In the past, we simply innovated, now we design innovation. By design, a number of creative methodologies and tools are introduced with the aim of providing an objective, orderly and reproducible method to the way companies innovate. In this context, a group of design consultancies are revolutionizing the world of innovation.

To find the origin of these design consultancies, we must go back to the 80’s and 90’s, when two important perspective transformations change the traditional concept of design.

In the first transformation, the designer discovers the user. In the traditional view of design, the only important thing is if the product works. However, users, in their daily use, highlight a series of dysfunctions (it is complicated, impractical, dangerous …) which show that, to design more efficient products, the designer must take into account how users interact with the product. It is the human-centered design.

In the second transformation, the designer discovers innovation. Designers realize that the methods used to design new products can also be applied to improve existing products and solve the dysfunctions that traditional design originated. This is the design thinking.

Most of current design firms emerge from the merger of the human-centered design and design thinking. Many of them continued to specialize in traditional areas of design, but some companies realized that their knowledge, tools and methods could be transferred to many other areas.

Since their introduction in many different fields, some of them very novel, these design consultancies are composed by multidisciplinary teams, consisting of engineers, designers, sociologists, anthropologists … able to offer different capabilities and perspectives.

The following are some of the most prominent firms:

Firm Description
Continuum Design consultancy.
Designit Strategic design consultancy. By combining human needs with strategy, Designit acts as an agent of change for society and business.
Fjord Service design consultancy.
Frog Innovation and technology services firm.
Idea Couture Strategic innovation, experience design, and customer insights firm.
IDEO Design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations innovate and grow.

Analyzing the services offered by these companies, we can identify up to 12 different categories, although surely there are many more.

  • Space design: architecture, interior and exterior design…
  • Product design: machinery, tools, furniture, clothes…
  • Packaging design: packaging for food, pharmaceutical products, perfumery, digital devices…
  • Instructional design: guides and manuals.
  • Graphic design: branding, typography, storyboarding, illustration, iconography…
  • Digital design: hardware, software, Web and mobile elements, interactive media…
  • Web design: production and maintenance of websites.
  • Interaction design: user interface and user experience in the digital interfaces.
  • Service design: interaction between service provider and customers.
  • Business design: business model prototyping.
  • Organizational design: organizational behavioral and cultural changes.
  • Healthcare design: prevention, development of innovative treatments…

With their new methods, their creative perspective and their multidisciplinary teams, these design consultancies are changing the traditional concept of innovation. The fact that none of these firms is specifically defined as innovation consultancy raises the question of whether design will eclipse innovation. Will be “design” the new paradigm?