Our Process: Design Innovation

Our vision is that the CU Denver Comcast Media and Technology Center (CMTC) will be a leading hub of Interdisciplinary Design Innovation research and practice at the apex of the Arts, Media, Engineering and Computing, for the local community, the region, the nation, and the world. 

At the Comcast Media and Technology Center, we use Design Innovation (DI) to discover and understand complex opportunities, define solution spaces, develop and ideate diverse and compelling design alternatives, and deliver, communicate, and deploy design concepts with stakeholders.  

Design Innovation has been used for hundreds of projects worldwide. The CMTC conducts interdisciplinary Design Innovation research and applied practice through projects. We apply design innovation to technical arts and media projects, complex social and engineering projects, training in design innovation for students and practitioners in all disciplines, and everything in-between. We excel at synthesizing approaches, perspectives, and skills from diverse disciplines and applying those to socially impactful opportunities, and love opportunities to collaborate with partners near and far. Our grand challenges are:  

  • Healthcare and Healthy Communities 
  • Urbanism and Sustainability 
  • Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries 

Design Innovation 

Design Innovation blends the mindsets, methods, and languages of design thinking, engineering design, systems thinking, and business innovation. Our DI process is user-centered and begins with execution of specific design methods. These methods guide activities that lead to desired outcomes. The selection of methods and transitions between specific methods is governed by a process or approach. Our process provides an order of action while allowing for sprints, scrums, and customization in the overall process. Finally, a culture of design is grown organizationally through ubiquitous mindsets and principles. These principles are cherished and adopted into our design community via execution of the methods and approach.  

Value of Design Innovation 

Design innovation has proven business value. The Design Management Institute has shown that design-centric firms yield returns over 200% that of the average S&P 500 firm. McKinsey has found that firms that embrace design have higher revenues (by 32%) and total returns to shareholders (by 56%) compared to industry counterparts in just 5 years.  

Our Design Innovation process brings people to focus, as team members and as stakeholders. The combination of user-centricity, integrated methods, adaptable processes, and ubiquitous guiding principles create innovation by design. 

DI Process

Image source: Camburn et al. (2017), Design Innovation: A study of integrated practice. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2017-68382 

The core design innovation process follows a classic double-diamond process, indicating two sequential phases of divergence (creating multiple opportunities) and convergence (down-selecting to a few concepts to carry forward). The first diamond includes discovering a broad opportunity space, converging to the definition of a concise opportunity statement. The second diamond develops many alternatives to satisfy the opportunity statement and selecting and delivering prototypes and final concepts. This process is highly iterative and may occur only a few or many times in a single project. Each iteration, new insight is gained and applied from interaction and co-creation with stakeholders. 

Discover: The goal of the discover stage is to identify and understand opportunities and needs, collaboratively co-creating with stakeholders. Methods and key questions in this stage focus on understanding others’ experiences and using empathy to uncover their latent needs and understand the users’ experience from their point of view. 

Define: In the define step, the goal is to interpret and reframe stakeholders’ needs and map those into a set of activities, functions, and representations of the concise opportunity statement. Methods and key questions in this stage focus on observation of users and analysis to synthesize findings into a new perspective. This stage engages mindfulness of others’ perspectives and values, focusing on their experience non-judgementally.

Develop: The goal of the develop stage is to ideate and model concepts based on identified opportunities. Methods and key questions in this stage focus on wide and varied ideation followed by evaluation and selection down to the concepts that bring the most joy to stakeholders.

Deliver: The deliver stage is the process of iteratively prototyping and testing concepts with users. Prototyping ranges from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity virtual renders or manufactured parts, each prototype tailored to the aspect of the design concept to be tested. Testing relies on objective evaluation using qualitative and quantitative data, and engages the mindset of non-attachment to concepts that may be discarded. 

DI Methods

Integrated into the Design Innovation process are methods that draw from best practices in design thinking, business design, design engineering, and systems engineering. Each project will use a different selection of methods, and may emphasize any of these four areas. 

Image source: Camburn et al. (2017), Design Innovation: A study of integrated practice. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2017-68382

A selection of design methods have been compiled into a deck of design method cards that give simple steps for each method and an illustrated example. Methods are included from each of the four D stages (Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver) and in each stage, both technical engineering approaches as well as empathic user-centered approaches are included.

Download your own set of design method cards here: 

DI Principles

Below are a sampling of principles that guide and facilitate the Design Innovation approach. These principles are distilled from best practices documented in research and industry.  

Creativity Throughout. Creativity should occur not only during ideation but throughout the entire design process. 

Embrace Open Resources. Open source, open data, open innovation, sharing and freedom to explore, are essential components of healthy collaboration and the emergence of novel ideas. 

Make, Test, Learn, Repeat. Willingness to turn ideas into action and rapidly iterate after testing is essential to design. Hands-on experience provides valuable lessons that cannot be replaced.  

Appetite for Ambiguity. It is essential to accept that the outcome of an innovation process is unknown at the start and novel solutions will push our comfort zones. 

Adaptive Pathways. Adaptation is required from the beginning of a design process. A design team must reflect on their process and adjust it dynamically. 

Free Space for Blue Skies. A design environment should provide free space to explore radical ideas without constraints. Trust, infrastructure, and culture must coincide to support this activity.  

Empathy for all. Empathy is required so that true needs are uncovered to open the potential for a desirable outcome that impacts stakeholders in a positive way. 

Curiosity for Context. Understanding stakeholders is dear to the innovation process. Needs assessment requires not only an empathy for a user as a person but also a detailed knowledge of their situations and environment. 

Pride in art, Art in craft, Craft in pride. Taking pride, and placing effort into the quality of construction and aesthetic is a core component of design. Aesthetic craftsmanship should not be taken for granted.  

Expressive Collaboration. Exchange of perspectives must happen at a deep level within the design team and between all stakeholders. 

Celebrate both the Quantitative and Qualitative. Utilizing qualitative and quantitative data allows the design team to make observations that are both valid and insightful. 

Also Can. A positive and optimistic attitude is essential in discovering out-of-the-box ideas. Optimism, in supporting other’s ideas, is equally important for team coherence. 

The principles above are from Camburn et al. (2017), Design Innovation: A study of integrated practice. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2017-68382 

For more design innovation resources, see https://www.dimodules.com/ 

The materials on this page were developed based on the work of many others, including: 

Camburn, B.A., Auernhammer, J.M, Hui K., Mignone, P.J., Arlitt, R.M., Perez, K.B., Huang, Z., Basnet, S., Blessing, L.T., and Wood, K.L. “Design Innovation: A Study of Integrated Practice.” In ASME 2017 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC), pp. V007T06A031-V007T06A031. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 2017.  

Foo, D., Choo, P.K., Camburn, B., and Wood, K.L., “Design Innovation (DI): Design Method Cards,” SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC), 2017 SGMark (Good Mark) Design Award, SUTD, Singapore, idc.sutd.edu.sg, 2018.  

Lauff, C.A., Perez, K.B., Camburn, B.A., Wood, K.L., 2019. Design Principle Cards: Toolset to Support Innovations With Additive Manufacturing, in: Volume 4: 24th Design for Manufacturing and the Life Cycle Conference; 13th International Conference on Micro- and Nanosystems. Presented at the ASME 2019 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Anaheim, California, USA, p. V004T05A005. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2019-97231 

Sng, K. H. E., Raviselvam, S., Anderson, D., Blessing, L., Camburn, B., & Wood, K. L. (2017, August). A design case study: Transferring design processes and prototyping principles into industry for rapid response and user impact. In Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design–ICED 2017.  

Fu, K., Yang, M., and Wood, K.L., “Design Principles: Literature Review, Analysis, and Future Directions,” ASME Journal of Mechanical Design, Vol. 138, No. 10, 2016, doi:10.1115/1.4034105.  

Telenko, C., Wood, K.L., Frey, D., Dritsas, S., Kaijima, S., Tan, U., Moreno, D., Rajesh, M., Foong, S., and Pey, K.L., “Designettes: An Approach to Multidisciplinary Engineering Design Education,” Journal of Mechanical Design (JMD), Vol. 138, No. 2, MD-15-1178, 2016, 138(2):022001-022001-11.  

Otto, K. N. and Wood, K. L., Product Design: Techniques in Reverse Engineering, Systematic Design, and New Product Development, Prentice-Hall, NJ, 2001.