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Last month, Ben Strutt, Stergios Bititsios and Nicki Sutton; all members of Cambridge Design Partnership’s Front End Innovation and Industrial Design Team, participated in the 4th Global Innovation Forum in London.

Attended by more than 150 other innovation leaders from global players in industries as diverse as healthcare, FMCG, financial services, energy and utilities, telecoms, and tobacco, the event presented an excellent opportunity for organisations to share and discuss innovation best practice.

Ben and Stergios were part of an impressive speaker list which included representatives from IBM, PepsiCo, NestlĂ©, McLaren, NASA, BAT, Lego, GE Healthcare, Google, and Skype, and had the unenviable task of lining up in the schedule between Pixar and Facebook to deliver their presentation and share CDP’s thinking on Laying the Foundations for Reduced-Risk Innovation.

Focussing on the creation of a robust landscape of comprehensive primary insight and supporting secondary information, their message was structured around four pillars which we, at CDP, strongly believe underpin front end innovation research activities and mitigate downstream product development risk:

1. Detail: front end research programmes must be organised, targeted and approached in such a way that they uncover highly detailed and actionable insight. Breaking customers’ and stakeholder’s activities into granular constituent parts and interrogating each in turn allows organisations to determine the detail of highs and lows, the frictions and pain-points, and the opportunity to innovate by streamlining.

2. Timing: when organisations think of front end innovation research, they will often only consider needs and experiences of their direct customer, or the end-user (consumer) of their product. Innovation may come from many more sources than these, however. Capturing insight from other stakeholders, including those internal to the business can reap great rewards. Take logistics requirements for instance; while efficiencies may seem like obvious low-hanging fruit, their benefit can only truly be maximised if the needs of logistics teams are captured at the outset in a requirement specification, along with those of customers and consumers.  Engaging with these internal “customers” only after product development is well underway runs the risk of revealing opportunity when it is too late to action it, or in costly revisions and delays.

3. Translation: most people are familiar with the game of Chinese whispers in which a message, whilst clear at the outset, is distorted as it passes from person to person. When messages are distorted between members of an organisation’s research, design and product development teams (and even more fraught, between different teams in different organisations) then this can open up a clear path to product failure. By truly integrating front end research and design activities in both training and execution, with personnel straddling both disciplines, CDP avoids this trap. By engaging the design and research team continuously through the on-going development process, we ensure that stakeholder unmet needs are translated clearly, without noise, first into detailed evidence-based emotional and functional specifications, and on into the final product designs and features that will address these needs.

4. Closing the loop: having uncovered the right level of detail of stakeholder the right time...and translated this into new product features, it is only by closing the loop; checking back with stakeholders through prototyping and further research, that your product concepts, designs and prototypes will deliver what they want, can you make your next development decisions with confidence, and be assured that your innovation investment will not be wasted.

With an emphasis on case studies, it was great to hear that presentations of many other speakers resonated with, reflected, and evidenced the messages that Ben and Stergios delivered. One take-home theme in particular was the important role that design thinking plays in innovation; articulated excellently, amongst others, by NestlĂ©’s Christian Saclier. In an engaging presentation, Christian demonstrated the power of contextual enquiry and “living” with your customers, to immerse yourself in their daily activities, and capture the experience they are seeking from all touch points of a product and brand. We were also delighted to hear him advocating the ‘different eyes’ of designers and researchers when observing the same consumer behaviours during qualitative research.

A recurring theme in innovation conferences in 2014 has been the need for organisations to look beyond the today and to see what’s coming next. GIF 2014 was no exception, and the importance of keeping abreast of trends and megatrends to capture the drivers of change which will influence and define the technologies, products, services, stakeholder experiences and business models, which will be relevant in the future was a prominent message.

It is vital to learn to be predictive rather than reactive, and to move ever more quickly. Indeed Ben and Stergios reflected on the well-worn adage’ fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often’ and suggested our own improvement – ‘it’s about getting it as right as possible, as early as possible’.

With an invite to the next Global Innovation Forum in 2015, we are all looking forward to hearing new stories of how organisations have harnessed innovation processes, and to sharing CDP’s latest innovation thinking next year. In the meantime, if you are interested in hearing more about our combined research and design led front end, please call us on +44 (0)1223 264428 or email:

Case Studies

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    Panel speaker that dramatically enhances PC sound quality


    Prototype development of ablation catheter steering technology