Design-driven innovation: changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean

Verganti, R. (2009). Design-driven innovation: changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

The more you believe that human-centered design is important, the more you need to read this book.

"Want to be radical? Forget user-centered innovation." Hmm, sounds like something I would say, but in this case it isn't me, it is Roberto Verganti, author of "Design-driven innovation." Verganti argues for a forgotten dimension in products: meaning. The traditional view is technology driven, with most innovation being small, incremental changes and occasional large, dramatic jumps. I have argued that human-centered design is useful for incremental changes, but not for the large, radical transformations (Norman, 2010). Verganti agrees, but adds a critically important new dimension to the argument: meaning.

Products within existing categories and constructed from existing technologies can undergo incremental changes, again driven by human-centered design, but they can also undergo radical transformation in meaning: these are design-driven. Thus, Apple's iPod was a revolution in meaning, not technology. Similarly, Alessi's development of cute, fun corkscrews and other kitchen items caused a radical transformation of that field, but did not require technological changes. Swatch redefined the meaning of watches, creating a radical revolution.

The big wins, of course, are where we combine radical technological innovation with radical meaning innovation. These have to be driven both by technological innovations, so they are technology driven, as well as by meaning revolutions, in which case they are also design driven. Wii harnessed the radical technological revolution in sensors with a radical change in the meaning of a video game, to great success.

So what is the role of human-centered design (also known as user-centered)? Once the radical change has taken place, then HCD is essential for the continual refinement and improvement that marks incremental enhancement of product and meaning. But for radical change? Forget it.

For more information, see the website

Link to book at

Norman, D. A. (2010). Technology first, needs last: the research-product gulf. interactions, 17(2), 38-42.  (The pre-publication version, almost identical, is on this website at Technology first, needs last.See my joint paper with Verganti:Norman, D. A., & Verganti, R. (2014). Incremental and radical innovation: Design research versus technology and meaning change. Design Issues, 30(1), 78-96.Link to entire paper as a PDF file.