10 errors designers commit in innovation projects

Today we see many organizations becoming interested in the approach that designers use to discover and deliver value to their customers, because unlike traditional approaches, designers take more risks, emotions are better explored, and original ideas are generated. This makes companies stand out from competitors, strengthening their brands and improving their bottom line. However, life is not a bed of roses, specially in this process, as I explain below.

The advantages of design

Design is not just one method or technique about how to imagine the future. According to Christine De Lille, “it’s more of a way of looking at things and a set of skills that does not belong only to designers.” Still, in her opinion, there are designers who do not have the design attitude.

The philosophy of design, according to Jon Kolko (2010) promotes five principles that affect the way an organization looks at problems:

1 – It empowers employees to observe behavior and draw conclusions about what people want and need, by expressing these findings in the form of emotional value propositions, not just numbers in Excel spreadsheets.

2 – They use templates, such as diagrams and sketches, to explore, define, and communicate different ways of looking at a system, going beyond the original definition of the problem. These templates replace traditional spreadsheets, specifications, and documents.

3 – They use prototypes to explore possible solutions, whether in digital, physical or diagrammatic form, making innovation more social than personal. With a prototype it is possible to investigate in groups how to solve a problem.

4 – They tolerate faults, not encouraging mistakes, but admitting that it is difficult to get right at first, and that mistakes are a natural part of learning.

5 – Encourage simpler solutions with a focus on emotional experience.

How designers build emotional value

A process of innovation through design uses some steps, not always sequential, such as:

  • Research about context
  • Research about people
  • Frame insights
  • Generate ideas
  • Organize and priorize ideas
  • Implement solutions

These steps propose to achieve an improved understanding of the difficulties that people face, to know what are their pain points, what tasks they need to perform (job to be done), and then to propose an ideal system. In the project language, it means describing how the current system is (AS IS) and how it could be (TO BE).

Life is not a bed of roses

However, adopting the designers’ thinking is surrounded by advantages but also of deception and pitfalls, as I describe further on.

1st – Ignoring important stakeholders

In a users survey it is common to disregard the opinion and behavior of important stakeholders such as employees, for example. Some researchers worry too much about end-users of a system, forgetting those who provide care or provide operational support (De Lille et al., 2015). In a restaurant this mistake would mean caring only about customers, but not taking into account waiters, cooks, receptionists, managers, among others. This type of error is more common with inexperienced designers who do not understand the importance that other stakeholders have in the success of the project. They understand that in the phrase “user centered design”, the user is in the singular, that is, it is only one. The correct one would be “stakeholder centered design” or something similar.

2th – Implementing projects ignoring conflicts of interest and power struggles

“That’s enough!” say some designers, “besides worrying about doing a lot of research and analysis, now I have to guess who is going to sabotage my project?” Yes sir. A project generates changes in the organization, and these changes do not always serve the interests of all people. These conflicts are not easy to detect, because saboteurs will not always say publicly that they do not like the new system proposed by the designers. In front of you they will congratulate you, pat you on the back and make you think that implementation will only be a matter of time. But many of they are thinking about how to make the project sink, whether because people do not want to lose power, but also because they feel fear, anxiety and think that it is better to stay the way it is. “Don’t move my cheese.”

3nd – Misusing secondary data during the research

During the context research usually it is necessary to know the factors that compose the system that is being studied. The problem lies in the fact that many designers look for data in non-validated sources. Many of these studies promise generalization, but they use a flawed data collection protocol, involving undersized samples, incorrect statistical treatment, biased questionnaires, chosen participants without the necessary rigor. Many of the survey results may have defects like “false positive”, “false negative”, among others.

4rd – Blindly trusting what respondents say

Some amateur researchers make the mistake of finding that a person’s statement can be taken literally. Chris Argyris (2004) perceived that people have two theories: espoused and in use. That is, they adopt two discourses: one declared discourse and one real discourse, in practice. An unsuspecting interviewer may innocently consider the first testimony to be true. That is why we make ethnographic observation or triangulate with other sources of evidence to avoid this error.

5th – Failing to detect the appropriate patterns

During context and stakeholder research, the amount of gathered information can be large. Therefore, it is necessary to structure this information in the form of diagrams, maps, tables, among others, to extract meaning from what was collected. This organization serves to perceive patterns that will deepen the vision of the problem being investigated. The problem is that not all people have the ability to perceive these patterns, to group insights by affinity, to differentiate a pattern from a coincidence. If this is not done correctly, you run the risk of having a distorted view of the problem, prioritizing the solution of a less important defect, and ignoring a more relevant one.

6th – Rushing things when tackling a problem

After generating a list of insights, describing the pain points, many designers go straight to the generation of solutions. However, every design problem is symptomatic of another problem (Rittel and Webber, 1973). It is appropriate that before attempting to go out looking for solutions, a root-cause analysis should be done using tools such as Ishikawa’s Diagram, 5 Whys to cite a few. Trying to solve a problem soon can only correct superficial defects, creating patch solutions.

7th – Co-creating with uninformed users

An important design activity is to engage users in the process of finding solutions to problems they face. However, although this often seems like a good idea, engaging people who have a limited view of the problem and system can mess up more than help. This is because people need to have enough information to make good decisions. The mere participation of a co-creation session does not make people skilled at proposing solutions.

8th – Do not prioritize solutions using right criteria

When ideation stage ends, a list with many ideas comes up. However, as important as creating solutions is to check which of them are priorities. This can be done through prioritization diagrams crossing frequency of problems x impact x cost, analysing the idea potential to be a quick-win, or other relevant criteria. Without prioritization, the organization runs the risk of starting with the least important solutions, deferring what is a priority, reducing the commitment of the people involved. It should be remembered that prioritization is dictated by the relevant stakeholders and not by the designer who led the project.

9th – Considering the world as if it were static

In this case, the designers construct a plan of action, proposing the implementation of the solutions. The problem is that this presents two pitfalls: the first is that if planning takes too long, when it ends, the problem it proposes to change is already another. The second trap is that some designers think the world is static and will stand still waiting for the implementation. According to this view, the organization’s employees will always be the same, no one will be fired, laws will not change, the euro value will keep stable, the climate will have no surprises, suppliers will do nothing unpredictable. That is, it’s a fairy tale world, where everything works out. Even using a FMEA diagram (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) is not enough to deal with unforeseen events, and designers should also use “emergent” planning. In addition, it is important for designers to understand the difference between “strategic planning” and “strategic programming”. Many designers do this second type of activity thinking they are planning.

10th – Changing spaces, objects or systems imagining that this will not affect people

Some designers are deluded thinking that just changing physical space, changing furniture and objects, or replacing software will be simpler as it will not affect people. Honest mistake: it has already been demonstrated that this kind of change has equal power of influence over people, threatening their interests, as this may diminish their power (Latour, 2005).


Whether it’s researching, analyzing, creating, or implementing ideas, it’s crucial to pay attention to the pitfalls that can undermine the success of the innovation process. The first step in avoiding these dangers is to be aware of them, the main reason why this article was written.


Kolko, J. (2010). “Thoughts on Interaction Design”. Elsevier. Burlington, MA.

De Lille, C., et al. (2015). “Weight, Safety and/or Services? An Aviation Manufacturer Tackling Challenges of Servitization Through Design.” Proceedings of the Spring Servitization Conference 2015.

Latour, B. (2005). “Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies).”

Um comentário sobre “10 errors designers commit in innovation projects

  1. Dear Ricardo,

    I read the article. Very interesting. One of the reasons described was the reason of the complete failure of the Edsel car by Ford.

    And one of the reasons are also “design for the sake of design”, where and when many objects, big or small, are designed just to accommodate the vanity of some designers, who create things that are really useless ut get awards from them. The old axiom “build a better mousetrap and the world will make a queue to your door” just isn’t true. The same mousetraps designed centuries ago are still being used and catching mice.

    Best Regards,


    P.S. I’d love to have some opinion from you about some of the articles I published in my blog:




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