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Le design apparaît aujourd’hui comme un champ de pratique dont l’intégration peut contribuer à la compétitivité d’entreprises placées au cœur d’injonctions à l’innovation. L’intégration de ces pratiques, des méthodes qui les caractérisent et de l’imaginaire qu’elles véhiculent au sein des organisations, représente une évolution majeure dans laquelle les agences d’innovation jouent un rôle central. Cette contribution propose une mise en perspective des activités de ces agences en termes de Creativity Consultancy. Ces pratiques guidées du design et de l’innovation apparaissent comme constitutives d’une culture de conception spécifique marquée par une forme de domestication de la créativité. Cette rationalisation appliquée aux principes du design contraste avec les pratiques des designers, lesquelles accordent une place centrale à l’intuition et à l’implicite. Cette contribution s’appuie sur un ensemble d’entretiens menés auprès de designers et porteurs de projets d’innovation, sur une enquête en ligne et sur des observations participatives. Elle situe finalement la Creativity Consultancy dans un champ de tension entre son potentiel économique et les défis inhérents à sa gestion, avant de signaler les tendances émergentes et d’en détailler les implications potentielles.

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I acknowledge Pascal Pizelle and Isabelle Fournié for the realization of the CIFRE convention that served this research and Fabienne Martin-Juchat for her comments while writing this article.


  • 1 Commonly, affects are divided into moods, feelings, and emotions and defined according to their val (...)

1Today’s design and innovation culture is based on several historic dynamics: The first dynamic is the fusion of information and communication technology (ICT) and cultural industries. The second dynamic is the omnipresence of communicational products in the private, public, and professional realm—a state that is labeled Permanently Online Permanently Connected by Vorderer (2015). The third historic dynamic is the tertiarization of modern, western economies. This tertiarization pushes actors to search for means to differentiate their identities, products, services, and communication. Design and innovation provide the possibility to achieve these objectives by unleashing the potential for competitive differentiation and added semantic value (Kogan & Andonova, 2019). Thereby, they promote the so-called Attention Economy (Franck, 1998; Davenport & Beck, 2001; Citton, 2014). When abundance instead of scarcity becomes the dominating challenge for customers, attention gets a great deal of value which promotes an interest in design and innovation. Design offers the potential to achieve precise and unique identities, differentiate messages, and address affects in a tacit manner (Polanyi, 2009/1966). Affects are an essential part of communication (Martin-Juchat, 2002; 2008; 2020).1 Therefore, addressing the affective dimension of communication in a tacit manner represents a valuable feature for socioeconomic actors (Illouz, 2006; Martin-Juchat, 2013).

  • 2 I follow the tri-dimensional design definition proposed by Zacklad (2017, p. 5) who defines design (...)
  • 3 Keeping aside the question to what extent the creation of something new is possible or to which deg (...)

2Design and innovation2 are key in the continuous development of products and services, either by inventing new ones3 or by improving existing ones. By that, design and innovation are fundamental for the so-called “Creative Destruction” (Schumpeter, 2008/1942, p. 81). They are an important anthropological feature (Goffman, 2014/1956), but the extension of their socioeconomic importance represents a recent phenomenon (Reckwitz, 2019). The changing mindset that comes along with this phenomenon implies a rupture with past traditions and animistic beliefs as well as magical or spiritual heritages, favoring an orientation towards the future (Ménissier, 2016; 2021). The origins of design and its project mode as we know it today can be traced to the Renaissance (Vial, 2014). Notably, during the industrialization era, design gained importance and emerged as a profession, an educational branch, and a research discipline (Petit, 2017). The latter one has to be divided into research via, for, or about design (Joost et al., 2016). Design can either be a research method (research via design), a served research goal (research for design), or a research object (research about design). In this article, I focus on design as a research object.

3Nowadays, design and innovation penetrate all spheres of society (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Rammert et al. 2018). Innovation is not limited to the technoscientific domain anymore, which nevertheless represents the most dominant driver of economic growth and competitive advantages (Ringel et al., 2020). The innovations of the 20th century (notably innovations in ICT) brought design and innovation closely together. They implicated a shifting focus towards the visual sense, which promoted design professions. For example, in the field of human-machine-interaction, the transition towards graphical user interfaces not only promoted the democratization of computers but also increased the need for user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designers (Dourish, 2001). Today, it is hard to find an innovation project without participating internal or external designers. Thereby, design professions become interconnected with other communication professions (Miège, 2017), resulting in a new form of design and innovation cultures.

  • 4 This is, for example, expressed in the CAUTIC© method (Mallein & Toussaint, 1994) that takes sociop (...)
  • 5 For a classification of the strategic positioning of innovation agencies, see Glennie and Bound (20 (...)
  • 6 The identified sources of failure are insufficient product definition, insufficient knowledge about (...)
  • 7 For example, 80% were mentioned by UMI (2020) and 95% were noted by Nobel (2011). The differences i (...)

4The described tendencies indicate the rising importance of design and innovation, which pushes socioeconomic actors to search for elements that impact the success of an innovation. Having a clearer picture of the success chances of a project and reducing its risk of failure by modifying the innovation concept are the value proposition of innovation agencies. Recently, more attention is paid to the anthropological complexity of users and especially to their affects. Design and innovation practices become less techno-deterministic and more user-centered forming the so-called user-centered turn (Norman, 2013/1988).4 Design influences the perception and comprehension of innovation as well as the affective reactions towards it. It is recognized for its potential to address the ontological, pragmatic, and prescriptive dimensions of communication. These dimensions are crucial for the diffusion of an innovation. To take design and affects into account, innovation agencies possess a diversified portfolio of methods that allows them to respond to client demands.5 Currently, we witness a variety of design and collaboration methods: Most commonly, design thinking is applied and promoted by Stanford, IDEO, the Hasso Plattner Institute, and the British Design Council (Kelley, 2001; Brown & Katz, 2009). These methods are applied by different professions, and their specific applications often change with each project and the involved persons. They aim to reduce the risk of failure and assure project outcomes while maintaining a sufficient level of efficiency. In the case of the Grenoble-based innovation agency Ixiade, the available methods address each potential source of failure within the innovation process (Ixiade, 2021b).6 Being able to explicitly address these different sources of failures is an asset regarding the fact that between 80% and 95% of innovation projects fail.7

5In this section, I described the historic dynamics that have promoted design and innovation. Thus, it is essential to indicate current design and innovation practices. Based on these descriptions, I locate design methods and innovation agencies in a new form of design and innovation culture that is understood as Creativity Consultancy (Hypothesis 1). The goal of Creativity Consultancy is to operationalize creativity and guide collaboration between team members in an efficient manner. Such a task includes tensions between its socioeconomic potential and its management challenges. The potential lies in the exploitation of creative forces and the challenges facing the integration of their epistemological and sociopsychological features in industrial contexts. To enlighten this field of tensions, I shed light on current design and innovation practices.

Mixed-Method Approach: Interviews, Online Survey, and Participative Observations

  • 8 Just to mention a few examples, their official profiles were communication designer, web designer, (...)
  • 9 The online survey represented a summary of the interview guide. The interview guide was synthesized (...)
  • 10 The consulted profiles were head of innovation management, design manager, scientific management ad (...)
  • 11 The data was collected during a Ph.D. thesis with Ixiade between 2017 and 2020. Therefore, the obse (...)

6The collected data can be divided into two categories: One represents a focus on design practices, whereas the other one focuses on innovation projects. Data about design practices was collected via semi-structured interviews with designers (N = 21),8 via an online survey with designers (N = 22),9 and from my own design practice as a UI designer at Ixiade. The data about innovation projects was based on semi-structured interviews with innovation project owners (N = 8)10 as well as participative observations of innovation projects with Ixiade.11

7To gain a broad picture of design and innovation practices, I addressed a diverse range of profiles. I asked about daily working routines, the evaluation of design quality, applied methods, the role of creativity, the perceived link between form and function, the characteristics of ICT for design practices, and the role of affects and the human body. During the interviews, I put a focus on identifying elements that influence design outcomes, such as sources of inspiration and material constraints. When addressing the project owners, I focused on design management and collaboration tools. Based on this mixed methodology, I was able to gain a detailed picture of the design and innovation practices presented below.


The Heterogeneity of Design Practices

8The findings show a multitude of design practices. Designers working attitudes ranged from auto-centered to user-centered ones (described precisely in the latter section) and differ by the designer’s motivations and aspirations. Most designers work in interdisciplinary teams characterized by a constant exchange with multiple professions—most notably other communication professions. The identified sources of inspiration ranged from project characteristics, its technological and historical context, meetings with the client to daily news, and society as a whole. The elements that constitute design outcomes were the project characteristics (including budgetary, material and temporal constraints, and its context), the dynamics of the teams involved, the practitioner’s personality, and randomness.

The Presence (and Absence) of Design Methods and Theory

  • 12 I did not present any perception theory but explored existing knowledge about scientific theories t (...)

9The results show that designers tended to perceive structured workflows, design methods, and scientific theory as detrimental to creativity and flow. The application of design methods appeared to be mostly selective and higher for project owners than for designers. The application of methods ranged from never for some designers to selective for the majority. I could not identify designers that constantly and explicitly applied methods. Instead, practices were guided by intuition, experience, and implicit knowledge. Certain methods were shared between designers and project owners (e.g., design thinking or creative problem solving [CPS]), but their presence was more dominant for project owners. During innovation projects, I observed a multitude of methods to operationalize creativity, design, and the user. Mastering these methods was perceived as an important value. Creativity was rationalized when creating or modifying an innovation concept in a similar way that users’ affects were rationalized to calculate the acceptability of an innovation. None of the surveyed designers stated a notable impact of scientific theories (e.g., perception theory) on their design practices.12 I thus highlight an absence, an ignorance, or even an aversion towards scientific theories which were perceived as detrimental to creativity.

The Perceived Role of Embodiment

10In the survey, the designers associated affects and design closely, while the affective dimension of a design was even taken as an indicator for its quality. This is especially interesting, since defining design quality has become a difficult task for many designers, often underlining its subjective nature. In some cases, design and affects were even viewed as tautological. The perceived importance of affects stands in contrast to the absence of methods that address affects. Only few designers stated to use methods that explicitly take affects into account. More often, affects were considered in an implicit way via qualitative user research methods (mostly via interviews). Moreover, affects played a role as an implicit background disposition between the designer and design. A common attitude was to work until the results feel right. Asked about the role of the human body, its importance was put into the context of the use of the five human senses. It was seen as a mediator between the designer or user and design. In the case of product design, interior design, and stage design, the human body played the most dominant role, especially via ergonomics. In the case of brand design, the human body gained importance via multisensorial brand experiences. Nevertheless, some designers were rather puzzled by the question about the role of the human body in design practices, especially those designers working mainly on a visual level.

From User-Centered to Auto-Centered Working Attitudes

  • 13 The term can be translated as signature designer.

11The identified working attitudes ranged from user-centered to auto-centered ones. In the case of user-centered working attitudes, designers met users via interviews, focus groups, or shadowing and attributed high importance to this. In these cases, the value of the work was often perceived in the user feedback. In the case of auto-centered working attitudes, designers considered themselves as archetypical users whose perception and evaluation of a design were seen as representative of the target group. The auto-centered working attitudes approached artistic ones or what Zacklad (2017) defines as “design d’auteur”.13 The user-centered design approaches overlap with other communication professions—notably with marketing, public relations, and strategy. Several moderate approaches could be observed. In these cases, the designer oscillates between auto- and user-centered approaches according to the necessities of each project. In innovation agencies, I observed a similar diversity of approaches. Some agencies construct their offer around user-centered approaches such as the case of Ixiade (2021a) that places the “user experience at the heart of innovation.” Others replace the user feedback via their internal creativity practices.


The Embodiment of Creativity

  • 14 The role of intuition and implicit knowledge represents a parallel between design practices and sci (...)

12Following an embodiment perspective (Niedenthal, 2007), creativity can be understood as grounded in the physiological structure of the practitioner. My practice as a UI designer confirms design as an affective and corporal competence. Designers’ competence is not only constituted by their aesthetical or technical skills but also by their abilities to integrate themselves into team dynamics or the sensing of non-expressed team preferences or client intentions. Nevertheless, this is not shared by most designers. From this, I conclude that the theoretical framework of embodiment is not an explicit but implicit reality of design and innovation practices.14 This conceptualization is quite close to the “reflective practitioner” of Schön (1983), who strengthens the role of spontaneity and intuition in professional practices—aspects that represent corporal and affective competencies. I want to take this further by understanding creativity practices as grounded in the Dasein (Heidegger, 1963/1927) of the practitioner, including its sociopsychological, physiological, affective, and temporal dimensions (Henke, 2021; Henke & Martin-Juchat, 2021). This understanding means that a designer is employed for his/her overall Dasein. I combine this with the approaches of Habermas (1974) and Marcuse (1991/1964) who described the inscription of ideology and political power in technology. Transferring this line of thought on the described practices, I conclude that Creativity Consultancy represents an operationalization of the practitioner’s Dasein. The Dasein of a designer is operationalized according to the underlying values of the new design and innovation culture.

Implications of the Project Mode

13The project mode constitutes the temporal setting of Creativity Consultancy (Vial, 2014). This phenomenon can be understood in the context of the acceleration of modernity as described by Rosa (2005; 2013). The acceleration of creativity adds an additional form of acceleration to the three forms described by Rosa (2013): 1) technological acceleration, 2) acceleration of social change, and 3) acceleration of the pace of life. They are reflected in the acceleration of new product development processes. The project mode can be interpreted as fragmentation of creativity practices similar to the fragmentation of daily life described as acceleration effects by Han (2013) and Rosa (2013). Furthermore, it can be linked to the modern tendency towards ahistoric worldviews (Baumann, 2008). Ahistoric worldviews promote creativity since identities and meaning must be reconstructed individually and constantly instead of being inherited and remaining fixed. This includes an increasing responsibility of Creativity Consultancy because if the designs or innovations are not satisfying, only Creativity Consultancy is to be held responsible.

Distributed Creativity Practices

  • 15 The integration of the user was more present for the participative observation and for the intervie (...)

14In the new design and innovation culture of Creativity Consultancy, design and innovation are realized in interdisciplinary teams with a variety of actors participating in the processes. They contrast the aged idea of a single genius struck by an enlightened thought. Instead of this, creativity evolves distributed between a variety of actors. I propose to label this Distributed Creativity—similar to the concept of Distributed Cognition (Hutchins, 1995). The idea of Hutchins (1995) states that the socially distributed cognition creates a new form of cognition that transcends the one of a single person. Similarly, the distributed creativity practices create a creative competence that transcends the individual ones. Innovation agencies use this to justify the implication of the user. They see the collective creativity as superior to the individual one; therefore, it implies a variety of persons that collaborate via design methods. From an actor-network perspective (Latour, 2005; McMaster & Wastell, 2005; Bencherki, 2016), I include the involved materialities as participating actors. The importance of implicated materials and tools during design processes on project outcomes is shown by Smith et al. (2021). This means that design and innovation are constituted by a tacit dialogue between the involved participants and the implicated materialities. Since the user-centered turn, the creation of designs and innovations is partly realized by the user.15 This represents an externalization of creativity and operationalization of the user. It raises the question of whether the user-centered turn is a euphemism and whether Creativity Consultancy proposes a modern justification of industrial processes.

Creativity Consultancy

15I understand the application of design methods and the activity of innovation agencies as a new form of design and innovation culture labeled Creativity Consultancy. Creativity Consultancy guides collaborations between persons in a creative process to assure the efficient realization of design and innovation. Creative forces are accepted for their economic potential but implicate management challenges via their epistemological and sociopsychological features (Cross, 2006; Gentes, 2017). Creativity Consultancy responds to these challenges. Nevertheless, there lies a certain aspect of randomness in creation processes, which is necessarily tolerated. Kogan and Andonova (2019, p. 2) describe this aspect as normalization of incertitude. Creativity Consultancy tries to reduce this uncertainty via the rationalization of practices. Therefore, I locate design and innovation in a field of tension between their economic potential on the one hand and their epistemological and sociopsychological management challenges on the other hand.


16In this paper, I present design and innovation in their historic context and outline that design methods and innovation agencies can be located in a broader phenomenon that I label Creativity Consultancy (Hypothesis 1). I also describe the essential features of this new form of design and innovation culture. It operationalizes creativity, guides collaborations, and assures outcomes. I finally locate it in the field of tensions between its economic potential and its management challenges. To verify my assumption, I analysed design and innovation practices via semi-structured interviews, an online survey, and participative observations. My findings show the heterogeneity of practices: designs and innovation are constituted by the project characteristics (the material, budgetary, and temporal constraints), the sociopsychological dynamics of the involved teams, the Dasein (Heidegger, 1963/1927) of the practitioners, and randomness. Creativity Consultancy aims to reduce the aspect of randomness and the risk of failure, which represents its value proposition. In doing so, creativity becomes rationalized. This rationalization stands in contrast to the practices of designers that are mostly guided by intuition, experience, and tacit knowledge. In this paper, the application of design methods was more dominant for innovation project owners than for designers. The designers in the survey often perceived methods, scientific theory, and structured workflows as detrimental to creativity and flow. Methods were mostly applied selectively. Design and affects were perceived as linked and nearly tautological. Therefore, I hypothesize to explore explicit methods to assure the impact of affects on design practices. This is not the case. Affects play not an explicit but an implicit role as a constant background disposition, especially important for auto-centered working attitudes. I identify creativity practices between auto-centered and user-centered working perspectives. Auto-centered attitudes take the practitioner as an archetypical user and his/her perception as representative for the target group. Whereas user-centered attitudes focus on the integration of the user and perceive an added value in this integration. I interpret the integration of the user as an externalization of creativity that I describe as Distributed Creativity. The paradigm Be creative! And innovate! represents a paradox and at the same time an economic obligation that Creativity Consultancy valorizes.

17In this article, I demonstrate how design methods and the activity of innovation agencies can be understood as Creativity Consultancy. I identify their practices as a tacit dialogue between the project characteristics, the involved practitioners (including the user), and the implicated materialities. This represents a rising convergence between the social and the economic sphere. Thereby, design methods and innovation agencies deliver a modern argument to justify industrial processes, creating a new design and innovation culture.

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1 Commonly, affects are divided into moods, feelings, and emotions and defined according to their valence, intensity, and duration (Ekman, 2014). Their analyses may focus on their bio-psychological, interpersonal, or societal dimensions (Tcherkassof, 2008). However, since the goal of this article is to take the totality of affective experiences into account, it explores affects instead of moods, feelings, or emotions. Nevertheless, during the interviews, I used the term emotions instead of affects because it is the common term for designers. Especially, important to this research is the social and corporal dimension of affects (Martin-Juchat, 2008; 2020). I understand affects as grounded in the human body (Niedenthal, 2007). The “corporality of affects” (Henke, 2021) can be divided into an exteroceptive (e.g., smell), proprioceptive (e.g., muscular tensions), and interoceptive (e.g., headache) dimension (Martin-Juchat, 2002, p. 9). Because of this theoretical framework, I asked not only about affects but about the human body in the interviews.

2 I follow the tri-dimensional design definition proposed by Zacklad (2017, p. 5) who defines design according to 1) the dimension of the artifact (form, function, experience, and symbolic), 2) the modalities of engagement (classic project mode, design thinking, participative design, and rhetoric design) and 3) the type of artifact (object, visual, interaction, service, and space). The advantage of this approach is that it allows to precisely define a wide range of design types. My comprehension of innovation follows the diffusion theory of Rogers (1983/1962). According to Rogers (1983/1962, p. 15), the diffusion of an innovation depends on its relative advantage (the higher the perceived advantage is, the more rapidly the innovation gets diffused), its compatibility (the degree to which the innovation is compatible with the users existing values, experiences, needs, and practices), its complexity (is the innovation difficult to understand?), its testability (is the innovation testable on a limited base?), and its observability (the more visible the effects of the innovation are to others, the more rapid its diffusion is). This approach shows how intimately innovation and design are linked. Both are directed towards the future and meant to improve things (Ménissier, 2021). Therefore, they imply an underlying value set for which they can be criticized (Adorno, 1992/1973). Furthermore, they share the necessity of creativity. It is important to differentiate between a creative person, product, and process (Funke, 2008). The design and innovation practices that are described in this article englobe all of them. A creative process can be separated into 1) preparation, 2) incubation, 3) comprehension, 4) evaluation, and 5) application (idem). These steps correspond to the maturity stages of an innovation project (Ixiade, 2021a): explore, imagine, experiment, and develop.

3 Keeping aside the question to what extent the creation of something new is possible or to which degree it represents the reassembling of existing elements—as Adorno (1992/1973, p. 36) claimed. Following the definition of Rogers (1983/1962), an innovation is characterized by its perceived novelty and therefore subjective.

4 This is, for example, expressed in the CAUTIC© method (Mallein & Toussaint, 1994) that takes sociopsychological and ethical dimensions into account.

5 For a classification of the strategic positioning of innovation agencies, see Glennie and Bound (2016, pp. 22–25). As an example of the method portfolio of an innovation agency, see Ixiade (2021b, pp. 26–35).

6 The identified sources of failure are insufficient product definition, insufficient knowledge about the target group, insufficient knowledge about the addressed market segments, wrong timing, disproportionate estimation of the market value, insufficient consideration of the context, targeting errors, missing innovation culture, missing methods, and psychological innovation bias (Ixiade, 2021b).

7 For example, 80% were mentioned by UMI (2020) and 95% were noted by Nobel (2011). The differences in failure rates depend on the maturity of the project at which one begins the calculation. According to Stevens and Burley (1997, p. 7), the gap is even more striking, claiming that 99.7% of submitted ideas and 40% of launched projects fail.

8 Just to mention a few examples, their official profiles were communication designer, web designer, product designer, UI designer, UX designer, stage designer, animation designer, creative director, eco-designer, head of color and trim design, professor of interior design, professor of corporate identity.

9 The online survey represented a summary of the interview guide. The interview guide was synthesized into eight key questions: 1) What are your spontaneous associations towards design and emotion? 2) How do you judge design quality? 3) What are the most influential elements for your daily practices? 4) Which methods do you apply during your daily practices? 5) How do you describe the relation between form and function? 6) Which role plays the human body for your daily practices? 7) How do you describe the interaction between design, emotions and the human body? 8) The questionnaire was closed with several sociodemographic questions (e.g., age and education) and questions about the professional context (e.g., design types and size of the agency). The goal of this online survey was to complement the designers’ oral expressions (interviews) with textual ones.

10 The consulted profiles were head of innovation management, design manager, scientific management advisor, innovation project manager, marketing manager, innovation consultant, chief experience officer (CXO), and market researcher.

11 The data was collected during a Ph.D. thesis with Ixiade between 2017 and 2020. Therefore, the observations are limited to one agency. Conducting observations with other agencies could strengthen the dataset. A limitation to this agency was necessary because of the CIFRE convention via which the Ph.D. thesis was financed. The observations are based on my experience as a UI designer during these three years, witnessing around 30 innovation projects. The projects showed different states of maturity: from vague ideas via precise concepts and prototypes towards ergonomic tests of already existing products and interfaces.

12 I did not present any perception theory but explored existing knowledge about scientific theories that may play a role in design practices according to practitioners. Some of the few mentioned approaches were the archetypes of C.G. Jung or the “flow” concept from Csíkszentmihályi (1990).

13 The term can be translated as signature designer.

14 The role of intuition and implicit knowledge represents a parallel between design practices and scientific production. According to Polanyi (2009/1966), scientific research needs the sensing of promising problems and directions; without that, they could be justified at that moment (pp. 21–22). In the same way, design and innovation projects need certain sensing of promising directions that often get justified retrospectively.

15 The integration of the user was more present for the participative observation and for the interviewed project owners than for the design practices described by the interrogated designers. The minority of designers showed user-centered working attitudes and the majority showed auto-centered working attitudes.

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Niklas Henke, « Design Methods and Innovation Projects as Creativity Consultancy »Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [En ligne], 23 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2021, consulté le 24 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Niklas Henke

Niklas Henke est docteur en Sciences de l’Information et de la Communication et UI-Design Manager chez Ixiade (groupe Absiskey).

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