The UX of Innovation


I attended the Intersect Symposium on Innovation last week in MKE. It was a great event, with some impressive speakers from Kraft, GE, Johnson Controls, Harvard Business School, Frog, etc. Not to mention the great group of attendees that were made up of all types and sizes of companies, businesses and organizations. We were all focused on one thing; we know we have to, but how do we be more innovative.

Many of the talks focused on how their companies have taken innovation head on; what learnings they had and some general guidelines for things to think about as an organization. How do we  approach this new frontier of optimizing an established business model and supporting unchartered exploration, all under the same roof.

As I listened, absorbed and eavesdropped on all the conversations, one idea started to crystalize. One of the key lessons across all the speakers was that innovation in any company required shifts in multiple areas, processes and people, and had to be tailored for that company. It is this intersection of people, what they are doing and why they are doing it that has proven a followable path. Sounded familiar to me. What became clear is that not just the activities of participating in innovation were important but designing the experience of participating was critical to success.

The term User Experience (UX) has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Called by many terms and truly understood by few, the art of UX, at its core is the ability to see all the influences and how they intertwine to deliver an outcome. As a long time student of UX, I have learned over time that the core elements of the discipline are not only found in interface design or usability. It truly is the design of emotion, perception and interaction of people, as they engage with other people, places and things and the environment in which it occurs. And with that definition, the UX discipline can be a valuable tool in a plethora of problem/solution  situations… such as cultivating innovation in an organization.

It’s not just the steps, the activities or the new org structures that can be leaned on to carry this new initiative. We have to look at the emotions in play and how they can be helpful—or harmful—to innovation. We have to have eyes wide open to the perception of such changes. It’s impossible to help people adopt new ways of thinking when we don’t understand how they currently think. And we have to actively design interactions and guidance. Throwing people in a room with post its, whiteboards and markers and saying “go” has not worked well for many organizations. You have to know your people, how they operate in your environment and how to frame newness on their terms to free your talent to innovate.

It starts with a story. Write out what you want the experience of innovation to be within your organization. What does it feel like, look like, sound like? Start there, and you will have a solid foundation on which to formalize the tactics and processes that will serve your business.

Your business needs social media.

First things first, please.


Your business needs:

… a clearly understood problem it is solving.

… a product or service that addresses that problem in a manner that delights customers to the point of surprise.

… an amazing team that believes in it.

… a visionary(s) and leader(s).

… a personality, a brand and a conscious.

… a viable business model.

… a collaborative environment that fosters trial and error.

… a designed culture that makes all the above happen.


Focus on these things first and Facebook gets a whole lot easier.