Innovative businesses change markets, industries, and lives. But what determines disruptive impact? How do you make one? We hear these loaded terms in the press but rarely have a constant definition to refer to. In this blog post, we’ll explore the history of Disruptive Innovation, disruptive innovation examples, and use a Disruptive Design Method to inspire potential businesses.

“Innovators must be ready to fail so that they can learn what doesn’t work.” — Clayton M. Christensen.

In his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, disruptive innovation was first introduced in 1997 by Harvard Business School professor – Clayton Christensen.

What is a disruptive design method?

The disruptive design method creates a new market for your product or service. It doesn’t just improve your existing market. 

It may sound counter-intuitive, but there’s no point in trying to make something better if many people have already tried and failed to solve that problem. Many companies get caught up in incremental improvements rather than disruptive innovation. This is because it’s easy for them to think this way: “If we could just improve on what other people have done before us, then surely we should be able to succeed.”


Why is disruptive design different from traditional design?

The disruptive design method is different from traditional design in the following ways:

  • Disruptive design changes the way people think about something. The iPod changed how we purchased music because it allowed us to purchase single songs. Before then, people purchased albums or CDs with a broad selection of songs on them, a lesson on how to be an effective manager.
  • Disruptive design changes how someone does something—whether they do it themselves or delegate that task externally through outsourcing/outsourcing firms.

Is there a difference between disruptive and design thinking?

The disruptive design method is a subset of design thinking. They are not the same thing, but they both work towards solving today’s biggest problems through design.

Design Thinking is a mindset. The disruptive design method is the toolkit of a Design Thinker. Design thinkers use their methods to develop products and services that people love. Still, not all companies can afford to invest in extensive research or focus groups before getting started with testing concepts with customers (in fact, most can’t). 

How does the disruptive design method work?

Comfort zone.

In order to create disruptive innovation, you have to leave this comfort zone and venture into uncharted territory. You have to come up with an idea or solution that hasn’t been tried before — at least not in your industry. This can be very challenging; it requires you to step outside of your comfort zone and approach things from a different angle than most people do.

It encourages collaboration.

Collaboration is a powerful tool for creating a positive impact in the world. Whether you’re talking about people or organizations, collaboration helps identify problems and find solutions. It’s also a process that encourages new ideas, whether they are products or services.

The disruptive design method relies heavily on collaboration between all members of an organization. The team members should be able to work together effectively to create something truly innovative and revolutionary—something that will change the game forever!

It is human-centric.

This disruptive design method approach is about the user. It’s about putting people at the center of your design process and understanding their needs, motivations, and behaviors.

As you might imagine, traditional market research practices are no longer relevant—and may even be damaging to the creative process. Instead, disruptive designers use a variety of techniques such as ethnographic research methods (watching people in their natural environments), contextual inquiry (asking users how they would use an existing product), show-and-tell sessions (asking users to describe what they want from an upcoming product) and journey mapping (understanding a user’s path through an experience).

It focuses on empathy.

The disruptive design method focuses on empathy. It asks you to understand the users’ needs, desires, aspirations, values, and emotions. Understanding what people want (or don’t want) is important for any designer, but it is especially important for a designer who wants to create something that will change things. If you can’t understand why your users are doing things the way they are doing them – if you have no idea what their pain points are – then how will you know how to solve those problems? You won’t! Your solution will likely make things worse because it was designed with an incomplete understanding of the situation or audience in question.

The disruptive design method motto should always be to create something that solves real problems while improving lives in some way or another.

It is not linear.

The disruptive design method is not a linear process. It is the opposite of linear, where you start with one idea and progress through the steps until that idea becomes your final product or service.

The disruptive design method involves multiple ideas from different sources that are combined to create your result. You might find that this is a more natural way of Integrative thinking for some people as it allows them to combine different concepts to come up with something new and useful.

It does not have a definition of failure.

One problem with failure is that it has a very negative connotation. Some people have associated failure with shame, guilt, and regret. But not in the case of the disruptive design method. Failure is not considered a bad thing in this method,  rather it is looked upon as a learning opportunity. If you fail at something, you have learned something new, thus making your next attempt even better than before. This way, you can grow as an individual and keep yourself updated with all the latest technology available in the market.

It requires you to ask questions.

You may have heard the saying, “Good questions lead to good answers.” This is true in design as well. Asking questions is the first step toward identifying problems and solutions, as it helps you identify what’s wrong with a product or service and how it can be improved.

Ask yourself:

  • What problem are we trying to address? 
  • How can you solve their issue by using your product or service differently than before (i.e., a different way of using it), making changes to an existing product or service, creating an entirely new product or service altogether…etc.? What is causing the issue we’re experiencing with our customers?
  • What is the root cause of the problem? How will someone use your solution/product/service once they find out about it through marketing campaigns that promote its benefits over others’ products/services? Who else might also benefit from using this solution/product/service?”

Best disruptive design method and disruptive innovation examples


Netflix is a subscription video-on-demand service that offers streaming media, including film and television series (originally made available on-demand) and music streaming. The company also produces its content through Netflix Studios and has begun to produce films under the Netflix Film banner. Netflix has been a pioneer in supporting high dynamic range (HDR) for its original productions since 2015.


Disney+ is a streaming service from Disney. It’s the first to offer an ad-free experience and will feature content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. The service will cost $7.99 per month or $79 annually for customers — less than Netflix charges.


Uber is a ride-hailing company that has disrupted the taxi industry. It allows users to request a car ride by using their smartphone. The service operates in over 600 cities in more than 70 countries and generates billions of dollars annually for its parent company, Uber Technologies Inc., while providing flexible employment opportunities for drivers.

Uber was founded in San Francisco in 2009 by Garrett Camp, Oscar Salazar, and Travis Kalanick as UberCab—a luxury town car service similar to existing limousine services. After several months of testing, they rebranded as Uber once they received venture capital funding from Andreessen Horowitz and other Silicon Valley investors.


Tesla is a technology company that has used cutting-edge technology to disrupt the automotive industry, previously dominated by internal combustion engine vehicles.

Tesla’s electric vehicles (EVs) are also disruptive innovations because they are powered by batteries rather than gasoline or diesel fuel. The cost of EVs has decreased as battery technology improves, but they are still more expensive than ICE cars – so many consumers choose not to buy one. Most Americans still drive ICE cars instead of EVs despite their lower operating costs and better performance.


With the advent of e-commerce, companies began to make their products available to customers across the globe. Amazon was among the first few companies that introduce a wide range of products to its customers and allowed them to purchase those items from anywhere.

Amazon started as an online bookstore, but it has evolved into a global e-commerce and cloud computing leader. Today, it’s one of the largest online retailers offering millions of products at competitive prices. It also provides cloud infrastructure services for businesses looking for cost-effective solutions for their data storage needs.


Airbnb is a peer-to-peer marketplace that connects hosts with guests. Founded in 2008, Airbnb connects travelers and local hosts through the Internet. Today, it has more than 2 million listings in 65 countries and is one of the most popular websites for booking accommodations worldwide.

Their vision was based on three principles: people should have an easier way to find places to stay; they should be able to get information about their host before arriving at their home; and finally, they wanted a better way to connect with locals during their travels so they could learn more about the area they’re visiting.


It allows users to upload, view, share, rate, add to favorites, report, and comment on videos. In addition to being one of the most-watched websites globally, it’s also the 2nd-largest search engine worldwide after Google. 

Final words

The innovation method isn’t the kind of thing you can use once to solve a problem and never use again. Instead, it’s an approach that can be applied to any number of complex problems to help streamline finding better solutions. It’s a valuable tool for designers and decision-makers looking for better ways to accomplish goals in product design, technology development and management, finance, sales presentations, and many other areas.  

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart, and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling, and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience, and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems, and visualizing future trends!

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