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User-driven innovation ISBN 87-90904-76-1 Published by: Danish Design Centre Frederiksholms Kanal 30 1220 Copenhagen K

User-driven innovation A brief introduction to user involvement Danish Design Centre

What? There are many different methods to user-driven innovation. Many of the methods are rather simple to use, other more complicated and costly. This publication present a number of methods that are simple to use, and aimed at small businesses.

User-driven innovation is about basing the development of products and services on the users’ and customers’ needs and preferences. There are many different methods for user-driven innovation. What all the methods have in common is that they aim to uncover the users’ recognised and unrecognised needs. Unrecognised needs are important to uncover, since the users are rarely aware what their real needs are. Often, we simply make the best of what’s available to us. The ability to identify unrecognised needs and to create solutions that accommodate these needs provides an ideal basis for promoting radical innovation and thus enhanced competitiveness.

Recognised needs

are typically decoded by means of questionnaires and interviews

Unrecognised needs

are typically decoded by means of field work and observations of the users and their actions and behaviour.

Why? Domex Domex Ovenlys Ovenlys A/S A/S sells skylights, but customers buy light, safety and comfort. sells skylights, but what the customers buy is light, reliability and convenience.

User-driven innovation contributes to: - - - -

A stronger focus on what the customers demand rather than what your company is selling; that is, the qualities that create value for the customers. Increased loyalty among existing customers, because the customers’ needs are met. A better understanding that in many cases, customers and users are not the same persons. Awareness of the fact that users often say one thing but do another.

Design firms specialising in user-driven innovation have the skills and methods for uncovering recognised as well as unrecognised user needs. Any user-driven design process takes its point of departure in the user and in market insights. The unique benefit of working with a design firm is that the firm is able to gather knowledge about the user to be translated into specific concepts and solutions

Example of user-driven design and innovation processes Concept development

Activities • Meetings with design firms • SWOT analysis • Design brief

Activities • Interviews • Film • Observation • Desk research • Questionnaire

Activities • Patterns and needs analysis • Data sorting

Activities • Brainstorming workshop • Co-creation • Rapid prototyping

Activities • Concept models • Materials • Rapid prototyping

Outcomes • Clarification of mutual expectations • Cooperation agreement • Process overview

Outcomes • Identification of the problem • ‘Raw data’ • Facts instead of assumptions

Outcomes • Personas • Design specification

Outcomes • New knowledge • 2D-3D drafts • Simple models • Idea catalogue

Outcomes • Styled drafts • Illustrations • Reference images • Mock-ups


Idea development



Product development

Research/ data gathering



Preparations Before you get started, you need to identify your users! Only rarely is the person who buys your products also the one who uses them. If your product needs to be installed, your user group also includes the technicians who install it. If your products are delivered to the buyer, shipping agents and drivers can also be viewed as users, who may have important input about product improvements.


7 pieces of advice

Interviews are a simple method to collect information and data on your users. Based on this knowledge, users’ problems can be specified and thus it is possible to concretise opportunities.

√ Test the interview guide

The advantages are that: - you obtain many different shades using open questions as what, why and how. - you can achieve many inputs in a relatively short time.

√ Check the quality of the questions

It is recommended to include design companies to this part of the research, because designers have a holistic approach to development and have the skills in interview techniques. Therefore, designers see and hear things that you are most likely not to.

√ For unscheduled interviews, 5-10 minutes

But it is important that you also participate in the process. It is in many ways valuable, offers new insights and contributes to a common picture of the opportunities, challenges and specific problems that you as a company must solve in the design process.

Ground rules - - - -

Let the respondent finish what he or she is saying – never interrupt when the respondent is answering a question during an interview. Avoid being defensive – remain open and receptive. Maintain a neutral stance. Be curious – ask follow-up questions about what the respondent tells you.

on someone you know.

by answering them yourselves. is an appropriate duration.

√ Pre-arranged interviews may last up to 30 minutes (perhaps you want to compensate the participants with a gift certificate).

√ Notice, there will be more cancellations. √ Many are happy to answer questions because they like having an influence.

√ Interviews are a good opportunity for building new relationships with potential customers!



Questionnaire surveys require very few resources. Standard replies make it possible to group data in order to analyse the findings and identify user needs.

Observation involves watching users in practice. The method may take various forms:

It is a simple and low-cost method for gathering knowledge about your users. The method does not require any physical involvement, and online distribution makes it easy to involve a large number of users at once.

You stay in the background, recording the users’ actions without intervening.

One of the benefits is that questionnaires offer quick way of generating a large amount of input. Questionnaires let you obtain large sample sizes for more reliable documentation. One of the drawbacks is the risk of missing out on good suggestions and ideas that are not addressed by the standard questions.

4 relevant questions

1. When did you last buy (our product)? 1. What do you like about our product? 2. What don’t you like about our product? 3. Tell us about your most recent purchase? Conclude the interview with questions about: Demographics Job Age Title, if relevant

Fly on the wall

Participant observation

You observe what the users do, but you are also able to ask questions about their actions in order to develop a better understanding of user behaviour.

Combination of interviews and observation

Include brief interviews with the users as a follow-up to the observations. ”What did you do just then?” or ”What was your thinking when you did that?” If the observations are recorded on video, you can subsequently ask the users to explain their actions. In many cases, what the users say they do does not match what they actually do. When you carry out interviews or ask the users, it is therefore a good idea to supplement these methods with observations and field studies in order to gain insights into real-life user behaviour. Observation should always be carried out in cooperation with specialists, for example designers, ethnographers, sociologists or anthropologists; persons who are trained to observe users in the situation where they ‘use’ the product or service. The observation itself should be supplemented with photos and perhaps video recordings for documentation purposes.

Ground rules - - - -

Don’t speak while you observe. Include a variety of functions and/or skill sets; different people see different things. Maintain a neutral stance. When you have an external design firm carrying out the observation, it is a good idea if you also take part in the process yourselves.



The analysis and documentation stage is an important phase where possible patterns and needs can be identified. This analysis makes it possible to identify patterns or needs.

A persona is a fictitious person designed to describe an archetype in your current and potential targets groups. A persona is based on data from the research and on specific statistics and demographic knowledge and thus may be part of the outcome from the analysing phase.

Analysis is a demanding task. If your company has a limited budget for the user-driven innovation proces, analysis is the most important task to involve outside specialists in. An important goal at this stage is to identify new possibilities and problems. Without outside assistance it is easy to focus on the information that confirms what you already know.

Ground advice - - - -

Don’t do this yourselves. Involving specialists is a good investment at this stage. It may be a good idea to exhibit data in the form of photos, video clips, interview transcripts etc. to give everyone in the company access to sharing and contributing thoughts and ideas. Haste makes waste – do not rush the analysis stage.

A persona description typically includes name, age, family relations, interests and descriptions of work, everyday life and further some quotes covering some needs or opinions. It is a good idea to use pictures to illustrate the persona. Personas are a good way of visualising target groups. The method systematises the knowledge that has been gattered about the users. Writing these insights down in words, in the form of a persona description, makes it easier to apply them in practice. Typically, more than one persona is developed in order to uncover multiple user groups. A persona makes user needs very concrete, and it may therefore be much easier to discuss and develop services and products based on a specific persona than on a whole target group.

Idea development There are many methods for idea development including brainstorming, workshops and co-creation. The common aim is to generate a large number of ideas in a relatively short amount of time. These ideas can then be translated into concepts for new products and/or services. In brainstorming, all ideas are welcome, and all ideas are necessary. Write all the ideas down on Post-it notes. The goal is an unfiltered list of good ideas. The process may involve several brainstorming sessions – albeit with additional rules. An example of a rule might be that you have to be able to produce the product/service using your existing production facility. Or you may hand out stickers in different colours to all the participants, which they can use to assign points to their favourite ideas. Process facilitation of an idea development/brainstorming process is a professional skill. Although you may have this capacity in-house, it is a good idea to bring in external assistance to allow everyone in the company to take part on equal terms.

Ground rules

- The group selected to engage in idea development and brainstorming should consist of people with diverse skill sets and work areas to generate as many ideas as possible.

”An idea that isn’t risky is hardly worth calling an idea.” Oscar Wilde

It is also a good idea to choose a venue outside the company. ‘Crazy’ ideas and novel suggestions somehow seem more legitimate when the process takes place off-site. The idea development stage should be seen as a funnel that slowly but surely filters out the best or most promising ideas. It may be a good idea to produce simple prototypes of the ideas to test their feasibility and potential at this early stage of the development process.

Ground rules - - - - - - - -

Take a helicopter perspective – think outside the box, and think big. It is strictly forbidden to say ”yes, but...” or ”we’ve already tried that.” Let go – make sure not to control the process too tightly. Be positive. There are no bad ideas. Have fun. Go for a walk. Choose an off-site location.



In design, co-creation is focused on design and innovation WITH people rather than FOR people. Co-creation often takes place in a workshop format with the involvement of a variety of stakeholders.

A workshop is a method where a group gets together for a well-defined period of time to work on a specific task in a focused hands-on effort.

Co-creation workshops should include experts, users, designers, employees and decision-makers. The goal is either to develop ideas or to continue refining pre-qualified ideas.

A workshop involves an exchange of ideas, suggestions and information. The point of the workshop format is to ensure an intensive process. Workshops are appropriate at several stages of the user-driven design process. Either with the purpose of co-creating or of ensuring involvement and buy-in from key decision-makers and stakeholders.

Rapid prototyping

3D models

Rapid prototyping is a quick way of illustrating an idea. In practice, the prototype is made from whatever materials are on hand. It may be productive to develop the prototype in cooperation with the users.

A 3D model is a geometric representation of an object as a three-dimensional model: a form constructed in paper or drawn in a 3D program on the computer.

Prototypes can be used in workshops, testing and other formats that involve collaborative efforts to be creative and come up with product ideas, for example to alter or expand on a prototype. A rapid prototype is typically drawn or constructed in easily available materials like cardboard and paper. In the development process, rapid prototyping can and should be used at several stages. The sooner you can create a physical prototype, the better, as a prototype makes it easier to assess the merits of an idea. Rapid prototyping is a good method because it lets you simultaneously evaluate and improve on ideas. It is a low-cost and efficient method that lets you avoid wasting several hours developing a product before you know whether others (your users) also think it is a good idea.

A 3D model is a tangible object that includes all the shapes and edges, which means that it can be viewed from any angle. 3D models provide the best real-life image of a product, because it has a form that can be perceived with all the senses. This type of model usually requires more than just a paper and a pencil, but with limited means it is possible to go far towards creating a good visual product that can be experienced hands-on.

Concept development Any problem has multiple possible solutions. Concept development/ conceptualisation aims to shed light on the problem from several points of view. Concept development makes it possible to quickly outline solutions that you, as a company, your users and relevant stakeholders can evaluate. A concept development process is concluded with a fully outlined concept. In purely visual terms, a fully outlined concept may be in the form of posters or PowerPoint presentations that describe the finished idea in various usage scenarios and illustrate how the idea works across a variety of settings – for example in a usage situation or at the point of sale.

“If you have an egg, and I have an egg, and we swap – then you have an egg, and I have an egg. But if you have an idea, and I have an idea, and we swap – then you have two ideas, and I have two ideas.“ Chinese proverb

User-driven innovation Workbook

SWOT analysis SWOT analysis is a very simple way of forming an image of your company’s current situation. It is a good way of achieving a shared understanding and thus a shared point of departure for your research.


The task is to describe you company: - Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats





Opportunities Positive

Threats Negative

Your users

10 questions to help you identify your users

There may be significant differences between who uses the product/ service, and who makes the purchasing decisions. It is important for your product development and branding efforts to make sure that you are making products for the actual users, and that you are communicating with the buyers. However, there may be additional important considerations, for example in relation to the people who install the product or who transport and deliver it.

01. Who pays for it?

The task here is to define the various users. For example, you may draw a circle and, starting at 12 o’clock, describe the first user that comes into contact with your product. Next, you go on to describe all the users who come into contact with your product in one way or another.

02. Who uses it on a daily basis? 03. Who encourages others to buy it? 04. Who picks the product for the suppliers? 05. Who transports and delivers it? 06. Who installs it? 07. Who sells it to a customer? 08. Who provides support if something goes wrong? 09. Who repairs it? 10. Who makes the decisions on the purchace?

Research and data gathering Prior to the research and data gathering itself, you need to plan what methods to apply. Remember that people say one thing but do another. Therefore, interviews, questionnaires and focus groups as well as traditional market research methods should always be supplemented with observation methods.

Good advice

It is a good idea to train yourself to ask about people’s point of view whenever they make a comment about your products or services.

Identifying the users

In the preparation stage, it is a good idea to involve everyone in the company who is going to take part at any stage in the process – even if everybody is not going to be involved at every stage – as well as any external partners. Who are the users making decisions on the purchase of the product or/and service?

How well do we know the users? What do we know about them?

Who are the users making decisions on the purchase of the product or/and service?


Here is a timeline for interviews, questionnaires and various types of observation methods to ensure that you have an overview of what you need to do, who does it, when it is done and the deadlines.

What do we need to do?

Who does it?

When do we do it?

How long will it take?

User-driven Innovation  
User-driven Innovation  

A brief introduction to user involvement