Innovation design: 4 principles to start and maintain

This article originally appeared on Accenture Insights.

Innovation is becoming commonplace nowadays. Large corporations, especially those in tech industries, understand that they need to experiment with new technologies and explore the possibilities they can bring. In this practical guide, we discuss a process that can accelerate innovation design in your organization, based around four design principles.


First things first: you should know there are (broadly speaking) two main approaches to innovation design and development. The approach you should follow depends on why you’re innovating in the first place, as each approach has its benefits and challenges. 

Innovation design: 4 principles - Innovation approaches - by Accenture

Most companies are already comfortable with incremental innovation—it’s a low-commitment option, with limited risk and lots of opportunities to explore. It’s a great starting point, but if you want big impacts, you’ve got to start thinking big with innovations that can be scaled. Today, a lot of organizations are also seeking disruptive innovation, a topic we’ve already covered in a different article. 

If you want big impacts, you’ve got to start thinking big.

Start with the problem or ambition motivating your innovation design

This problem or ambition should be the basis of your ideas and solutions, and coming up with a good answer can help keep everything aligned to your vision as you progress. So, it’s important to be clear before you start. 

“What issue or problem do we want to solve? What ambition do we want to achieve?”

Innovation design: 4 principles - Two coworkers iterating - by Accenture

Once you know the answer to that question, you can start coming up with concepts. We recommend following these four design principles. 

1. Design for relevance 

Keep thinking back to how this innovation will benefit your employees or customers (or both), and let that guide you through the process. 

In the end, all innovations start with a (serious) issue or (moonshot) ambition. But defining a goal isn’t enough to make innovation relevant on its own. Being relevant is more than that—it means creating innovation with purpose. The key is to remember that, above all, innovation is there to make life better for human beings. Being relevant also means considering aspects like privacy, compliance, accessibility, and anything else related to customer or employee needs. 

Innovation is there to make life better for human beings.

2. Develop for scalability

It’s important to not only think about the scalability of the innovation itself but also the scalability of the organization supporting it. 

Scalability is about how well an innovation can handle an increase or decrease in volume. Being scalable has everything to do with the fundamentals of an organization. It’s necessary to evaluate an organization’s operating processes, systems, and technology to see if they can flexibly adapt to changing demands. That could include (and is not limited to):

  • Human capital.
  • Ways of working.
  • Open source tooling.
  • Enterprise architecture.
  • Enterprise (and/or third-party) platforms.
  • Networks and connectivity.
  • Data centers.

What happens if volume or demands increase exponentially (to a power of 1,000, for example)? There’s no sense in setting up a great new system, only to find it can’t handle the success you were hoping for. 

The need for scalability is most crucial, and most obvious, at the core of your organization’s operations. But don’t forget it’s also important to consider other services and solutions that could be affected, too. 

3. Brace for impact

What were the key metrics prior to implementation of the innovation and what impact does the innovation have on these key metrics? 

The third principle is ‘Bracing for impact’. This principle refers to the idea that you should measure the impact of your innovation solution

Imagine the situation: your company has just transitioned to a very different set-up. Things start working, numbers are crunched… and then it dawns on you. What are those numbers? What were their values before, what has changed, and what does any of it mean? 

With such big organizational impacts, it’s important to be able to monitor how well the new application is performing—as well as being alerted right away if anything is going wrong. Trust us—you’re going to want to prepare a comprehensive measurement plan, as well as checking in advance how these new values match up with past reporting methods.

Innovation design: 4 principles - Rugby player bracing for impact - by Accenture

4. Iterate to last

Realizing an innovation or invention is not the end of the story. Only the start of it

Customers and employees increasingly expect companies to stay up to date with the latest technology—which has been a hard thing to predict in the past. So it’s hard to say exactly when the next big change will come or what it will be. But it will come, and a great innovation concept includes plans for that eventuality. 

Unfortunately, many companies see innovation as a matter of inspiration that happens by chance. Over 50 percent of the respondents to a global survey into innovation investments said that they see innovation as ‘an ad-hoc creative process’. In contrast, high-growth companies have made innovation a fundamental part of their organization, showing courage to change the organization at a more fundamental level.

Bear in mind that most technologies come in waves, with second and third-generation developments bringing a maturity that can be leveraged to great benefit by earlier innovations—providing they can accommodate the update. Make sure that that the change you’re bringing to your company will last.

Innovation design: 4 principles - Group iteration - by Accenture

So there you have it. Four innovation design principles for creating competitive advantage in a fast-changing technology landscape. 

  • Design for relevance – In competitive markets, being relevant is a key differentiator.
  • Develop for scalability – Being able to scale up and down, adjusting to market dynamics.
  • Brace for impact – You cannot manage what you do not measure.
  • Iterate to last – Innovation is only the start of the journey.

Remember, the journey only starts here. Innovation is not the goal, it’s a means to reach your eventual goal. Let us know if we can help you get started, formulate your goal or create the structure to successfully innovate. 

Keep an eye out for our case study about innovating with blockchain, to take a deeper look into innovation design and how to implement it in your organization.

Innovation is only the start of the journey.

Author: Rick Bouter

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