Return to site

Customer-driven Innovation: Building harmony with design & engineering

Innovation is the lifeblood for any company’s long-term viability, so learning how to drive and manage innovation is crucial for both executives and entrepreneurs.

One of the obstacles we see is discord between design and engineering.  

Conventional wisdom suggests engineers and designers are as compatible as oil and water, pitting opposing priorities of form versus function. But I think this viewpoint is flawed, as both engineers and designers share the same goal, to solve a problem, whether that is creating something new or making something better—innovation.

To understand the contrast between design and engineering better, the innovation perspective of each is outlined here:

  • Designers approach—look at the human factors, aesthetics, functionality, ease-of-use, fitness for purpose, and quality from the end-user perspective.
  • Engineers approach—concerned with coming up with a system (or specification) which is correct (robust, scalable, etc.), safe, cost-effective, and quality from the operations/implementation perspective.

To see this approach in action, look at Apple. They have a very small design team of @100 compared to Facebook’s hundreds and Google’s thousands, but have regularly put out more user friendly and customer valued solutions as judged by end-users purchasing behavior, profits and market share. Mark Kawano, formerly of Apple put it this way,

"It’s actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better…much more than any individual designer or design team.”

Some professions, such as architects, are expected to have both skill sets and viewpoints when approaching a project, so it is not unreasonable to expect individuals and teams to approach innovation with similar balance.

Here are two easy ways to start building a culture that embraces customer-driven innovation.

  1. Identify and leverage the similarities and shared goals of engineering and design, as most innovation based solutions require both design and engineer thinking to succeed.
  2. Challenge your team, regardless of role make up, to find customer-focus solutions that balance form and function.

For more on innovation-driven growth, please contact me at: