Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on navigating a post-crisis world


Executive Director & Partner
Associate Strategy Director
Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. It turns out that as well as being insanely catchy, this Grammy award-winning track by Daft Punk was also prophetic. When we asked design and brand leaders to tell us how Covid has changed the way they work, these four clear trends emerged. But what advice can leaders give companies looking to innovate in this new reality?
As we all find ourselves riding the waves of a new (ab)normal, businesses are still scrambling to adapt to the most rapid change in consumer behavior of our generation. It’s one in which many of us have taken a long hard look at what matters most to us and changed our lives — and our buying habits — accordingly.
 
For companies, this rapid change has created long-term opportunities for growth. At Smart Design, we wanted to find out how some are seizing these chances by adapting their approach to innovation. So, we sat down with nine design and brand leaders across a broad range of industries and listened.
 
Among many things, we asked them which new tools and processes they’re using. How have things changed or stayed the same? And what advice they would give leaders looking to preserve gains, and realize new opportunities? Here are their insights.

01

Work it harder

Digital transformation is juicing up the innovation process as well as the final product

01

Work it harder

Digital transformation is juicing up the innovation process as well as the final product
 
Digital transformation of a product or a business model used to be the innovation in itself. Now it’s also helping companies to drive the innovation process harder than ever before. With Covid fragmenting the way we work, companies have been forced to make internal investments to adapt their innovation process and find new growth opportunities.
 
How can you apply that to your business?
Drive trust with collaborative tools 
Remote working may have kept companies in business, but it came with a huge downside. Innovation leaders say that without the ability to walk into the studio and see what was on the walls, their designers’ sense of isolation was massively amplified, as well as their sense of working in silos. “It was an incredibly complex, Darwinian sink-or-swim moment that we were all going through,” says Alastair Curtis, Chief Design Officer for consumer electronics firm Logitech. 
 
The answer? Leaders invested in digital tools to increase communication, transparency, and reach across teams. Because digital platforms are opening more dialogues between previously siloed functions or between consumer and brands, it’s easier than ever for innovation insights to circulate throughout the organization and create feedback loops that fuel product and concept iterations.
 
One example of this is one-way communication or delayed feedback tools like Zoom videos or Slack. “We’ve democratized our design reviews,” says Curtis. “By doing them over Zoom, we can record them, and then make them available for anyone in the company.” With this greater transparency comes greater trust — Curtis says that he has seen more buy-in from different stakeholders in the business.
 
He particularly enjoyed seeing “50 people working remotely having a conversation, which we wouldn’t have dreamt of in the past.” It’s an approach that has transformed how the firm hires new staff too. “We’ve ripped up the rulebook on where talent is located,” because now the best people for the job can live almost anywhere.  
 
For Craig Dubitsky, Chief Innovation Strategist at household and consumer products brand Colgate-Palmolive, a surprising benefit of digital collaboration and innovation has been to see people in their homes, where they’re most comfortable: “How amazing is it to see people engaging, spit balling, and brainstorming from where 95 percent of them dream up the future?
When we have the ability to share the back room of a research session: it creates more buy-in from different stakeholders.
Rachel Gates
Director of Product Innovation and Business Management, CVS Health
Use data as a creative material 
Is it time to turn the traditional approach to digital design on its head? Instead of starting with a hypothesis and using data to rubber stamp it, we’re beginning to see designers use data itself as the starting point.
 
Take cars as an example.

 

 

Using real life data to frame the design concept can do more than inform the innovation. It can help to get buy-in from C-suite by providing hard data that proves end-user appetite for an idea up front. 

It also enables personalization, by putting users right at the center of the innovation (see Insight 2). Live data (and high-fidelity prototypes) play an essential role throughout the creative process. With each iteration of a prototype, data enables designers to gather hugely valuable contextual insights.

At Smart Design, small data-centric pilots helped us to design the Gatorade Gx Sweat Patch.

Digital platforms (sometimes) boost agility 
Most businesses have changed their go-to-market model since the start of the pandemic, with the overwhelming majority turning to multiple forms of digital engagement with customers. Beyond the obvious sales channels, digital platforms have super-charged innovation too. “We’ve used digital tools such as Zappi to help us nimbly conduct A/B testing and capture consumer sentiment – both with the end goal of better understanding consumer behavior,” says Mike McGoohan, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy at Central Garden and Pet, a consumer goods manufacturer and market leader in the US garden and pet industries. Logitech’s Curtis adds: “They’ve increased collaboration not just internally but also with consumers — now it’s easier to get consumer insights through iterative panels.”
 
Another leader who used digital platforms to innovate during Covid was Catherine Sun, Senior Vice President of Product Design at the biometric ID company CLEAR. Sun said she was able to set up hackathons in a full remote environment. On the upside, the company gathered five to eight viable concepts to develop for potential launch, or MVP. The downside is that it took them a lot more time to enable — a full six months to plan a one-week event.
Use data to do more and do it better: not just to rubber stamp an idea; but as a source of the idea itself.
Julien Kervella
Senior Director of Experience Planning, Samsung
Introduce an “Innovator’s Hour” 

Psychotherapists have what’s known as the “therapeutic hour,” which is only 50 minutes long. What if we copied them and introduced an Innovator’s Hour? During Covid, and even now, many of our leaders told us they spent too much time in two-way meetings and calls. As Logitech’s Curtis comments, “if I could go back in time to early 2020 and give myself one piece of advice? I’d say: be brutally disciplined with your calendar to free up creative thinking time. It’s too easy to get sucked into Zoom World.”

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

02

Make it better

Human-centered design isn’t a choice, it’s an imperative

02

Make it better

Human-centered design isn’t a choice, it’s an imperative
 
In a high-pressure, high-stakes time such as Covid, it can be hard to keep a long-term view. But the truth is, many business models are still at risk — a challenge that short-term tactical moves alone will not address.
 
To play more strategically and less tactically, the organizations we spoke to recognize the importance and value of investing long term in human-centered design (HCD). But committing to the approach, which prioritizes user needs and experiences over technical or business model strategies, is easier said than done.
Change your mind(set) 
Julien Kervella from technology giant Samsung Electronics told us that he was originally hired to take the company’s innovative culture to the next level. Before he arrived, Samsung had been successfully pushing tech and products for years and seeing what stuck, supported by an explosion in smartphones during the 2010s. But since then, consumers have become more savvy, and Kervella says that they’ve reversed the process to focus on what they want.
 
“Now we’re innovating around how to help people live a better life. It may sound obvious but it’s hugely challenging for a big company.” How do you do that? “You need to start working at the human level instead of the tech and R&D level.”
 
That also means getting comfortable with another three-letter acronym — DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). While design has always aimed to put humans at the center of the process, for Sun at CLEAR, this now means including “a full rainbow spectrum of humans, especially edge case users and marginalized populations.” 
 
Sometimes, inclusive inspiration comes from surprising places. With so many people working long hours at home, Curtis says that they started to understand more about the physical toll it was taking. This inspired Logitech to design a more ergonomic computer mouse, including a version for people with smaller hands (particularly women), and one for people who are left-handed. These new products reflect the movement away from generic designs to serve consumers more holistically.
To survive these days, companies must figure out how to go from making a product push to being experience-led.
Catherine Sun
Senior Vice President of Product Design, CLEAR
Redesign your company, not just your product 

Innovation is not just a consumer innovation tool. Some of the leaders we spoke to are turning HCD inwards to improve internal functions too. Logitech’s Curtis says his company has used it to optimize onboarding, and to design new business models, as well as to inspire their move towards service design.

Expand into ecosystems 
Leaders are also creating value through ecosystems. These portfolios of offerings use a network of integrated products and services built around an overarching user need.
 
Drew Palin, who is Senior Director of Marketing at Gatorade, told us that their ecosystem of products and services has played a key role in driving athlete engagement for the company over the past few years. The network — which is based around the question “How do you deliver personalized sport fuel to athletes?” — puts personalization at the core of every element and includes the Gx Sweat Patch, Gx Pod system, and the Kinduct Athlete Training Interface.
 
Leaders looking to create an innovation ecosystem of their own should make sure it feeds into a cohesive brand and product strategy, is flexible, scalable, and builds on what’s already working.
Building on our innovation ecosystem has been more important than ever.
Drew Palin
Senior Director of Marketing, Gatorade

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

03

Do it faster

Iterative and short-term is the new mid and long-term

03

Do it faster

Iterative and short-term is the new mid and long-term
 
Under pressure and (often) working in silos, designers have faced a perfect storm since Covid. New trends and consumer demands are changing constantly, forcing teams to work much, much faster.
 
Some executives are using this newfound speed to deliver incremental innovation around their company’s core offerings. But their appetite for nurturing disruptive ideas over the long term has faded.
 
How can innovators balance short-term pressure with the need to validate at every step?
Do sweat the small stuff 

Break ideas down into smaller chunks and use pilots upfront to tell the story. Gatorade’s Palin says that his company doesn’t even have a long-term innovation team anymore. “The world has changed so much in the past five years; how can we look five years ahead?”

The patience for long-term innovation is gone.
Drew Palin
Senior Director of Marketing, Gatorade
Don’t kill ideas too quickly 
Sometimes, timing is everything. You might have a great concept that addresses an existing customer need, but it might be too early for your business, or the technology might not be ready (or too expensive for your customer). And unless you’re very lucky, building a new capability or expanding an existing business model doesn’t happen overnight, says Sandy Fershee, Senior Vice President, Head of Design and Creative at home fitness business Tonal, and former Head of Global Experience Design for Ford Motor Company.
 
Fershee told us that when she was at Ford, they got really good at bringing old concepts back to life. So much so that they turned it into a competition: “Teams that could make old ideas rise up from the ashes and deliver both customer and business value won an award. We called it the Phoenix.”
Quicker, smaller pilots lead to bigger ideas 
Pilots are great, but some innovation leaders think that they can slow you down. Instead, make them smaller and do them faster. With teams under more pressure than ever to prove innovation upfront, Palin advocates for decentralized innovation sponsorship to let those close to the athlete (like regional business unit leaders) influence innovation investment.
 
Validate each pilot with short, iterative, loops. Earlier, digital-based research and testing will inform innovations early and identify the non-starters, compared with validating at the end of a project.
 
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can go even quicker. At the start of Covid, Colgate-Palmolive’s Dubitsky was part of a team that designed and launched a soap bar with simple icons showing users the best way to wash their hands. From start to finish the project took just 10 days. And from there, Colgate-Palmolive partnered with the World Health Organization and distributed 26.5 million bars.
When you’re doing it right, it’s easy to move fast.
Craig Dubitsky
Chief innovation Strategist, Colgate-Palmolive

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

Welcome to Innovation 2.0

Insights from leaders on post-crisis innovation

An in-depth report from Smart Design

04

Makes us stronger

Creative connectors are the new innovation superstars

04

Makes us stronger

Creative connectors are the new innovation superstars
 
Fifteen years ago, Daniel Pink wrote in his book A Whole New Mind that the leaders of the future will be right-brained. Artists, inventors, storytellers, and holistic thinkers. Not because they will be the smartest person in the room or have the greatest expertise. But because they’ll have traits that are crucial to the future of business and societies: empathy, trust, the ability to foster creativity, and lateral thinking.
 
Add a decade and a half of digital transformation to Pink’s theory and what do you get? You get creative connectors, the new innovation superstars.
 
With this kind of boss, it’s not about tenure, it’s about being able to mobilize designers and innovators, making them purposeful across physical and virtual spaces. And with C-suite pushing leaders to find the next inflection point post Covid, it’s putting more pressure than ever on leaders to connect the dots and invest in the right capabilities, keep cross-functional creative talent engaged, and hire for diversity of thought — both inside and outside the company.
 
How can you foster the creative connector in yourself?
Hiring talent: Draw what you love 
We all know that some of the freshest ideas come from creative and diverse points of view. But how do you go about hiring diverse designers and innovators? Colgate-Palmolive’s Dubitsky thinks that what you shouldn’t do is stick with the big schools, where students’ experience tends to be limited, and each one tends to learn the same theories.
 
Instead, he has a novel approach. “It’s this seemingly crazy homework,” he says. “When we’re looking to hire someone, we ask them to think of something they love and draw it. No time limit, any medium.”
 
Dubitsky started it at Hello, the hugely successful personal care brand he founded before joining Colgate-Palmolive. He explains that sometimes even the most random passions can help to uncover talents that an organization needs to thrive.
 
“My best example is when we asked one woman to do this homework and she drew the most intricate maze I’ve ever seen. It turned out that she made mazes as a hobby. Some out of wood or metal. Even minuscule ones that go on the head of a nickel. And the role we matched her with was in logistics. Because in that role, you’re figuring out how a maze works every day; there’s always some new dead-end path where you’re suddenly boxed-in and you have to figure a way out. She’s been with us for a while now and is totally crushing it.”
 
The takeaway? Hire people who think outside of the box. Sometimes literally.
Remote working has put pressure on design leaders to look across business groups, connect the dots, and say: you really need to talk to this person.
Alastair Curtis
Chief Design Officer, Logitech
Balance control & empowerment 
Logitech’s Curtis says that Covid has accelerated leader’s trust in designers — partly by necessity. There used to be lots of leaders who were overly involved in the design process. “One of the biggest things for me has just been letting go, because of the needs of the business and the pace and expectations of the market.” Enabling people to speak up means that ideas can come from all levels of the company.
 
To balance that empowerment with some control, the author Robert Simons has some advice for leaders. In his piece Control in an Age of Empowerment, Simons suggests that instead of telling teams what they can do, tell them what not to do. This allows their imagination to expand into the impossible. It’s what Professor Charles Christenson calls “the power of negative thinking.”
Get fresh 
As well as connecting people throughout the business, innovation leaders are still looking to agencies as a way to bring an outside-in and laser-like focus on a new project. “External thought leadership really helps us think differently about our consumers and what we do as a company,” says McGoohan from Central Garden and Pet. 
 
His firm recently created a new breed of pet bed, together with Smart Design. Working on the insight that no two dogs are the same (and that owners often think of buying a new bed as a huge gamble), they created a product that can be adapted for each dog’s unique needs.
  
For many leaders “get fresh” also means face-to-face. McGoohan says he loves returning to physical workshops with clients and agency experts. It’s a sentiment shared by Rachel Gates who is Director of Product Innovation for US healthcare company CVS Health. She told us that while virtual research has served them well during the development of more sensitive products such as home diagnostic testing kits, “nothing works better than sitting in a room and bouncing ideas off each other.”
Foreseeing what creative minds need in a digital, distributed, high burnout, high turnover time should be top priority for innovation leaders.
Catherine Sun
Senior Vice President of Product Design, CLEAR
Keeping talent: Be kind, unwind 
Once you’ve found talented people, how do you keep them — and keep them inspired? If you’re an innovation leader, this question is likely to be keeping you up at night. According to one study, 57% of people working in creative fields found their workload increased during the pandemic.
 
“When Covid kicked in, all bets were off, and the norms of the past were now very different,” says Logitech’s Curtis. It means that leaders had to be more attuned to the mental health needs of their staff. To give people more flexibility and (hopefully) inspire creativity, Logitech established new work models, which included “no-meeting Fridays” and eliminated nine-to-five schedules. Colgate-Palmolive’s Dubitsky did something similar, driving home the notion to staff that it doesn’t matter if you do your best work at 3pm or 3am, so long as it’s something you’re proud of.  
 
“Foreseeing what creative minds need in a digital, distributed, high burnout, high turnover time is essential and should be top priority for innovation leaders,” says CLEAR’s Sun, who says she spends most of her time checking in on her designers. Sun also advises giving people days off — enabling time to unwind and be inspired by new experiences.  
 
In this respect, digital transformation has not helped. While collaborative tools may have increased trust and transparency, they also created a sense of isolation (see Insight 1). To counter this, some leaders are betting on the rebirth of the offsite through hybrid studios. These physical spaces fuse the best elements of in-person and remote work, adapting to the new cadence that Covid has created, and enabling innovators to test, learn, adapt, and innovate together.

Conclusion

Innovation is dead, long live innovation

The past two years may well have changed how we make things as well as what we make, but it’s talent, not process, that’s the innovation secret sauce. With C-suite focused on short-term plays, innovation over the longer term — and building innovations out into flexible, scalable ecosystems — is the key to future-proofing your business. Use digital platforms and iterative pilots to prove your case. Consider returning to physical offices for the right reasons (innovation and teamwork) not the wrong ones (control over your employees). And nurture and empower your creative minds. As Daft Punk sang: “Our work is never over.” With such exciting times ahead, we wouldn’t want it to be.


Let’s design a smarter world together

About the authors

  • + followTucker

    Tucker Fort

    Partner

    Tucker Fort, Partner at Smart Design, is a pioneering design voice. He thrives on creating market-defining consumer experiences that make the most of emerging technologies, most recently with Gatorade. Tucker has also worked on some of Smart’s most standout work including OXO, HP, Nissan, P&G, Under Armour, Samsung and Tiffany & Co. His deep expertise in research and strategy serves him well when inspiring teams to design with meaning. Tucker frequently speaks about innovation design and business, and you can find his writing in publications like Entrepreneur, Surface, Fast Company, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg/Businessweek.

  • Tucker Fort

    Partner

    Tucker Fort, Partner at Smart Design, is a pioneering design voice. He thrives on creating market-defining consumer experiences that make the most of emerging technologies, most recently with Gatorade. Tucker has also worked on some of Smart’s most standout work including OXO, HP, Nissan, P&G, Under Armour, Samsung and Tiffany & Co. His deep expertise in research and strategy serves him well when inspiring teams to design with meaning. Tucker frequently speaks about innovation design and business, and you can find his writing in publications like Entrepreneur, Surface, Fast Company, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg/Businessweek.

    FollowTucker on Linkedin
  • + followMorgane

    Morgane Le Beguet

    Associate Director, Business Design

    Morgane Le Beguet is an Associate Strategy Director focused on Business Design. She brings expertise in research strategy and design thinking, blending analytics and design to help teams understand their business and lead powerful transformations. Morgane has worked across multiple sectors, including financial planning, consumer goods, ad tech, and hospitality. Her notable clients include J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank Ventures, and Jean-Georges. She holds a Bachelor’s in Business of Commerce from McGill University and a Master’s in Strategic Design & Management from Parson’s School of Design.

  • Morgane Le Beguet

    Associate Director, Business Design

    Morgane Le Beguet is an Associate Strategy Director focused on Business Design. She brings expertise in research strategy and design thinking, blending analytics and design to help teams understand their business and lead powerful transformations. Morgane has worked across multiple sectors, including financial planning, consumer goods, ad tech, and hospitality. Her notable clients include J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank Ventures, and Jean-Georges. She holds a Bachelor’s in Business of Commerce from McGill University and a Master’s in Strategic Design & Management from Parson’s School of Design.

    FollowMorgane on Linkedin
  • + followRachel

    Rachel Tiplady

    Innovation Author

    Rachel writes about design and digital innovation for world-renowned companies and industry leaders. She is part of an award-winning team of storytellers at health technology company Philips, and has written for Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, Fortune and the Condé Nast publication WWD.

  • Rachel Tiplady

    Innovation Author

    Rachel writes about design and digital innovation for world-renowned companies and industry leaders. She is part of an award-winning team of storytellers at health technology company Philips, and has written for Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, Fortune and the Condé Nast publication WWD.

    FollowRachel on Linkedin

Who we spoke with

  • Alastair Curtis

    Alastair Curtis is the chief design officer at Logitech, a world leader in products that connect people in a natural, intuitive way to the digital experiences they care about. Over the past decade, he was responsible for growing the company’s global design capability to more than 200 members of the Design Team.

  • Aza Damood

    Aza Damood is the head of design, new products at Atlassian, a software company whose mission is to help unleash the potential of every team. 

  • Craig Dubitsky

    Craig Dubitsky is the chief innovation strategist at Colgate-Palmolive, a leading global consumer products company dedicated to improving the health and wellness of people and their pets. Before taking on this role, he was the founder of the natural oral care brand Hello Products, which Colgate-Palmolive acquired in 2020.

  • Sandy Fershee

    Sandy Fershee is the senior vice president, Head of Design and Creative at Tonal, a fitness service that revolutionizes fitness and strength training with patented digital weight, machine learning, and expert personalized workouts to help you be your strongest self. Sandy was formerly with Ford, as a Lab Director where she led the human-centered design team.

  • Rachel Gates

    Rachel Gates is the director of product innovation and business management at CVS Health, the leading health solutions company, delivering care like no one else can. Their purpose is simple and clear: Bringing our heart to every moment of your health™.

  • Julien Kervella

    Julien Kervella is the senior director of experience planning at Samsung, an innovative consumer electronics firm. They explore the unknown to discover technologies to help people all over the world lead happier, healthier lives.

  • Mike McGoohan

    Mike McGoohan is the senior vice president of marketing and strategy at Central Garden and Pet, a market leader in the Garden and Pet industries. For over 40 years, Central has proudly nurtured happy and healthy homes by bringing innovative and trusted solutions to its consumers and customers.

  • Drew Palin

    Drew Palin is the senior director of marketing at Gatorade, a sports food and beverage company that fuels atheletic performance. He leads the Digital Innovation, Growth Marketing and Innovation Teams.

  • Catherine Sun

    Catherine Sun is the senior vice president of product design at CLEAR, a secure identity technology company that’s aiming to create a world people can move through easily by “simply being themselves.” In this position, she’s helping to expand their platform offering into new sectors including entertainment, healthcare, and travel services.

About Smart Design

Smart Design helps ambitious organizations build the future. We are an independently-owned strategic design company that humanizes products, services, and experiences through deep research, insights and design strategies. Powered by passion and purpose, we design to help people and businesses thrive.