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Meet the practitioner!

In conversation with innovation expert Alex Barker


Businesses must innovate and grow to stay ahead of the competition. To stay truly innovative, organisations must build innovation into everything that they do. But how can businesses make innovation business-as-usual? That’s the question that keeps innovators up at night. Fortunately, Alex Barker, a truly experienced Strategy & Experience Consultant, is here to help! Alex is a Service Designer and User Experience Consultant who believes in the fundamental importance of user-centred transformation and instils its principles in everything he does. Alex works with businesses and organisations to help enable innovation activity and engender a culture that makes innovation ‘business as usual’. Alex has spent over 20 years designing user-centred experiences and growing highly talented design and strategy teams. This has shaped him into an experienced practitioner, leader, speaker, coach and mentor. Alex has led on programmes of work that assess and improve the capability and culture of organisations to use user-centred outputs in effecting meaningful and measurable change, and has helped some of the biggest brands out there to stay ahead of the competition and make innovation business-as-usual, including the NHS, the Ministry of Justice, Google, Natwest, Airbus and Disney.

Ahead of Alex’s Innovation Methods and Mindset short course at STEAMhouse, “Build Innovation into Everything You Do”, we talk to Alex about what innovation means to him, the importance of thinking in a customer and user-centred way and how organisations can transform their culture into an innovation engine.


Hi Alex, it’s great to meet you! Innovation can be a bit of an abstract word sometimes… what does innovation mean to you?

Innovation really can mean different things to different people, different industries and different businesses in different contexts. For me, having been a practitioner of user-centred design for over 20 years, innovation is at its most meaningful when using evidence to solve a known problem in a new way. Furthermore, it means as much about how people work together and build future-fit capability (business culture) than it does using new technology and tools.


And what inspired you to get into the innovation field?

I was really inspired to help make a positive impact on people and wider society – solving real-world problems using design thinking and the latest technology. Being innovative through customer and user-focussed ways helps me not only help organisations and businesses, but the end users that they help as well!


So that’s why you got into innovation, but why is innovation so important in today’s world? What promise does innovation hold?

At its best, innovation allows organisations to adapt and stay relevant. The disruption of technology on human behaviour is as profound as ever, and still has the possibility to deepen its disruption even further. Therefore, to me, it’s no-brainer to ensure that we use this rapid change as a force for good, and use it to affect meaningful, positive impact on people, rather than obsess about technology for technology’s sake.


It’s a worthy cause, but for people looking to innovate better, what do you think the biggest myths around innovation are?

That digital transformation is purely about technology. People, ways of working and values all play a crucial part in this journey and in making innovation successful!


Great answer. Could you share a particularly challenging innovation project you’ve worked on and how you overcame obstacles along the way?

There’s lots! Some of my recent work in government (working in Justice and Health in particular) has seen budgetary and cultural barriers stymy innovation, but in all cases, I’ve managed round this to a better outcome by building trust through an evidenced and outcome-focused process. If people can relate to the resulting human value of what you’re doing, they’ll more likely get behind it.


With that in mind, what do you believe are the essential qualities or skills for someone looking to innovate?

A few spring to mind! I think it’s really important that innovators, or people that want to be innovators, are:

  • Open minded
  • Enquiring
  • Objective
  • Collaborative
  • Iterative
  • Use research and data to good effect
  • Consider the unmet needs of people (both customers and staff)
  • Build rapport with customer and stakeholders
  • Move fast (rapidly prototype ideas)
  • Measure outcome, not output


Thank you so much Alex for your time. One last question… What one key bit of advice would you give to people, teams or organisations looking to innovate?

Understand your users as people, their wants and their needs! It’s the only way to truly ensure a positive outcome to any process of innovation!


If you found this insightful too, we now delve into the thinking behind Alex’s Innovation Methods and Mindset Short Course, Build Innovation into Everything You Do, and how this affordable, one day masterclass can help organisations can make innovation business-as-usual.

You can read this second interview here!

Alternatively, if you’re feeling readily inspired, you can sign up for the short course here.