Strategy Innovation

Design Works demonstrates how organizations can drive innovation and growth through Business Design – a discipline that integrates design-inspired methods and mindsets into business development and planning. Through inspiring interviews with business leaders, compelling case studies, and a collection of pragmatic tools and tips, Design Works shows you how to:

  • Identify new customer-inspired opportunities to create value
  • Foster a stronger ‘human’ focus within your organization
  • Harness your team’s collective ingenuity to create bigger ideas faster and more efficiently
  • Translate big ideas into strategy and activation

About Heather Fraser

A seasoned business strategist, brand-marketing expert, and longtime entrepreneur and educator, Heather is a global thought leader in Business Design. Heather co-founded Rotman DesignWorks with Roger Martin in 2005 and served as Executive Director of DesignWorks through 2012. She has cultivated Business Design as a discipline, delivered student curriculum, and led innovation programs for over 3000 executives. She advises leading organizations on how to advance their business through innovation, including teams from Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Pfizer, General Electric, Target, and VF Corporation.

Prior to Rotman DesignWorks, Heather built a 25-year bank of experience in leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, Ogilvy & Mather and TAXI Advertising & Design, contributing to over 100 brands’ success through insight and innovation. She has a balanced and pragmatic view of the infusion of design principles and practices into business, that has been captured in her new book. Heather is passionately committed to integrating the disciplines of business and design, and spreading Business Design education and practice globally as a keynote speaker, educator and business advisor.

In 2012 Heather founded Vuka Innovation to expand this work beyond the academic realm. As the driving force behind Vuka, she ensures that client and partner teams push their thinking and realize their full capacity in business innovation. She continues to be active in public education as Adjunct Professor, researcher and Business Design Expert in residence at the Rotman School of Management.

Heather is available for advisory services, speeches or workshops. Please get in touch through the Vuka Innovation Website.

Heather M.A. Fraser
Founder & CEO, Vuka Innovation
Co-Founder of Rotman DesignWorks™
Professor of Business Design,
Rotman School of Management,
University of Toronto

For more information on Vuka Innovation; click here

About Business Design

Business Design combines good business practices with design-inspired methods and mindsets. Practicing the 3 Gears of Business Design can help enterprise teams gain a deeper understanding of human needs, create valuable new experiences for customers, and design more competitive strategies for success.

3 Gears of Business Design

3 Gears of Business Design

Gear 1: Empathy & Deep Human Understanding – What’s the opportunity?

Business Design starts with a deep and meaningful understanding the people who matter and what matters to them. Stakeholder mapping and ethnographic techniques for need-finding process leads to a valuable reframe of the opportunity to better serve unmet needs.

Gear 2: Concept Visualization – What’s the breakthrough solution?

Generating breakthrough ideas calls for open exploration of new possibilities, including those that are outside your current set of considerations. Visualizing a richer and more distinct customer experience through iterative prototyping methods and co-creation with users results in a powerful and concrete refresh of your vision.

Gear 3: Strategic Business Design – What’s the strategy to deliver and win?

Gear 3 is an essential extension of the innovation process – defining your strategy to make big ideas valuable and viable to both the market and to the enterprise. Visualization and system-mapping techniques equip you to design a winning strategy for all stakeholders and refocus your enterprise resources to set you on a path for long-term, market-inspired value-creation. Business Design is best practiced collaboratively across disciplines – having many sharp minds on the project, working openly and iteratively through every gear, and using the most appropriate tools to get the most out of each gear.

Heather and her team have delivered customized Business Design workshops to over 2000 executives and project counsel to a broad range of enterprises internationally, including large corporations, public institutions, commercial associations and SME’s. Seven years of research and application at the Rotman School of Management has shown that Business Design a learnable, scalable innovation discipline that can transform the way enterprise teams shape future-forward strategies, bringing a valuable balance to conventional planning and development.
ABOUT BUSINESS DESIGN Boost innovation through the 3 Gears of Business Design. Read

Mindsets & Methods

The discipline of Business Design integrates design-inspired mindsets and methods into a logical and well-balanced way of doing business through the 3 Gears. To excel in Business Design you must start with the right mindset, and apply the appropriate methods. These methods will unlock your best thinking and tap into your intuition, imagination, and ability to create original solutions. Experiencing a new way to think will reinforce your innovator mindset as you discover new ways to create value. Practiced on an ongoing basis, Business Design is an exercise in emotional, intellectual and tactical agility1 that will become an increasingly intuitive way to work.


Innovation also entails having the right mindset in tackling the task at hand. Empathy: being able to see and feel what others see and feel, leading to a deeper understanding of the opportunity to better serve needs Openness: being receptive to new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things, often characterized by curiosity, an active imagination, and an ability to suspend judgment Mindfulness: being aware of people, places, and things in order to develop deeper understanding and an expanded repertoire of reference points and position yourself to capitalize on serendipity in seizing unexpected design opportunities Intrinsic Motivation: being fueled by purpose and passion that come from a genuine interest, excitement, and engagement in your work Embracing constraints: seeing constraints as a source of creativity, to avoid trade-offs and compromises in the pursuit of the ideal solution and the most distinct enterprise strategy Courage and Vulnerability: putting new ideas on the table without being worried about whether the ideas are wrong or right; knowing that bad ideas in the exploration phase often lead to good ones later on in development Optimism: believing in possibilities with a hopeful and even naive view of what could be, not trapped by what is today; allowing for an intuitive “leap of logic” in making the case for a new future reality Resilience: driving forward toward creative and productive resolutions, even in the face of minor setbacks or failures along the way.


Need finding: developing a deeper understanding of the people who matter as the focus of Gear 1, complementing quantitative analysis with more ethnographic methods like observation and listening to user stories Visualizing: helping others to “see” relationships, new concepts, and even new strategies in visual ways instead of relying on documents and verbal descriptions Iterative prototyping: translating abstract concepts into concrete prototypes – tangible representations of solutions and business models in rough form early on (before the big bucks get spent) – as a catalyst for thinking, dialogue, learning, and accelerated development Systems mapping: making connections, visualizing relationships, and synthesizing the way people, solutions, and enterprise systems all connect Collaboration: capitalizing on diverse perspectives and types of expertise within cross-disciplinary teams to create richer, more robust, and more unexpected outcomes Co-creation: inviting users and other stakeholders into the development process to gain valuable feedback and advance solutions and strategic models Storytelling: capturing the richness and complexities of big ideas through compelling stories so others can not only see but feel the impact of the vision in a holistic and human manner Experimentation: trying new things and testing uncertainties with the intent to learn and advance development. In my years at P&G and in the brand communications business, I have observed that those who go about their work in this way often make progress faster, with earlier and broader buy-in, and ultimately with better results. Business Design is about applying these methods more broadly, deliberately, and consistently across an enterprise.

1 Heather Fraser, “Business Design: Becoming a Bilateral Thinker,” Rotman Magazine (Winter 2011): 70–6.

MINDSETS & METHODS Enhance emotional, intellectual and tactical agility. Read


There are some simple everyday ways to inspire and ignite passion for design-driven innovation and problem solving. These everyday signals come in the form of space, language, behaviors and questions. Here are some ideas that have worked for others in fostering a culture of design-driven innovation:
  1. Create spaces that are conducive to creative collaboration. Create a visible and accessible space where collaboration and innovation can take place. You don’t have to redesign your entire office, but it is valuable to get out of the cubicle and into a space that’s more conducive to collaboration and design. You may begin by redecorating one meeting room to be more conducive to team work, has features like whiteboards and large work surfaces, and is stocked with materials like large rolls of paper, sticky notes, and some prototyping materials. Leave the offices and cubicles for administration.
  2. Use design language. The everyday language we use is a simple clue to whether our activities are design-driven. Discussing “needs” and “experiences” and referring to “prototypes” are small clues that signal a design culture.
  3. Modify your practices where there is a benefit to doing so. There are many easy and productive ways you can collaboratively advance your business through Business Design. Here are some simple ways to get started:• Spend face time with your key stakeholders and listen to their stories.
    • Instead of meetings, try a charette – a design session in which challenges get solved on the spot.
    • Spend as little money as possible on early prototypes- try limiting the early prototyping budget to $20.
    • Consider multiple options before you commit to one solution or idea to keep thinking open and ultimately inform a better solution.
    • Visualize more through diagrams, mapping a system of interrelated parts and forces, or creating an experience timeline.
    • Foster collaboration across functions and business units.
  4. Begin by asking new questions. As a decision-maker, doing this can help you influence the motivations and behaviors of your entire organization. Instead of asking, “Can you prove this will work?” (and likely crushing any new-to-the-world idea), consider asking the following questions:• What unmet need does this address?
    • What’s the big idea and user experience that will create breakthrough value?
    • Who was involved in the development of this idea?
    • What other ideas did you explore that led you to this one?
    • What did you learn from customers, and what do they think of this idea?
    • How could this create sustainable competitive advantage for us?
    • Why do you believe in this big idea?
    • What are you not so sure of, and what do you want to learn as you move forward?
    • How can I help?
    • How does this discovery and development process inform what we are doing now?
    • What should we stop doing based on what you have learned in this process?
ACTIVATION Get started with simple changes. Read

An Enterprise Platform

The practice of Business Design can boost performance at every level. As an individual, you will be better equipped to lead by harnessing the power of teams, envisioning new possibilities, and navigating the course of progress. As a team, you will have a greater sense of alignment and the ability to create and act on opportunities in a more productive and accelerated fashion. As an enterprise-wide platform, the practice of Business Design can help enhance your ability to continually seize new opportunities and gain competitive advantage. At the highest level, these principles and practices have the potential to fortify an innovation economy. If you are committed to a long-term cultural transformation, there are some lessons others have learned on how to ensure sustained success and enhance your culture of innovation. Here are my top ten tips to keep in mind:
  1. Make a long-term commitment. Business Design is a way of thinking, doing, and communicating every day that can become part of your DNA over time.
  2. Build it into your organizational strategy. Making Business Design part of your organizational strategy, from top to bottom and across all areas of expertise, will help you fully leverage the power of Business Design.
  3. Align cross-disciplinary efforts. Business Design cannot be limited to a single function; it is and must be inclusive. All functions must see their role in the process, and the relevance and value to their own discipline day-to-day.
  4. Prepare to invest. If you want to be really good at this, and in a way that boosts enterprise returns, you should be ready to invest energy, time, and money into tuning up your organization.
  5. Integrate Business Design into your existing practices. Business Design is meant to be not a disruption but an enhancement. It shouldn’t be just an add-on to your existing processes; it should be integrated into your innovation practices.
  6. Internalize the practice of Business Design. In the early days, you will need help from experts to get you going, or – from time to time – to get you unstuck. The aim, however, should be to enhance your skills internally to realize the full potential of Business Design and to have it adopted throughout your enterprise.
  7. Successful transformation requires leadership. For best results, a well-respected and empowered leader with vision and fortitude to lead the transformation should be designated.
  8. Inspire, don’t legislate. Business Design is not about establishing a strict process or a new set of rules. It is about giving license to people to explore, create, experiment, and learn. Showcasing and celebrating the outcomes of design quests will create energy in the organization.
  9. Feed it and reward it. Chances are, there are a number of HR and cultural implications for adopting Business Design across the enterprise. These include the way people are evaluated and rewarded, giving more latitude for experimentation and learning, and more rewards for collaboration and originality.
  10. Start now with a tough challenge. Business Design often starts off as an effective problem-solving tool, evolves into a strategic planning tool, and eventually becomes a part of your culture. Start with a pilot group. Conduct a few training and inspiration sessions.
AN ENTERPRISE PLATFORM Transform your enterprise through Business Design. Read


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What Business Design has Done for Others

The project allowed us to bring people from across the hospital to design a new chemotherapy suite with the patient in mind – and with real patient feedback on their experience of care. Doctors, nurses, researchers, clerical staff, volunteers, management – many of whom have never worked together before – were able to share ideas, build something tangible, and feel like they had a stake in the final outcome.

Sarah Downey, Vice-president, Princess Margaret Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada

This approach to Business Design helped build team alignment early on around a common understanding of the consumer and a shared path forward. The outputs of this workshop approach were critical and salient and absolutely drove business results.

Elizabeth Frank, Vice-president, Marketing (2008), Nestlé Confectionery (Canada)

Despite strong growth on our core businesses, we’ve been challenged in creating the same degree of success in our Innovation. Rotman’s Business Design approach has just the ingredients we’re looking for: responsiveness to consumer desirability, business system feasibility, and value chain viability. Though we’re just in the early stages, it’s quite clear that the look of our Innovation pipeline can be radically different when we utilize the suite of Business Design tools Rotman DesignWorks developed and trained our teams to use.

Thomas Gosline, Senior Director, Design, PepsiCo – Frito-Lay Division

The output of the project has helped us reframe the issue and get focused on what really matters, which is ultimately the patient. This helped drive alignment within our organization and ultimately led to more focused efforts and improved long term results.

Company Team Leader

What the Business Design team has done for us is taken our vision and showed us that we could embrace new opportunities by looking at things differently. This is not always easy to do when business people face a multitude of constraints. We are learning that the constraints can in fact be the basis for fresh opportunity.

Singapore Bakery and Confectionery Trade Association