagine it.”

Having a “sketch artist” at sessions stimulates new thinking in ways that concepts alone do not, because it allows you to translate these concepts into more concrete illustrations. “It’s pictures that sell innovation,” adds Patrick.

“The idea is that pictures, people, and visual stimulus helps you win,” Brian chimes in, “90% of what our brains intake is visual. Therefore, having designers along for an innovation journey from the beginning is key.”

“Design is a step child if you leave in the back seat, but you could make design a competitive advantage,” adds Patrick.

“At Georgia Pacific, we have a Head of Design in our B-2-B sector—and design has a huge impact on how well the product and service concepts are approved and launched,” says Brian.

“You can use design to visualize a roadmap to sell innovation. You start by drawing the problem. Then, discuss it. Another example is working with the CIO from the Air Force. By getting feedback and making iterative changes, they were able to redraw the strategic plan for the Air Force. That is the power of design,” says Julie.

An audience member asked a question: “Do you take illustrators out in the field with you?”

Brian answers, “Yes, that is one of the deepest forms of Empathy. Designers listen with their eyes, so they are very valuable in this process. Designers are watching what consumers are actually doing and catching subtle, non-verbal cues. These cues can lead to valuable consumer needs being noticed.”

“Think about the word Design+. Design can play a value to every aspect of your business,” says Patrick.

“When the details are designed well, the experience is better. Think Apple. Think Delta,” says Julie.

“Have anyone who thinks visually on your team to bring ideas to life easily,” adds Patrick. “You have to consider the emotion of the users—and design moves us into this emotional realm quicker than any other methods.”

“Our wishes for you are that you get a nominal budget for design and value creativity as much as data,” says Julie.

In conclusion, Brian wishes that the crowd use designers early and often. Patrick ends with a simple wish: DEDE - Design, Experience, Data, and Episodic. This is a formula for meaningful innovation. 

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit

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