Design-driven innovation is an approach to innovation based on the observation that people do not just purchase products, or services, they buy ‘meaning’ – where users’ needs are not only satisfied by form and function, but also through experience (meaning).

The meanings that a product or service might have for its users include the memories it invokes, the extent and quality of interaction and enjoyment. These determine how closely the user identifies with the product or service and how much the product or service becomes part of the user's sense of self. A product or service can hold meaning by embodying goals, skills and shaping the identity of its users.

Key to successful design-driven innovation is ‘interpretation’, a three-stage process which utilises the interpreter’s ability to understand and influence how people give meaning to things:

  1. Listening – accessing knowledge about possible new product meanings through interaction with interpreters, often located ‘outside of the network’ – for example, forward-looking researchers developing unique visions about how news meanings might evolve for people.
  2. Interpreting – an internal process whereby an organisation assesses the knowledge it has gained through interaction with interpreters, recombining it and integrating this knowledge with its own proprietary insights, technologies, and assets. The allows a company to develop its unique proposal.
  3. Addressing – by discussing and internalising the organisation’s novel vision, interpreters change the life context (through the technologies they develop, the products and services they design, and the artworks they create) in a way that makes the organisation’s proposal more meaningful and attractive when people see it.

Successful design-driven innovators are better than their competitors at detecting, attracting, and interacting with key interpreters. Design-driven innovation has the potential to create and change markets, enabling organisations to drive the market rather than simply adapt to it. This can be seen most spectacularly when design and technology-driven innovation overlap resulting in ‘technology epiphanies’.

A classic example of successful, design-driven technology epiphany is Nintendo’s Wii, a games console that employed radically new technology to shift the meaning of gaming from passive immersion in a virtual world into active physical entertainment for everyone in the real world.

Design-driven innovation has become increasing recognised and supported by a growing number of countries, and by the European Commission, as a key enabler of international business success and as a vital source of competitive advantage.


Verganti, R., (2009) Design-Driven Innovation, Harvard Business Press, Boston MA.
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