Overcoming the Valley of Death: A Design Innovation Perspective

Joannes Barend Klitsie, Rebecca Anne Price, Christine de Lille

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In large organisations, innovation activities are often located in separate departments, centres or studios. These departments aim to produce prototypes of solutions to the problems of operational business owners. However, too often these concepts remain in the prototype stage: they never cross the valley of death to become implemented.
A design approach to innovation is presented as a solution to the problem. However, practice shows that teams that use this approach nevertheless encounter this problem due to the larger infrastructure of the organisation they are part of. This research aims to explore which factors contribute to the valley of death for design innovation. Additionally, this paper presents first insights into how design practices help to mitigate this phenomenon.
An embedded multiple case study at a large heritage airline is used to study this phenomenon. A thematic analysis of the data finds that organisational design, departmental silo’s and dissimilar innovation strategies contribute to the valley of death. The issues with resource-assignment that result from these factors are displayed. Last, materialization, user-centeredness and holistic problem-framing are indicated as practices that help to mitigate this problem.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-41
Number of pages14
JournalDesign Management Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • organisational infrastructure
  • implementation
  • innovation department

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