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Command the High Ground: A Recap of “Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design”

Roger Mader, co-teaches the course “Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design, with Jared Richardson. He reflects on the recently completed course:


Strategy requires designers to seek the high ground. Survey the terrain. Study the topography. Find the blind spots.

Obstacles always surround your goal. The best strategy pinpoints and anticipates them.

Students in SVA’s Interaction Design masters program encounter strategy as the critical front-end to more effective design. This goes well beyond designing a product. Too often the best product is not the best solution. “Strategic Innovation in Product & Service Design” (SIPSD) seeks to avert that common flaw.

SVA’s IxD faculty draws exclusively from New York’s busy working professionals. It’s a demanding crowd, with little time to waste.

A 15-week syllabus of 3-hour sessions introduced the class of 2015 to strategic innovation with a summer prework assignment.

I was fortunate to inherit the program from a brilliant (I use the term sparingly) strategist, technologist and entrepreneur, John Zapolski. His Fonderie 47 serves as an inspiration for this course.

As an instructional designer early in my career I saw a different angle of approach, and redesigned the course with Jared Richardson, the exceptional (I toss that one around a bit more flagrantly) head of design for The Velo Group.

Jared and I share an intertwining trajectory through the field of design and innovation. We like to think we represent the commercial and creative yin and yang required to bring new products, services, brands and businesses to life.

Jared studied and became an award-winning designer in his native New Zealand. I don’t want to underplay this accomplishment, but on arrival in London he discovered how much was left to master. Beneficent sadists from the Royal College of Art honed Jared’s design chops and hardened his resolve.

Jared moved to New York to specialize in design for both brand and innovation, leading two of New York’s première studios in each genre before launching the Velo Group with his partner Odine Bonthrone. Jared also brings war stories and well-licked wounds as a co-founder of  gliider, an online travel intermediary. Three words. Timing. Is. Everything.

Jared demonstrates the end game by walking through a simple but effective innovation strategy, the Rocca for Illy. During his tenure as studio chief for Fahrenheit 212, Jared led the design for this concept.

Slide from Roger Mader's class presentation for his Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design class.
Slide from Roger Mader's class presentation for his Strategic Innovation in Product/Service Design class.

Air New Zealand’s Sky Couch, an economical breakthrough in long distance air travel.

Students selected and deconstructed the underlying strategy for a sample product or service they admire. This year’s popular “products” were more often services, with multiple citations for Airbnb and Uber.

This is just an excerpt. Don’t miss the full summary of “Command the High Ground,” which details students prework assignments, guest lectures, and with students’ opus presentations. 

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