Towards a new model for innovation: “design inside”! An interview with Brigitte Borja de Mozota

Brigitte Borja de Mozota believes that working with designers is what made her a better manager. Design in management is her life’s goal as she tries to prove, convince, and share with people the “joy of working with designers.”

She teaches Design Management in a Master in International Marketing at Université Paris Ouest, Paris West University Nanterre La Défense,  and director of research in design school, Parsons Paris School of Art and Design.

Our discussion focused on the necessity of a renewed model for innovation, “design thinking” inside.

What was the starting point for your conviction regarding developing a new model for innovation?

Current innovation models still focus too much on technology as their starting point rather than the individual: we find ourselves in the position of being orphans! The individual user – “power to the people” – takes part in innovation, but I do not have the intellectual model required to translate these steps!

And yet, intelligent people invent uses by detecting latent needs that are not expressed. And these avenues are presented in companies’ innovation projects but they have not been adopted as fields for experimentation by researchers for putting together an “open innovation” theory and publishing articles in management research periodicals (Academy of Management, etc.). This would provide a higher profile for this new user-focused innovation model in relation to design thinking and co-design (The Impact of User-Oriented Design on New Product Development: Examination of Fundamental Relationships).

The new innovation model will be empirical: the starting point will be case studies, relying on observations made by research students. This does not rule out the need for theory: working from experimentation in order to extrapolate universal rules, and from experience in order to define design sciences.

How do you successfully achieve greater integration of design innovation into the economic system?

After the buzz associated with “Design Thinking”, it is macro-economics which have to develop: there will be trouble with modernising and rebuilding innovation models so long as this is not adopted as part of the industrial sector’s economic vision.

Research has drawn the link between design and value, but the people who teach about value do not draw a link with design. Today, a new idea can create an industry: social innovation has a radical impact on the economy, but this is not integrated by it.

Design and the economy must be drawn closer together: on 1st of June as part of the Designer’s Days, a debate at the Sorbonne will bring together economists and designers for this purpose.

People see design as a symbol, creation; they see intangible symbolic value and forget about the thinking process for arriving at the form, they see the semiotics involved further along in the process, and forget about the research carried out as a preliminary to it, and the contribution made by human sciences. Behind the activity, there are skills involved. You will never get anywhere unless you start at the top by formulating a conceptualisation of design innovation which will break through into the circle of economists.

Tell us about an example of experimentation; the Fidji project in the banking sector

The Fidji project consisted of establishing a Design Thinking approach for a banks and banking insurance consortium (cf. the interview with R. Hababou, Société Générale’s Innovation Director).

It could only be established at the level of a banking association because it impacts on the business model. The approach involved the Club for innovation directors in the banking and insurance sector based on a speech about design, an inside look into the design process with ethnologists, observers of established practices, creative designers, and a joint development, adopting a co-creation approach: 6 directors courageously took the plunge! It was on occasion quite disturbing to commit yourself to a process without knowing what its outcome was going to be.

The focus was on creating value for a user. There is something universal in the Fidji project: intangible aspects regarding the customer relationship emerged from the analyses of ethnologists and are valid transversally in various industries.

This provides other segmentation criteria for markets. What would be good is to use it for creating an “open innovation” or “market innovation” laboratory in a design school, for example. The opening provided by the design approach must be beneficial for marketing research: you need to move beyond restricted sector-based fields of innovation.

How do you organise effective design management within a company?

(This answer includes extracts from a previous interview)

By working from a simple basic principle: design is a profession which creates value. Therefore a director must take an interest and the company must ask itself about the role of design within its organisational structure. Where does design create value? For the offering? For design processes? For the organisational structure?

“Design is a creative activity, the goal of which is to determine the multiple facets of objects, processes, and services.” For a manager, design is first and foremost a process involving design and creative knowledge, and then forms which help build the offering and the world of organisational symbols.

For me, design is a multi-facetted management tool, a process which any manager must link to other management processes such as the brand, innovation, change management, the creation of meaning, the customer relationship, strategy formulation, value creation, establishing management charts, etc.

Nowadays, in organisational theory, organisational charts do not mention either the design function or responsibility for design. However there was already a design division in the 1970s when I was a manager at the Printemps department store. And everyone has heard about a design department in the automotive sector or an artistic division in the fashion industry. Design is also not referred to in the indexes of books about innovation. In order to function with other management processes and produce the maximum amount of value, design teams must be able to expand their influence, communicate, and conduct exchanges with these various functions based on strategy, the brand, customers, and new products.

In those companies which manage it well, design creates a competitive advantage providing differentiation for the offer, as well as being a resource which creates a difference in-house, and a key skill for managing strategy, innovation and the brand. (Ideo actually says 80% of their jobs is about designing strategy).

Is design management a profession?

Yes, of course. Any activity has to be managed. (Design Management (Brigitte Borja Mozota 2001), Handbook of Design Management (Berg UK 2011) and Design Thinking (Lockwood 2009, Design Management Institute)). When I teach design, I associate design thinking with managerial thinking, “the form” with the “science of the form” and the “science of design” with “management science”. “Design Management” trains managers to ask the question: “How can design knowledge help me to become a better-performing manager?

Designers form an integral part of innovation by mobilising different skills: designers are not just a fund of ideas or purely creative people – 5 years of studies provide more than that – they are also observers and experimenters; they develop a system of thinking based on technology, usage and meaning (culture, art).The designer provides these three dimensions: sometimes he or she is strong in social sciences but not technology (it is rare to have all three fields), and the designer can provide stronger expertise in one of these three fields and mastery of the process; when you have all 3 skills, you are Apple!

The designer’s profession consists of drawing a link between the company (its organisation, history, and strategy) and the design levers for creating value. There is a “design ladder” model which provides three levels for design: design seen as style, performance or strategy.

(editor’s note: depending on whether the company is at the differentiation, transformation or co-ordination stage, a different style, process and strategy will also be defined). Thus, each design project aims to improve this position, this internal design skill.

Design is not different from the other organisational functions. Marketing is the customer and the market, but it is also knowledge for optimising the relationship with the market. Design “is form” and knowledge for optimising forms in relation to the organisational mission.

For a director and for a company, the integration of design is something that is learned. The value created by the design integrated into the processes is measured in the company’s KPIs; for example according to the model provided by the “designence value index” or the Design Management Europe Award. Value creation by design is carried out on these three levels involving formal innovation and the insertion of design thinking into managerial decisions in relation to KM assets and in relation to processes.

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8 responses to “Towards a new model for innovation: “design inside”! An interview with Brigitte Borja de Mozota

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