on November 24, 2013

Using Coolhunting to Identify Innovation Opportunities [Infographic]

Far too often I’m asked a question that I can never fully answer, how did I come up with that? To be honest, the answer is really pretty simple… I use Coolhunting.

Have you ever seen an interesting boutique store, or met someone with a really unique style and thought to yourself, wow that’s really cool? While some people are better with numbers, and others with words, I’ve been blessed with the ability to recognize and combine “cool” observations to create something interesting and hopefully useful. To do this, I always start with Coolhunting, an activity that everyone can, and probably already, do.

The infographic below offers a framework I created to help illuminate the process. It relies on one key philosophy – Inspiration is the Foundation for Innovation.

Coolhunting Infographic


How To Capture

The easiest place to start is scouting online material that highlights the latest in new products and styles. These are a great source for capturing inspiration from images, features and tactics that others are trying. When you’re ready to up your game, get away from your desk and explore your city. Look for interesting shops, talk to unique people, and seek out experiences that might even make you uncomfortable. Search for things that make you ask questions.

While we have the tools to capture pictures, our observations rarely make it to inspire others on our team. I wanted a way for my team to share what they were finding, so that we could build on ideas together. Batterii’s set of digital tools, like Web clipper and iPhone App, helped us to capture these observations, view them in real time, and use them in all phases of our idea creation. For me, this was a huge step towards aligning any team looking to build an innovative solution. This is where things get really interesting

How To Curate

Ideas are often churning before we even walk into a brainstorm session. Typically this is because our minds are constantly combining various observations we’ve experienced throughout our lives in an attempt to solve the problem before us. These observations might include articles we’ve read, or the way Starbucks writes the names on cups to make it personal. The observation is two parts: realizing it exists, and then capturing it.

While the traditional term of Coolhunting focuses on discovering new social trends, it’s a rather limiting outlook of what’s really happening. The Coolhunter of today (yes, you) should look to capture three distinct dimensions of the world around you:

Tactical Observations that define a fit in the market, including strategy and frameworks.
Physical Observations
that define the function, including look and feel.
Sensorial Observations
that define the feeling or experience.

For me, these go even further into descriptive categories that help me create better ideas, and are demonstrated in the infographic above.

Systems - Framework to organize data (The Enneagram Diagram)
Market - Targeting a specific audience (price, message)

Face - Graphic/Aesthetic appearance, including type, color, texture and symbol
Form - Positive and negative space (package)
Feature - Guiding usage and behaviors (user experience)

Experience - Sensory effect over time and touchpoint, including empathy (The Starbucks Experience)
Meaning - Defining a purpose through the message (Tom’s Shoes)
Lifestyle - Connecting people, place, things and time and behavior, ethnography (Hypebeast)

How To Connect

After you have captured and curated these observations, you can then go through some sense-making activities. The goal is to narrow these down by looking at some key insights around the lifestyle & desires of your target audience. Select a few observations and why you chose them (i.e. I love the typeface of this brand, but combined with the texture of this surface). You want to create a visual (or text-based) collage of ingredients for your idea (often referred to as Inspiration Boards or Mood Boards). These provide a vision to help inspire your team to define a fit, fuction and feel for your solution.

Coolhunting is very effective in accelerating the ideation process. The ideas that result can align to a target audience and market, but also lead to disruptive concepts. One method to do this is called Combinatorial Play, but I will save that for a future post.

Happy Hunting!

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