How UX research can drive innovation

Paper planes

Probably, at some point of your life you have questioned yourself what is innovation, how it works or even what are the steps companies follow to create products, technology or services able to completely change our habits and disrupt our plans.   

Currently, innovating means redefining and completely changing the mindset of an user about a specific product (Verganti, 2008), being able to impress him and being one step ahead, having the possibility of modifying his mental model. 

According to Roberto Verganti, promoter of the  Design driven Innovation strategy, changing the emotional and symbolic content of the products through understanding and the changes in society, culture and technology is vital to promote new meanings and visions for the products and services that surround us, therefore it’s essential for innovation. 

Verganti reveals that novelty is created when there is a break of the meaning combined with a break of the technology used. In this moment, Design focused on the user takes special importance in the process. 

Now, what about researching? 

Research by itself helps getting to know the whys of an invented problem to get to the core. This is why research helps “diverging, exploring and converging”, being present in all the design phases and obtaining a full understanding of the users.

Graphic with research process

Depending on the phase of the process, innovation will help us in different ways:

Depending on the phase of the process, innovation will help us in different ways:

Understanding what matters

  • Helping identifying and structuring the challenge.
  • Defining and guiding the opportunity space.
  • Stimulating and facilitating the idea creation.

Making it real

  • Developing ideas adapted to the artifacts generated during research (Insights, JTBD, …) to be able to ensure that the ideas adapt to our problems.
  • Validating the design during developing.
  • Identifying errors that allow to reframe the challenge.

Making it happen

  • Generating knowledge about the likely use of the service or product.  
  • Following the users behaviour with the service or product to recognise patterns and being able to iterate throughout time. 

Once we have seen how research encourages investigation in the design phases, we have another doubt. Does UX research ensure innovation?

To be able to answer this question we need to focus on two types of innovation: radical innovation (mentioned above) and incremental innovation (Norman, D. A., &  Verganti, R.; 2014). 

  • Radical innovation refers to a framework change, inventing something that has never been done before.

Its based on two aspects: radical change of meaning and radical technological change, both being a result of research.

  • Incremental innovation refers to the improvements created in a specific framework, that improve something that already exists.
Graphic with types of innovation

Knowing the differences amongst this two types of innovation we can already answer the previous question. 

According to Norman and Verganti (2014) research based on user experience can improve solutions focused on the previous steps, without losing sight of the users’ needs.  

As a consequence of the iteration cycle using user centric research, innovation is granted, but incremental innovation.

“ This studies create progressive improvements, that allow people to upgrade what they already do” 

But, does this mean that research in design is not part of radical innovation? 

The answer is NO. 

Companies like SpaceX o Amazon, haven’t become successful only by using disruptive technologies. They also have years of experience using user centric research to be able to know the needs and behaviours of their users from a different point of view.

That’s the moment when there is a meaning change. Research in design is essential to know what changes are happening in our society and culture to be able to create disruption.

Graphic with Design Phases

Research should leave behind established meanings and search new interpretations of people’s feelings and thoughts. 

Hence, change towards innovation is focused on design innovation and the new methodologies of creation and ideation like Design Thinking and Agile that allow to break with the previous limits and to think differently.

What is the conclusion of all this?

UX research is important in all the project phases, since it helps defining the challenges, the iteration and improvements of ideas and the follow up with users once the product is launched. 

Also, it’s proven that this kind of research improves constantly with the solutions and it allows to go back if something goes wrong. 

Research in design is essential to understand what are the changes produced in our society and to create unlimited solutions, guided by new perspectives.

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