Crafting Innovation

November 18, 2019 • aaitken

Innovation centers are increasingly popular in corporate and academic settings. But what does it really take to design for innovation?

INNOVATION: The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.

“Innovation” is a broad term. Because of this, every organization defines it in their own unique way. Uncovering how an organization innovates is the real trick. Understanding how an organization innovates will enable relevancy in today’s ever-changing market place. With competition everywhere (both internally and externally), organizations and institutions are reinventing themselves to meet the demands of growing customer expectations, an increased speed to market, and the difficulty of attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, organizations are seeking to transform their culture to one that fosters innovative thinking. Innovation centers have become popular among corporations, universities, and municipalities largely out of the demand for the aptitude the space provides. These centers provide a lens for organizations to examine and explore new creative ideas. With that shift in attitude, we must explicitly question assumptions about how we create spaces for this new way of working.

The best way to understand these innovations centers is to realize they are all based on one of three core models:


  • Unique spaces for a specific user.
  • Inspired by the startup culture.
  • Open to changing existing culture to give people innovative freedom.
  • A show-off space.

Most popular of the innovation center models. Two distinct varieties within this model:

  • The Co-working labs such as Chicago’s 1871 is a popular example with small businesses and entrepreneurs looking for peer networking and resources.
  • Universities and municipalities are utilizing the public/private partnership model to advance opportunities for students and local business.

Today’s version the shop class.

  • Makerspaces are utilizing new manufacturing technologies and bringing an entirely new set of skills into the workplace. It is no longer about how to build a better crafted birdhouse; these spaces are solving new challenges with the aptitude for evolving technologies.
  • More and more we are finding hybrid environments combining these traditional models best supports innovation throughout all markets.

With all that said, our research and expertise tells us it takes a unique set of ingredients to craft innovation.

The long-held belief is that if one were to mix the characteristics of a traditional office/academic space, highly caffeinated Millennials, a gaming center, and bean bags, innovative results would follow. Unfortunately, this is just not that case. Typical office space contains a list of ingredients that make it successful, but to transform a typical environment into one that supports innovation, we have established some not-so-cut and dry ingredients.


A standard approach – There isn’t anything unique about your day to day experience.

Applied branding – It is about taste and being told what you are to care about.

Scale – The one-size-fits-all mentality. Design is based on hierarchy and accommodation.

Market expectations – Spaces become commodities. It’s all about efficiency and limited options.

A cut and dry office experience is not difficult to provide, but a space that fosters innovation must be strategically crafted. There must be a layer of insight that goes beyond the newest and latest tools and trends. There are seven proven ingredients that transform a space and its occupants from that cut and dry space and culture to one that takes an organization beyond relevancy and into innovation.

Stay tuned through the next couple of weeks as we explore each ingredient in depth in the process of crafting innovation.

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