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3 Businesses Creating Killer Innovations By Design

Creating solutions for problems is innovation at its core. However, as Einstein said, these solutions require thinking on a different level or in a different way. Sometimes this “different level” is referred to as “thinking outside of the box.” Unfortunately, this gives people the misconception that

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
3 Businesses Creating Killer Innovations By Design
You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.

Albert Einstein

Creating solutions for problems is innovation at its core. However, as Einstein said, these solutions require thinking on a different level or in a different way. Sometimes this “different level” is referred to as “thinking outside of the box.” Unfortunately, this gives people the misconception that innovation can only be achieved by the most creative people who do not follow traditional rules, norms, and processes.

This is anything but true. Some of the most innovative products and services have been created simply by following a specific design process. Here are three businesses that have disrupted their industries with innovations by design.


It’s a pretty straightforward argument to say that a design firm likely has some of the best practices for innovation by design. The goal every single day in a firm like IDEO is to create products, services, or experiences that revolutionize industries. And this is exactly what IDEO has done.

They have achieved it by working with giants in every industry, from Coca-Cola to Ford to Sealy. They created the very first computer mouse for Apple and revolutionized the personal computer industry. They developed the Palm V PDA and, by including a rechargeable battery and a sleek design, revolutionized the industry for personal digital assistants.

Because of IDEO’s impact on technology and culture, the ABC show Nightline did a segment on the company. Nightline wanted to take a deeper look at IDEO’s design process by challenging them to redesign the shopping cart. IDEO was given five days and did not disappoint.

But while the shopping cart that they designed was a stunning improvement on the traditional cart, it was their process that really stole the show. IDEO’s innovation by design process was so impressive that several universities and nonprofits have made it part of their education curricula.

The process that IDEO has come up with has created success after success for them. It is simplistic in its step-by-step formulation. However, it has proven to create some of the most killer innovations.

IDEO’s design process has 12 steps:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Brainstorm.
  3. Research and ideate.
  4. Identify criteria and lay out constraints.
  5. Look into the possibilities.
  6. Choose an approach.
  7. Lay out a design proposal.
  8. Create a prototype.
  9. Test and assess the design.
  10. Refine the design.
  11. Develop the solution.
  12. Communicate processes and results.


Uber is among a select few that have taken home Co.Design’s Innovation by Design award. It took the award in 2013, coming head to head with Tesla. But Uber came out on top, even though it was well known that Tesla was managing to permanently alter the automotive industry. It came out the winner because, as Karl Heiselman put it, “Uber is hacking the system.”

Uber has managed to both transform and disrupt the transportation industry, providing individuals with a better option for moving from one location to another, whether by themselves or with a big group, whether they want to ride in luxury or simplicity, whether they want to go out and eat or they want food to be brought to them, and their offerings continue to expand.

But while, now, Uber may seem like common sense because of how efficient and effective it is at moving people around, it started with a design process.

The first step in this process was a problem. The founder, Garrett Camp, was frustrated with the price of private drivers. He moved into the second step by ideating ways of decreasing this cost. During this phase he came up with the idea of lowering the price by sharing the cost with others.

It was then that Camp transitioned into his third step of the innovation design process by getting others involved to perfect and lay out the plan. He reached out to Travis Kalanick to invest, as well as a machinery expert, computational neuroscientist, and nuclear physicist. In 2010, Uber was launched. It was then refined and scaled.

Fairphone 2

Cell phones transformed the way we communicate. Smartphones transformed how we organize our lives. The Fairphone 2, another Co.Design Innovation by Design winner, is going to transform the relationship we have with our smartphones.

Since smartphones came into existence, we have treated them as valuable yet disposable. They have a shelf-life of roughly two years—or whenever our cell phone contract allows for an upgrade. When something newer comes out, the old smartphone becomes obsolete—a very expensive device that can just be thrown out like a broken trinket, even though it works perfectly well and is still in good condition.

This is all going to change with the Fairphone 2, the first purchasable modular smartphone. This means that the phone can be easily repaired by the buyer. If one part breaks, it does not mean the entire phone needs to be thrown out. The screen can be replaced within minutes, with no expertise required.

The same is true for the battery, the various ports, and pretty much every other part. This also means that if a more advanced part comes out, it can be replaced without an upgrade to the entire phone, reducing waste and saving consumers money.

The experts at Fairphone used a very similar design process to Uber. They first wanted to address the problems that come with buying a new smartphone: The parts are not ethically sourced and the non-recyclable parts of the phone are producing too much waste too quickly. Through multiple partnerships and designs, Fairphone was able to come out with a smartphone that made a big leap forward in solving the original issue.

The innovation process is never easy, but by approaching innovation with a design process in mind, businesses have been able to achieve greater success. To find out more about innovation by design or to jump start your own innovation process, check out how I and my team can help.

Culturedesigncreativityculture of innovationFairphone 2ideoInnovationinnovation managementUber

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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