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Innovation through representation
Innovation through representation

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5 Supporting innovation

In this course we have explored the different roles and uses of representations in innovation processes. Innovation involves turning opportunities into ideas and putting them into practice, so that they can be adopted for use. The outputs of innovation are new or improved products, services and systems, and the ideas for these are developed and grown by observing and linking the inputs to innovation: material things, people and context. This process does not involve a nice neat sequence of activity, but we have identified three primary activities in an innovation process: creating a vision, design thinking and design detail. Visions give direction to the innovation process because they portray future outputs. Design thinking is necessary to develop and implement visions of innovation. Design detail makes real the ideas for products, services and systems and helps grow them so they can be developed and implemented for widespread adoption. Here, we have identified six key ingredients of successful innovation, which include the sources of innovation: material things, people and context; as well as the three primary activities: creating visions, design thinking, and design details. These are summarised in the diagram in Figure 20, which we have called the Innovation Frame. The idea behind expressing this as a set of concentric and overlapping circles is to suggest that the innovation process is cyclic, involving thinking about the big picture as well as the details, and including influences from various sources. It is unlikely to be a simple one-way journey from source of innovation to activity or from the big picture to detail, but instead is more likely to be a messy path, which visits each of these key concepts multiple times in different combinations. This reflects the iterative nature that typifies creative processes such as design.

Described image
Figure 20 The Innovation Frame

Consideration of the Innovation Frame can help support innovation processes, by ensuring that all sources of innovation are considered, and that the focus is neither too detailed, nor too broad. Representations are a useful tool in this, because they are content-rich and can convey information that would be difficult to convey with words alone. They encourage us to think differently, to use visual and haptic thinking as well as verbal thinking.

We have seen that representations are always created for a purpose, and in innovation processes there are three general roles, which can be mapped onto the three primary activities identified in the Innovation Frame:

  • Representations for thinking: these support design thinking.
  • Representations for communicating: these support creating and sharing a vision for innovation.
  • Representations for describing: these support detail design.

A representation is typically created to support one of these activities, but can potentially be used to support all three. However, the way we represent an idea, concept or vision can have consequences with respect to how we can understand and manipulate it. Different representations have different strengths and can be used in different ways. We have identified four general types: drawings, concept diagrams, physical models, and digital models, but there are many other ways of representing future innovations. Fundamentally, representations are tools that are used in design and innovation to move a vision from a vague idea to a concept and then to a detailed design . They are used to incrementally and iteratively develop the small details which are necessary to realise a vision. They are used as communication devices, to support dialogue about an idea, concept or vision. They are also used to persuade others to buy into our visions for change, by emphasising specific aspects of an innovation for a particular audience. So, representations are also vital in getting potential users to adopt an innovation and to encourage diffusion.