Luma Institute’s Taxonomy of Innovation

Yesterday, I started reading the January — February issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and got stuck on what I found on page 30 — an article entitled “A Taxonomy of Innovation.” The article describes how an educational company, Luma Institute, has taken the 36 “most effective” methods that innovators can use to uncover the wants and needs or users and grouped them into three categories:

  • Looking — Observing Human Experience
  • Understanding — Analyzing Challenges and Opportunities
  • Making — Envisioning Future Possibilities

Under each category are 3 sub-categories and under each sub-catetory are 4 methods  you can use. Let’s take the category “Looking” as an example.

LOOKING — Observing Human Experience

Ethnographic Research — Studying human behavior in its natural setting to uncover opportunities for innivation

1. Interviewing — Gathering information through direct dialogue

2. Fly-On-The-Wall Observation — Doing unobtrusive field research

3. Contextual Inquiry — Interviewing people in their own environment

4. Walk-A-Mile Immersion — Building empathy through first hand experience

Participatory Research — Learning from people by giving them a way to express themselves, revealing critical and latent needs

1. What’s On Your Radar? — Plotting items according to personal significance

2. Buy A Feature — Using artificial money to express trade-off decisions

3. Build Your Own — Expressing ideal solutions with symbolic elements

4. Journaling — Recording personal experiences in words and pictures

Evaluative Research — Assessing the usefulness and usability of products and processes in order to set a course for improving them

1. Think-Aloud Testing — Narrating one’s experience while performing a task

2. Heuristic Review — Auditing on the basis of 10 rules of good design

3. Critique — Giving and receiving constructive feedback

4. System Usability Scale — Quantifying feedback from a usability survey

“A Taxonomy of Innovation” | HBR

The other two categories (Understanding and Making) have the same structure. The idea is to mix and match the tools:

…for each step of the innovation process, according to the people you’re designing for and the complexity of the systems in which you operate.

I like the idea of having a framework because, as the article states, what challenges people isn’t finding a tool, there are plenty out there, it’s knowing which one to use when. And it’s important to know which one to use when because of the speed at which new products and processes need to be developed. Time pressures barely allow for the time that’s really needed to apply the necessary rigor to the process. You don’t need to have the extra burden of using a tool just to find out that it wasn’t the best one to use in your particular situation.

I also like it because it’s always nice to show management your road plan. It gives you a good point for discussion and it’s a lot easier to get buy-in for something that you can show in black and white (or color if you want).

For More Detail

I just gave you an overview, but you can see it all for yourself.

Vision Statement — A Taxonomy of Innovation (HBR)

I would also suggest reading the following:

How to Use Design Thinking to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Digital Strategy (

If you have problems with either link, you can also link from the Luma Institute site.