7 Elements of Design Innovation

The 7 Elements of Design Innovation™

The Practice of User Centered Business Design

Design Innovation Overview

For design innovation to succeed, it has to be Desirable, Possible and Viable. Desirable – wanted by users. Possible – technically feasible. Viable – able to support future business goals. We’ve been doing innovation consulting for more than 20 years. We’ve learned that it’s critical to understand, explore, and prioritize the overlaps between these three lenses to successfully innovate.

We call this the 7 Elements of Design Innovation™. It’s a tool to ensure that every new design innovation, or human-centered offering, is integrated into business strategy.

Download the Framework

The Key to Successful Innovation: Systemic Thinking

In traditional corporate structures, it’s common for teams to focus on just one or two of the seven elements in isolation. At IA, we consider all design innovation elements systemically — helping our clients collaborate across their organizations to create new offerings that end users value, stakeholders can feasibly implement, and leadership can be confident will deliver business impact.

User Experience

What to ask: What are the user’s wants, needs, and potential?

What it is: User experience design begins with determining our most important users and then diving deep to understand their wants and needs. By observing patterns of current activities, workarounds, and aspirations, insights are derived to guide the creation of new offerings.

Whether insights prescribe entirely new business models or re-tooled elements, a foundational user understanding enables concepting, design, and mapping of ideal future experiences.

User Experience Owners: Consumer Insights, Digital & User Experience

Process & Capabilities

What to ask: What systems and internal capabilities will we leverage or evolve?

What it is: Process and capabilities design are paramount in building a culture focused on design innovation. Through capabilities design, a company’s financial, physical, intellectual, and human resources can be connected in more agile and elastic ways to inspire dynamic and unexpected value creation, improving core functions and driving a healthier workplace.

A company’s core process design can also leverage a user-centered approach to challenge organizational conventions and prototype new approaches to corporate strategy, R&D, knowledge management, and skills development.

Process & Capabilities Owners: Engineering, Manufacturing, IT/Technology

Profit Models

What to ask: What will users value and how will we derive profit?

What it is: User-centered profit models are based on a rich understanding of what users truly value. By uncovering genuine motivations for purchases, new and tailored revenue models can be established. Often, multiple models are created to provide users maximum access to offerings while keeping competitors at a distance.

Considerations around pricing are driven by user value creation and willingness to pay, versus competitive pressures. Because this framework is user-centered, rather than competition-driven, typical purchase patterns are routinely disrupted, delivering new options and opportunities for buyer engagement.

Profit Models Owners: Corporate Strategy, Finance


What to ask: What relationship will users want to have with us?

What it is: Strong brands are based on establishing meaningful relationships with users. The scale of most corporations necessitates a broad range of brand interaction methods — from one-to-one conversations to mass communication.

Regardless of tactic, a company’s communications, language, imagery, and iconography must be consistently aligned with user values. Key innovations in the Brand element explore brand position, brand image, customer relationship management, and customer engagement.

A coordinated, user-centered brand practice will distinguish offerings, maximize recognition, and drive preference among current and future users.

Brand Owners: Brand Management

Partners & Resources

What to ask: What user needs will be served if we leverage other’s capabilities and profit models?

What it is: The value we create for users should not be limited to our own process and capabilities. From infrastructure to open innovation, collaboration with complementors or competitors can disrupt a market by quickly enabling access to new expertise, customers, capital, and other resources.

Networks can be short term alliances to execute a special project, or enduring partnerships to establish new entities. These relationships can reduce cost and risk or enable the creation of otherwise unfeasible offerings. The Partners & Resources element seeks to tap latent marketplace potential to deliver lasting user and business value.

Partners & Resources Owners: Strategic Partnerships, Sourcing


What to ask: Where will users engage throughout their purchase journey?

What it is:  Of all seven elements, user expectations are perhaps changing most rapidly in Channel. Physical stores are polarizing: some becoming physical showrooms for their e-commerce competitors; others, highly immersive flagships for powerful brands. Users demand both speedy self-empowered check-outs and highly tailored consultation.

Through the right mix of technology, experience, brand, and commerce, channels can deliver on users’ fragmented tastes and time constraints. This element considers trade-offs of owned versus partner; direct versus indirect; physical versus digital; as well as earned versus paid media to build awareness and motivate user purchase.

Channels Owners: Sales, Strategy


What to ask: What platforms, products, and services will be rewarding to deliver?

What it is: User-centered offerings span products and services that align to deliver compelling and seamless experiences. Each product or service within an ecosystem executes against one or more specific unmet need. Individual offerings deliver a quality experience, yet they become better together.

Whether delivering product enhancements or truly disruptive offerings, this platform approach drives ongoing sales, establishes competitive barriers, increases presence in channels, builds brand equity, and enables the company to create longer-term customer relationships.

Offering Owners: CEO/Senior Leadership, Product Management

A Practice of User-Centered Business Design

IA Collaborative’s Seven Elements of Design Innovation™ combines human-centered, iterative design thinking with holistic, rigorous corporate strategy to engage and connect all areas of company leadership.

By activating this systemic framework, leaders can confidently place strategic bets on future options, better serve their users, and enable new business growth.

Download the Framework

Interested in learning more on how IA Collaborative enables innovation for some of the leading businesses in the world? Contact us.


IA Collaborative, Amazon Help Select 2019 Kellogg Design Challenge Winners

IA Judges and Keynotes World’s Largest MBA Design Competition

Every year, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University hosts the world’s largest MBA business design competition, the Kellogg Design Challenge (KDC) – where teams from top business schools across the country compete to solve a real-life business innovation challenge using design thinking methods.

For this year’s challenge, Amazon asked students, “How could Prime Video become a destination for movie and TV viewers, outside of times when they’re planning on watching something?”

To tackle this challenge, students applied the design thinking approaches they learned through their MBA coursework and KDC programming – including an IA Collaborative-led workshop called “Design Your Next Competitor.”

IA Collaborative leads a Design Your Next Competitor workshop to equip students with design and business processes. Students used these strategies to create their KDC solutions.

IA Collaborative co-founder and Chief Design Officer Dan Kraemer was the featured keynote speaker for this year’s challenge and served as one of the judges for the competition alongside co-founder and Chief Design Strategy Officer Kathleen Brandenburg, Business Strategy Group Director Kyle Smith, Business Strategy Director Diane Lee, and Business Strategist Juan Luciano.

Dan Kraemer describes how design strategies unlock essential perspective for business leaders of the future.

We were thrilled to have IA Collaborative’s involvement… they articulated how design and business must converge at every stage of the innovation lifecycle to create new growth – which is complementary to Kellogg’s MBA program and foundational to the KDC competition.

  • Matt Zoerink, Senior Program Administrator for the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative

The Kellogg Design Challenge is among a portfolio of offerings made possible through the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative (IDEA), designed to equip entrepreneurs, innovators, and growth leaders as they face challenges at every stage of the business life cycle.

This process has fundamentally shifted my professional path and unlocked a new way of thinking for me. Applying design principles to problem solving leads to smarter solutions, and I look forward to leading with this perspective throughout my career.

  • Oscar Rojas, MBA Candidate at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management; Kellogg Design Challenge qualifier

This year’s grand prize winners were selected for leveraging human-centered insights to create a compelling strategies Amazon could leverage tomorrow.

The three winning teams:
First place: A-Team (Kellogg) – Alex Steinwald, Aline Bass Callahan, Andrew Beir, Amit Kalra, Shikha Khinvasara, Amy Wang
Second place: Team Primed and Ready (Kellogg) – Nikki Cope, Olaniyi Jinadu, Bri Leon, Colleen Paxton, Jeannette Stock, Jason Wirth
Third place: Team Mansio (Kellogg) – Panama Marquand, Matthew Marrapode, Marco Hartmann, Sai Gunturi, Caroline Brown, Eda Levent
Design a Winning Innovation Strategy by IA Collaborative

Design a Winning Innovation Strategy

How to Apply a Ventures Mindset for Sustainable Growth

Many companies have an innovation strategy; a “plan to win” that includes staying on top of macro and micro trends, identifying customer pain points and needs, and investing in new technologies. However, the ability to operationalize that strategy and consistently translate it into well-timed and profitable new offerings eludes even the most well-established market leaders.

At IA, we apply a ventures mindset to innovation strategy. We believe the organizations that apply this mindset are able to consistently enter the market with cohesive, vetted, well-timed new offerings.  

The following article describes how organizations can benefit from applying a ventures mindset to their innovation strategy to place smart bets on their organization’s future.

The Winning Approach: Ventures Strategy for Growth

Applying a ventures mindset to innovation strategy means that organizations proactively and continuously explore key forces of change in the market, in the context of their current and future business, to identify multiple venture opportunities. Through testing, iteration, and prioritization, ideal options emerge and are quickly brought to market

Steps to Innovation by IA Collaborative

A ventures strategy creates a continuous portfolio of market opportunities to fuel business innovation.

With this approach, organizations have multiple opportunities at their disposal and develop criteria for advancement of the most promising and market-ready options. This application of a ventures mindset – in the context of innovation – creates early awareness of latent opportunities and enables swift stakeholder alignment.

Because several possible market opportunities are continuously identified, a business can consistently define and launch new ventures before others do – and create the conditions to win in a competitive marketplace.

Activating a Ventures Mindset

To apply a ventures mindset to their innovation strategy, leaders must continuously conduct research with their current and future users, assess technology shifts and other macro and market factors to identify signals of changing demand, and align these forces with corporate strategy.

Rapid Insights

To rapidly identify insights and hypothesize a range of likely future scenarios, three forces of change must be continuously monitored:

  • Macro changes: societal, economic, and technological trends
  • Demand-based changes: how users’ wants, needs, and behavior are evolving
  • Market shifts: emerging disruptors and changing customer loyalty

Technology – and how we use it – is an especially important indicator of change. Consider tech at both the high-end of the market – where the tech is interesting, but may currently be too expensive or advanced for today’s customers – and the low-end of the market – where the tech is affordable, but not robustly solving current customer needs. At either end, how users interact with the tech (or could interact with it) can clue organizations in on how customer needs and desires will evolve. 

Changing technology is just one of many forces of change to consider, but all take part in shaping the future of business, users, and society.

Adaptive Corporate Strategy

By taking a ventures mindset, an organization translates key forces of change into user insights, and filters the insights through corporate strategy. For new venture options to surface, ask:

  • How does this insight align with our enduring mission and vision
  • How does it fit within our strategic portfolio of core, adjacent and transformational ventures? Does it align with our innovation ambition and risk tolerance?
  • Do we have the capabilities to succeed? What resources or processes must be developed?
  • Do the economics align with current expectations? Will the opportunity’s size and profit margins justify allocating the needed resources to succeed?

If your insights are compelling and they imply a “fit” with the company’s mission and vision, but aren’t a fit with its current processes and economics, don’t necessarily say “no”. Consider standing up separate entities to incubate ideas. This approach can protect high-potential opportunities that are currently too small to justify needed resources within the parent organization. 

By aggregating company mission and vision, ambition, and economic advantages in combination with user insights, key stakeholders can align on priorities and set innovation goals to ground new ideas.

Actionable Options

Informed by powerful insights and aligned leadership, dedicated project teams are created; either within the parent company, or as part of a separate entity. Teams challenge assumptions, and envision concept systems that create, deliver and capture new value.  Through the process, multiple business opportunities – or “options” – emerge. Teams quickly explore and construct a range of value propositions. Using “lo-fidelity” visualizations they quickly co-create value props with users and stakeholders before investing resources to build and test new products and services. The most promising opportunities are refined and prioritized for prototyping and piloting.

Business Prototypes and Pilots

The next step is to put “business prototypes” into the market as fast as possible. Business prototyping strategies can include physical and digital experiments such as service simulations, pop-up locations and A/B tests. With these “realistic” prototypes, teams can quickly collect behavioral data that is both qualitative and quantitative. This enables teams to confidently prioritize features and iterate in real-time as data is gathered. Managers can identify which options should be pivoted, divested, or scaled for success. 

Organizations can leverage the same data to make informed investment decisions. For example, by comparing a feature’s importance in delivering on the value proposition with its level of effort to deliver, managers can determine what components should be built from the ground up, acquired, or co-developed with a strategic partner.

Ventures Strategy in Action

IA Collaborative recently worked with a global pharmaceuticals company to influence the future of their industry. Our team uncovered rapid insights by analyzing broader macro-trends – from hyper-personalization to changing subscription service models. We then contextualized how these changes impact buyer behavior and produced a holistic view of competitor dynamics. By framing this data to the company’s mission, capabilities, and goals, the team aligned corporate strategy with user needs to create several market opportunities focused on the future of personalized medicine. 

With actionable options at their disposal, the client is now confidently and proactively piloting opportunities that benefit their future users and their future business – before their competitors do. 

We’re also working with one of the world’s largest investment companies to disrupt the market with future-forward products and offerings. In this instance, we developed rapid insights by focusing on a single key user and identifying several possible market opportunities based on macro trends, market research, and user research. By contextualizinginnovative ideas with corporate strategy, brand-aligned concepts emerged centered on the relationships between parents, children, and finances. We designed actionable options for collaborative money management and tested several low fidelity future products to gauge market feasibility, iterate on user feedback, and prioritize opportunities aligned with organizational goals. 

By testing multiple options simultaneously, we are proactively identifying innovative solutions and piloting them in the market– minimizing risk of future investment for new innovations.

Applying a Ventures Mindset to your Innovation Strategy

Innovation strategy is not a “once a year” or an “ad hoc” activity. Organizations investing in proactive innovation initiatives should continually collect indications of the future, aggregate observations into patterns and guiding principles of need, and evolve criteria for advancement. 

Organizations that apply a ventures mindset will be uniquely positioned to maintain market leadership, can more effectively prioritize innovation and corporate development resources, and make better strategic decisions.

Want to learn more about how you can design a winning innovation strategy? Start a conversation at initiate@iacollaborative.com



IA Collaborative Leads Workshop at NEXT Medical Design Deep Dive 2019

IA Collaborative’s Kathleen Brandenburg, Matt Alverson, and Amy Wicks are leading the workshop, “Design Your Next Competitor” during the 2019 NEXT Medical Design Deep Dive.

While there, they’ll explore how across the healthcare landscape, rapidly shifting consumer expectations are eroding traditional competitive barriers. The team will discuss how nimble upstarts are seizing on low points of the customer journey to design – and launch –  more compelling experiences than their competitive counterparts.

Through IA’s workshop, attendees will learn how to identify the unmet needs of their target audience, anticipate unexpected disruptors, and create their own next competitor – before someone else does.

About NEXT
NEXT Medical Design Deep Dive 2019 investigates how the role of design and the industrial designer is evolving to keep pace with the rapid changes in healthcare. The conference delivers a rich, educational, and thought-provoking experience with in-depth talks and immersive ‘in-situ’ labs led by some of the industry’s top medical design practitioners.


02:30 pm


Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
Harvard Medical School
77 Avenue Louis Pasteur
Boston, MA 02115


Prototyping How People Use Airbnb for Work

Airbnb Features IA Collaborative’s Latest Business Prototype

At IA Collaborative, we’re working with the world’s leading brands to design disruptive products, services, and business models. Airbnb has featured our latest collaboration, now live on Airbnb for Work.com.

Through extensive design research in the executive travel and hospitality space, we’ve learned that executive-level VIP events have an opportunity to be completely redesigned to meet the actual needs of senior executives. We took advantage of a natural prototyping opportunity surrounding the 2019 Design Thinking Conference in Austin, TX where Dan Kraemer was keynoting along with David Holyoke, Global Head of Airbnb for Work.

IA Collaborative conceived, designed, and hosted a live business prototype – what we’re calling the “New Executive Offsite” – to disrupt the traditional travel and hospitality space, and within it, the conference-related VIP “executive dinner” model.

This was a prototype on two levels: a prototype of a new engagement and business model for IA Collaborative, and a prototype that represents the future of Airbnb for Work offerings and services.

This represents the future of how people will use Airbnb for Work.

  • Dan Kraemer, Founder and Chief Design Officer

Instead of hosting a standard “happy hour” and VIP dinner at a restaurant for key clients and design leaders at the conference, we created a bespoke thought leadership event at an Airbnb for Work listing tailored to the individual needs and interests of our guests. We talked to executives ahead to the event to learn about their interests and challenges, and reflected those in a physical installation called our “Pursuit Panel” that reflected everyone’s challenges via individual pursuit cards. The cards sparked connections and conversations throughout the event.

We invited guests – all design leaders interested in new tools and methods – to visit our prototype staging room to gain a “behind-the-scenes” look at how IA Collaborative prototypes new experiences and offerings for our clients.
Fun fact: The entire IA team lived and worked in the Airbnb listing where we held the event, and the prototype staging room was in the loft area that we converted into our working space!

The conference and event industry is saturated with many standard “rinse and repeat” elements – keynotes, breakouts, raffles, and VIP happy hours. We believe there’s an untapped opportunity to create truly exceptional experiences that break out of this traditional business model, and IA Collaborative is leading the charge to do just that.

We are constantly seeking ways to disrupt the status quo, for our clients and for ourselves. We are convinced that the entire industry surrounding how people gather at work – including this type of ‘offsite’ experience, is ripe for disruption.

Summer Internship IA Collaborative 2019

3 Questions with IA Collaborative’s Summer Interns

Our Interns Share What It’s Like to Work at a the Intersection of Design and Business

IA Collaborative invited a multi-disciplinary class of interns to learn from and collaborate across multiple projects this summer. From conducting immersive research to design the future of cycling to testing physical prototypes using augmented reality, the IA interns spent the summer exploring the intersection of design and business innovation.

At the end of their internship, we posed three questions to understand how their experiences at IA Collaborative are shaping their perspectives on design and their future careers.

Meet the Interns

IA Collaborative Summer Interns
IA Collaborative’s 2019 Summer Intern Class. From left to right: Yujin Lee, Cristina Tarriba Villa, Jenni Lee, Rachel Huvard, Nathan Pilkenton, and Karan Jain.

Name: Youjin Lee
Title: Interaction Design Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… graduated from a Designation bootcamp. I previously worked as a paralegal.

Name: Cristina Tarriba Villa
Title: Research and Design Strategy intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was pursuing a master’s degree in design at the IIT Institute of Design. I have one year left.

Name: Jenni Lee
Title: Graphic Design Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was finishing up my sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University. I’m a design major with a concentration in communication design and a minor in human-computer interaction.

Name: Rachel Huvard
Title: Research & Design Strategy Intern 
Before the IA Internship, I… was working towards my Master of Design at IIT’s Institute of Design.

Name: Nathan Pilkenton
Title: Business Strategy Intern
Before the IA Internship, I… was enjoying my first year of business school at Columbia University in New York!

Name: Karan Jain 
Title: Research & Design Strategy Intern 
Before the IA Internship, I… was pursuing my master’s in industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Question #1: What made you want to work at IA?

Karan Jain: The diverse variety of projects that IA takes on was very appealing. I knew I would get to learn a lot and work with talented interdisciplinary teams.

I wanted to learn from a company that believes in the power of human-centered design and approaches design with rigor and structure.

  • Cristina Tarriba Villa, Research & Design Strategy Intern

Cristina Tarriba Villa: I wanted to work at IA because it is one of the best independent innovation and design consultancies. I wanted to learn from a company that believes in the power of human-centered design and approaches design with rigor and structure.

Rachel Huvard: The cross-disciplinary team structure, the “whatever it takes to get it done” culture, and the breadth of client projects.

Cristina Tarriba Villa records a research participant’s interaction with a prototype digital interface to identify innovation opportunities for an international energy business.

Question #2: What inspires you most in the design and innovation space?

Youjin Lee: It’s inspiring to think about design’s application in healthcare and education, because it has the potential to affect so many people.

Nathan Pilkenton: After some exposure to the concept at IA, I’m really inspired by the idea of using behavioral economics to encourage people to make decisions and take actions that actually improve their lives. This concept has been explored and implemented in some small-scale cases, but I think there is so much more potential to imbue our designs with this kind of thinking in business.

Karan Jain (right) and Design Director John Foust collaborate on AR technology, integrating into research.

Karan Jain: My design philosophy is, “Design is an opportunity to root fiction in truth.” I believe that humans are gifted with imagination to think beyond the possible and design provides a medium to root this thinking in evidence, enabling us to turn our ideal world into a reality. This process of turning a vision into reality is what inspires me the most in the innovation space. 

Cristina Tarriba Villa: Being able to surround myself with people that are driven to transform the world around us. I love working with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. Amazing work can be achieved when multidisciplinary teams – like the ones at IA – come together to approach problems with a defined process, while simultaneously considering ideas that will challenge the status quo. 

Question #3: What’s the most important thing you learned during your time interning at IA Collaborative?

Karan Jain: Collaboration. I learned how to take a pause from the work I had been heavily involved in and ask the team for quick feedback. This has definitely made me a more effective worker and allowed me to produce better results. 

It’s not, ‘how can we get these people to want to use the product we’ve designed?’ It’s, ‘how can we design our product or service so that people want to use it?’

  • Nathan Pilkenton, Business Strategy Intern

Nathan Pilkenton: So much about the importance of designing for the user. In my past life, I would often be trying to implement new processes or tools within a company. We thought about our end users, but not usually through a design thinking lens. Going forward, I’ve learned that it’s not, ‘how can we get these people to want to use the product we’ve designed?’ It’s, ‘how can we design our product or service so that people want to use it?'”

Nathan Pilkenton (middle) out in the field on research for a project to design the future of cycling.

Jenni Lee: How to communicate your design choices through the lens of business strategy.

Rachel Huvard: A person’s title doesn’t have to define or limit engagement with a project. I loved seeing how people at IA are able to step into a huge range of roles depending on project needs and their own strengths and interests.

Over the past few months, the IA Collaborative interns have gone on research, designed interactive workshops, helped create key assets for clients, and immersed themselves in the our interdisciplinary, creative, and business-minded culture. We can’t wait to see their careers continue to flourish as they apply human-centered design to business innovation.

If you’re interested in working at a consultancy that lives at the center of design and business strategy, learn more about our open positions here.



IA Collaborative Hosts Launch of MICA Alumni Network

IA Collaborative is hosting the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Alumni Network for the launch of its newest MICA Regional Network. IA Collaborative leaders will share how the organization delivers value to its diverse set of clients by bringing together designers, researchers, business strategists, and technologists to provide cross-disciplinary expertise.

Learn more about the evening.


06:00 pm


218 South Wabash Avenue, 9th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604



IA Collaborative Hosts Business Leaders During IIT Institute of Design’s Annual Design Thinking Immersion

IA Collaborative is partnering with the IIT Institute of Design to host an evening with executive leaders from organizations including Ford and SC Johnson to discuss the value of design thinking. Founder and Chief Design Strategy Officer Kathleen Brandenburg and Partner Matt Alverson will share how IA Collaborative unlocks business value for some of the most innovative companies in the world and why it’s essential for modern business leaders to invest in the power of human-centered design.

Learn more about the program.


06:00 pm


218 South Wabash Avenue
9th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604



IA Collaborative + Chicago Business Designers: Art, Data, and Science

On behalf of Chicago Business Designers, IA Collaborative invites you to join us for an interactive night exploring the important relationship between design and business. Mayur Gupta, CMO at Freshly, will discuss how he fuses data with human-centered design to create brands that people can’t live without.

Register for the event here.


05:30 pm


IA Collaborative
218 S Wabash Ave, #9
Chicago, IL 60604