‘Tacit desires, unspoken wishes’

Imagine you’re a car manufacturer; what’s your next product going to be? A faster, greener, quieter car? Perhaps it’s not a car at all. New technology, agile disruptors and more demanding, well-informed customers mean companies are having to take a more lateral, holistic approach to innovation if they want to stay relevant.

Design is no longer just about the look of a new product, it’s about rethinking what the customer really wants, even if the customer isn’t sure themselves yet.

“Companies and their design agencies need to create a culture of innovation that encourages three things: courage, creativity and collaboration,” says Joon-Mo Lee, managing director of Phoenix Design’s offices in Munich. The multi-award-winning agency, which has been in business for more than 30 years and employs more than 80 staff, also has an office in Shanghai.

Courage is essential to enable companies to adopt new approaches and perspectives. “They need to be prepared to design a future for their business that doesn’t exist today and that no one else has done before,” he says.

You need courage to look for inspiration where others aren’t looking

Secondly, business leaders must work closely with design agencies to unleash their creativity to come up with new ideas and imagine new criteria for success. “It’s not enough these days just to produce an exciting new version of your traditional product,” says Mr Lee. “A car company has to look beyond cars these days and consider the whole idea of mobility. It’s about lateral thinking and it’s happening around us right now.

“Thirdly, successful companies are those that seek collaborations on equal footing to move beyond what we call ‘armchair innovation’. It’s about teaming up with people who challenge paradigms, ask uncomfortable questions and are committed to go through hell with you, knowing it’ll all be worth it in the end.”

According to Phoenix Design, we’re already in an era when consumers, not companies, will truly dictate what products are created. Companies therefore need to rethink both their design and commercial strategies.

Mr Lee’s colleague, Andreas Diefenbach, managing director of the company’s Stuttgart office, says: “If a product is valuable for consumers, then it can be used to make money, but companies need to be creative here. We shouldn’t be killing off innovations simply because we don’t yet know how to market and monetise things. We need to innovate and then become creative about marketing those innovations.”

Establishing a strong foundation for innovation involves insight, what Mr Lee calls “rich, actionable and meaningful truths that will inspire you to do something new that no one saw coming”.

Too many companies, he believes, rely on traditional market research or their own ability as “experts”. “The problem is consumers don’t necessarily say, or even know, what they want. You need courage to look for inspiration where others aren’t looking. It’s about unearthing tacit desires, unspoken wishes,” he says.

This is the key to innovating successfully. “That’s why we make every effort to observe people in their day-to-day lives, why we ask candid questions and why we spend so much energy analysing and synthesising our findings. Insights are the gold of innovation,” Mr Lee concludes.

For more information please visit phoenixdesign.com