Designing for Innovation

If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.

This quotation, often attributed to Henry Ford, typifies a challenge in involving people in service design: how can you develop something genuinely innovative if they have never experienced something like it before? The pioneering manufacturer’s potential customers had never seen a motorcar so how could they explain what they wanted in one?

In our Diabetes project we showed our group of young people and parents a video clip of a very early mobile telephone on the Tomorrow’s World television programme. This clunky handset and battery pack was nothing like the phones of today but reminded everyone that futuristic ideas (at the time) can result in real products. We had designed several “blue-sky” ideas for new services based on what the group had told us about living with type 1 Diabetes, which we then asked them to develop whilst remembering “anything’s possible”.

In one idea, we suggested the combination of an invisible tattoo and a smart phone app for teachers to help children incapacitated by their condition. Our young people rejected this idea and devised their own based on technology research we had shared previously to suggest a contact lens with embedded electronics that changed colour to alert their friends to problematic blood glucose levels.

These examples demonstrate the value we believe that designing as making things brings to service innovation. Firstly making allows us to envisage alternative futures that encourage people to expand their horizons and explore different possibilities. Secondly encouraging participants to develop ideas focuses project work on solutions rather than problems, which is particularly useful in healthcare where it is difficult to completely describe the complex problems encountered.

Thirdly making can be a useful form of thinking. For example, designing the tattoo idea helped us understand and express the lived experience of type 1 Diabetes such as a desire to keep it discreet in school. It is always useful to have something to talk about and making that thing can help you explore what is important.

In BSBD, we will help you use creative thinking and tools to benefit from making in service innovation.