Innovation, Design, and the Seamless User Experience

Innovation, Design, and the Seamless User Experience

I recently spoke at the iMedia Agency Summit in Rancho Palos Verde, California, on the topic of innovation. The theme of the event this year is ‘The Dynamic Agency Model’‘ and so the topic of innovation was naturally a fit as it has become a rallying cry for brands and all creative organizations facing the ever expanding options users have when consuming content.


My talk was partly based in process as it applies to my daily work with Isobar, where we are designing campaigns, platforms and applications for brands. The majority of the audience was comprised of people working in creative organizations that make, buy, or sell advertising and I quickly realized that it would be our collective challenge to relate our differing experiences to one another.


My talk, “Innovation, Design, and the Seamless User Experience,” focused on a way to think about innovation as it applies to the people, culture and processes that we deal with in creative organizations, specifically relating to actually making things. The topic arose from my own frustrations around the amount of media coverage that discusses the ‘what and why,’ but rarely the ‘how’ of innovation.


I started my talk by sharing that frustration and the revelation I found in a quote by Trent Reznor in the documentary Sound City. “Technology has gotten much better in the last 5 years. With so many more people empowered by it you would think there would be a lot more great shit out there, but there isn’t. You should really try to have something to say.”

People, Culture, Process

His point is that while technology provides you with a means to create, without the process and culture to back it up that creation probably won’t be groundbreaking. That quote exemplified what I feel about innovation today; that why we make something and who we make it with is more important than what we make it with. So I’d expand Reznor’s quote to say “people should really have something to say, and the ability to demonstrate it.” It is my thinking that when a creative agency’s people are surrounded by a culture that encourages different approaches to problem solving, and have a process for helping demonstrate their ideas, innovative things happen.  Simply put, innovation is the result of people, culture, and process.



The first thing that all innovative companies have to understand is that great ideas come from anywhere in the organization. It is the task of leadership to give those great ideas a voice. To describe this in practice I turned to Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. In it there are 10 categories that describe people. My experience has been that while people can bridge categories it is rare that a person doesn’t fit into any one of them.  For the purpose of my talk I chose to focus on three of the ten as they apply to innovative creations.

10 Facts of Innovation


Anthropologists because they are drawn to seek out people in the environments where our ideas will live.

Collaborators because they have an instinct to work across organizational lines.

Experience Architects who are wired to think holistically about the way problems and solutions intermingle throughout a product.



To understand culture I believe that you first have to accept an ageless dilemma.  That employees want to be empowered to be different and leadership wants employees to take initiative first to identify who to empower. Changing culture is typically a standoff between uncommunicative parties. Once this chicken and egg problem is understood and addressed, there are simple things that can change culture without disrupting operations.

Hackathons, maker spaces, lightning talks, ongoing education, access to new tech, and client innovation workshops all provide the environment for people across the organization to have discussions they would not normally have.  It is these collisions that foster different thinking and innovative ideas.



The last point I’d made about culture is that one of my favorite practices is to have client innovation workshops. The idea is that rather than blindly responding to a client request it is better to involve them in the solution through a collaborative workshop. In that workshop the client forms a relationship with the great people and thinking that make up an innovative organization, rather than being forced to evaluate solutions and people based on pitch theater.

Innovation Model


  • Setting the Stage involves defining the problem at hand and selecting the team who will address it.
  • Unpacking is where the team shares everything they know about the problem.
  • Tenets are when the team states all their beliefs about the problem.
  • Opportunity Identification is a research process to identify where a solution could have the most impact in market.


This upfront work should result in ideas that are then categorized:


  • Prioritization weighs the ideas against the opportunities and beliefs with a goal of bubbling up the best.
  • Sketch & Prototype is where the best ideas are actualized as demonstrable products.  It is important to note that prototyping cannot be overlooked, as it is the means by which gaps in the solution are identified early.
  • Demonstrate is 1-on-1 tests with a small group of actual users; it is a proven fact that most of a design’s problems can be identified by testing with as few as five users. This allows for more iteration and testing over the solutions process.
  • Commercialize is the point at which the decision is made to move the solution to market, continue iterating, or pass.


To bring this full circle, Trent Reznor’s quote suggests that technology does not make great results, but there is another side to consider. If a great idea is identified – hopefully by people in an innovative culture – technology makes demonstrating it much easier today than it was in the past.


I used Axure to quickly sketch a few screens of a mobile banking app and Flinto to turn those sketches into a working prototype that could be accessed and tested on iOS phones.


Overall, the main idea is that people — given the opportunity by way of environment to think differently — will have innovative ideas, and technology has empowered all of us to demonstrate those ideas quickly. So no excuses, get innovating.