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The future of design innovation – 5 trends to watch in 2018!

On your marks, get set, think! In today’s ever changing world, where technologies are moving at lightning speed, the race to the extraordinary is on. Innovation is insatiable; competition is cut-throat. With so much change disrupting the conventional track, organisations cannot afford to keep rear-view mirror gazes on their success (however impressive these might be). 

Uncertainty lurks around every corner, which should leave us asking ourselves, what will ensure we stay in the driver’s seat for our future? 

Recently Aurecon, the Customer Experience Group and the Australian Industry Group sponsored Good Design Australia's ‘Design as Strategy Forum 2017’This was the 5th annual forum led by Aurecon’s Global Director, Design to Innovate Maureen Thurston where elements of design thinking were showcased front and centre. Former Aurecon Chief Executive Officer, Giam Swiegers, along with key industry figures, shared insights and experience that, if applied in a business context, could redefine the way we think about (and design) our companies and products. 

Their ideas fell under four categories of interest: mindset (approach); skillset (ability); knowledge set (organisation); and tool set (methodology).  

Here are the big trend takeaways we think will be key to launching an epic 2018.

Find problems, don’t just solve them (mindset)
Giam Swiegers, Former Aurecon Global CEO

Let’s face it. It’s tough out there now. Digital disruption is rewriting the rule books of business at breakneck speed, and it takes everything you’ve got (and then some) to keep up. With so many options amidst so much uncertainty, there’s an unprecedented amount of organisational head scratching and boardroom conversations asking, where to from here?

“The only way you are going to survive, is shifting from solving known problems and waiting for the client to come and tell you about their problem – to being able to go out there and help the client understand a problem they don’t know they have,” says Swiegers.

Being a problem finder is about asking ‘why?’ What do you want to achieve at the end of the day? Where in the past we applied a more cut-and-paste template to the client’s request, we are repositioning our role as interventionists, consultants, thinkers who help you navigate through the noise. So when the client asks for a bridge construction, we need to rather ask the question, why do you want that bridge in the first place? What’s the real problem you’re aiming to overcome, and is a bridge the best tool to overcome it?

Great ideas can’t grow underground, so we create platforms on which ideas can grow and people can flourish in the light. “As Warren Bennis once said, ‘there are two ways of being creative’,” adds Swiegers. One can sing or dance, or if you are not an icon in that, one can create an environment where singers and dancers can flourish.”

If you can’t do the first, you’re off the hook; not everyone can hold a tune. But everyone, on the other hand, can cheer the singer on. At Aurecon, we want to build a culture where those in the audience are as important as the singer in the spotlight.

Knowledge needs chaos (skillset)
Ben Hamley, Partner and Strategic Designer at Business Models Inc

In his talk, Strategic Designer Ben Hamley assured us that we need not fear the dark. The unknown can breed superb imagination. “Love uncertainty, and lean in on the chaos,” Hamley reminds us. In a time of accelerating change, the traditional business model is looking down the barrel of extinction; agility, adaptability and a broader definition of design itself are needed to face the future.

Hamley encourages us to think of design as something living, breathing and layered with complexity. Good design is the by-product of many questions asked and answered, together. And although it must respond to organisational direction and customer demands, it must stay nimble to meet the market’s moving targets.  

Design is a deeply rewarding process, one that synthesises intuition, science and empirical strategy into a robust and innovative solution. Risk abounds these days, but design thinking probes under the surface of our business models and builds buffers to absorb those risks. Uncertainty doesn’t have to be our demise. In fact, Hamley says, it can produce our finest hour.   

NO is not an option (knowledge set)
Peter Freedman, Founder and Chairman at RØDE Microphones

“The big players didn’t see me coming. By the time they woke up, it was too late.” That’s how Freedman describes his AUD1 billion company’s remarkable rise to success over the past 50 years. Having seen the gap in the home-recording market in the early 1990s, Freedman birthed the reinvention of Freedman Electronics and created the trusted and reputable brand we now know as RØDE microphones. 108 countries, up to half a million microphones distributed a year, offices worldwide…so what would Peter say has been the little secret?

One little word that’s simply off limits  no.

“Always be willing to try everything at least once,” he says. When it comes to testing out a new idea, ‘no’ is simply not in the vocabulary. That’s why Freedman was able to reinvent and transform his company through testing and interpretative design. In fact, only recently was he able to put a name to his efforts and call it ‘design thinking'

Freedman believes there are no wrong efforts, even if they lead to brick walls. Dead ends are to be expected, and failure is informative. If we are going to push through anything spectacular, we’ll have to emphasise radical investigation and experimentation over replication. “Having people who can interpret and create…this is where design thinking comes in.” And this is indeed where the future lies. 

Make it meaningful (knowledge set)
Roberto Verganti, Professor and Author of Overcrowded: Designing Meaningful Products in World Awash with Ideas

Roberto Verganti has spent the bulk of his academic career wondering what it’s all for. His research explores the purpose and power of meaning in today’s world; by focusing not only on how things work, but why we need them, we can forge meaningful experiences and products for our customers.

“We wake up in the morning, check our mail, open our phone…we are awash with ideas and opportunities,” says Verganti. “So the funny thing is that we are still blind like in the past. However, we are not blind because it's dark. We are blind because there's so much light.” Society is punch-drunk with information and opportunities to upgrade, reboot and recharge our lifestyles. What we are ultimately seeking is meaning in the midst of it. Verganti says we can use design to fill those personal voids as well as those unseen gaps in the market. “People don't love solutions, people love things that are meaningful…. because we are human,” he claims.

And because we are human, meaning tends to morph. That means a product can outlast its original purpose and take on a whole new meaning in the market, if the product owner should see the opportunity. Verganti points to the Yankee Candle as a case in point. A customer might not necessarily need firelight to navigate the dark anymore, but there’s nothing like a scented candle to create ambiance. Yankee Candle was willing to rebrand itself – a decision that has paid off in the form of $1 billion a year.

We win when we all win – purpose can be profitable! (tool set)
Innes Willox, CEO Australian Industry Leadership Group, and Tharani Jegatheeswaran, Deloitte

If there’s anything we know for certain these days, it’s that change is here to stay. On every front economies are facing disruption and downright overhaul, as technology advances and global markets shift. The future is in question when businesses dig their heels in the sand and stick to their age-old reliance on the cyclical extraction of energy and resources. But, Innes Willox argues, should businesses embrace technology as a means to innovation, and should they do it together, they can stumble upon world-leading and sustainable solutions for the future.

“Successful innovation is rarely something that just happens. The collaborative process needs to be carefully designed from the ground up, pursued mindfully, and continuously improved as experience builds,” says Willox.

He goes on to champion the power of mutual benefit when it comes to collaboration. If businesses want to stay globally competitive, they have to invest in flexible and mutually beneficial relationships with allied organisations that allow for free exchange of information and ideas. Learning from the past can be powerful, and partnerships need to lay the platforms that encourage this kind of open-ended interaction. Lightweight and adaptable, these collaborations need to serve the interest of both parties. 

Taken a step further, “How do you take the best of business, technology, innovation, design, and lift and shift it to tackle complex social issues?” This is a question that consumes Tharani Jegatheeswaran’s day job. She is passionate about blurring the lines and leveraging the synergy between government, business and private sector in order to address some of society’s greatest needs. Her work as a social impact consultant finds her sniffing out the outliers ‒ those who are advocating for business to have a greater role in society beyond the pursuit of profit. And from there she connects the dots, matching opportunities for purpose to be profitable and needs to be resourced.

Jegatheeswaran is persuaded by design which puts people at the centre…like Hireup, Australia's first disability support network. Hireup is a national platform that revolutionises the way people with a disability find, hire, and manage support workers who share interests, not just qualifications. It is by far the most affordable, efficient, and human-centred service to maximise comfort and minimise costs of the disabled community. Under the banner of Australia’s AUD22 billion per annum National Disability Insurance scheme, Hireup is a perfect example of an innovation where government, private and society all win.

As the designers and creators and innovators, Jegatheeswaran urges us to challenge the status quo and imagine beyond bottom line. “The world needs you, society needs you, to work at that intersection of business, government, and the social sector. Remember and place the needs of the most vulnerable in society, at the center of your designs, to look to address these social issues at scale, bringing together the power of government, business and the sector, and to ultimately create solutions that build a stronger and richer civil society, not just better products.”

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