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Meet the team at Cambridge Design Partnership – a brief profile of the experts that work here. This month we’re talking to Alan Cucknell, our front end of innovation leader.
What background do you come from and how do you apply this knowledge to your current role?
Although I graduated with an engineering degree, I guess I’m really a wannabe designer, and I’ve always approached innovation (and design) from a multi-disciplinary perspective. There’s no point solving the technical problem if it doesn’t fit with the business’s strategy and user’s needs.
Since 2001, my professional experience has focused on innovation and new product development. I’ve been lucky enough to work internationally with world-class companies including Procter & Gamble, VF Corporation (i.e. The North Face, Timberland, Wrangler), Wonderbra, LEGO, Electrolux and many more. After being a Director at an established company for the previous five years, I’ve more recently been involved in founding and coaching start-up businesses in the UK.
At CDP I’m bringing this all together. Although it’s early days, I’m helping to identify strategic opportunities for our clients, and working alongside the full breadth of the team here, to translate these into successful business results. An important part of this translation process is making sure that the “soul” of the opportunity translates from paper to product – not just the rational specification.
Why did you join Cambridge Design Partnership?
I’ve always been passionate about the power of new ideas and I love working on strategic innovation challenges that really make a difference – whether it’s better performing consumer products or improved healthcare solutions.
What’s been so exciting about joining CDP this year is the way we’re able to bring together an excellent front end team to identify and validate new strategic opportunities, combined with our downstream facilities and capabilities, to bring specific ideas to market. Too many innovation initiatives fail for avoidable reasons, and I’m convinced that this unusual combination of skills de-risks innovation – giving our clients the best chance of success. I’m particularly pleased to be combining my experience with CDP’s evidence-based, Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), primary research capability.
I’m also excited about CDP’s “cookies”, the proprietary ideas that it develops internally. Having spent much of last year working alongside a number of start-ups in markets as diverse as fitness, recruitment and property, I’m aware of the value in being able to back your own ideas and put your money where you mouth is! As the lean start-up movement has shown, there is a lot that corporate innovators can learn from the start-up world.
What interesting projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve only been at CDP a couple of months, but already it’s been great to be involved with some of the biggest global brands in the both the Healthcare and FMCG sectors. One ongoing project is looking at defining new opportunities for coffee, whilst another is exploring approaches for transitioning to the circular economy, and the healthcare project will potentially be super important in the future landscape of healthcare devices. Although many of CDP’s projects are still confidential, I’ve been really impressed by the projects that we’re working on and I’m looking forward to getting involved in more.
What do you see as the hot trends in your area at the moment and what is coming up in the future?
I feel like over the last decade-plus the focus for innovation has swung between functional extremes. From traditional, technology driven R&D, to the “customer is king” mantra of marketing, to “designers are central” fuelled by the design-thinking movement and more recently “business model innovation” inspired by Alex Ostervald’s business model canvas* . These are all important perspectives and capabilities for innovation. And I understand the desire to find “the one way” – it certainly would be simpler!
However, in my experience, successful and repeatable innovation has always come from opportunities that manage to tick all of these boxes. They must connect the business, technology and customer angles. It’s true that this holistic approach can be more difficult to implement – it requires lots of different people with different perspectives, backgrounds and (functional) languages getting on board.
Of course, it is possible to innovate with a consumer-led focus, or a technology-driven one… but by doing so you are only open to a subset of solutions and unless you can later align all the elements of the innovation strategy (with those disciplines that you’re yet to involve…), it’s unlikely to be successful or sustainable.
Personally, I think the need for this holistic thinking has never been stronger – many products no longer exist in the isolation of a physical artefact. They might be digitally connected to other products, controlled by app software, shared through a community portal, financed by a subscription service and after all of that returned to their producers as a part of the future “circular economy”. Can any one “function” really offer the overview and insight to innovate effectively with so many dimensions of opportunity?
Given the increasing complex world that we live and work in, to create a seamless user experience, whether for incremental or breakthrough innovations, we have to start by defining the opportunity with a holistic framework.
What interests do you have outside work?
I’ve got a one-year old son who is still “learning” how to sleep and is about to start walking independently too – so as you can imagine he keeps me pretty busy!
When I can make the time, and I can get away from the flats around Cambridge, I love running, hiking or cycling, especially in the hills. I’ve actually recently signed up for a few longer sporting events including the Etape Du Tour (an amateur stage of the Tour de France), so I expect I’ll be cycling and running to work in order to get fit again!
As an 'alien' abroad, Alan Cucknell discovers how many of our hardwired systems have lost sight of the human experience.
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