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Meet the team at Cambridge Design Partnership – a brief profile of the experts, engineers and interesting people that work here. This month we’re talking to Nicki Sutton, who joined the company earlier this year, and focuses on front end innovation.

Why did you join Cambridge Design Partnership?
I had known about the company for a number of years and had been watching it grow and develop as an organisation. I knew CDP firmly believed in human-centred design and considered stakeholder need to be an essential piece of the innovation jigsaw - whilst also having the ability to translate insight into great products. This appealed to me as my career had taken in technology and product development in one position and front end innovation research in another. I saw Cambridge Design Partnership as a company that spanned the whole innovation process and which would enable me to find the missing jigsaw piece in my own career in innovation.

What background do you come from and how do you apply this knowledge to your current role?
My early university life saw me obtain undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in physics and biomedical engineering respectively – culminating in postgraduate research in biomedical microfluidics. Whilst working for a Cambridge bioscience start-up I got to experience product development from client-side. However, after working on a product with a technology development consultancy, I decided I’d rather be on their side of the fence where life was more project-based with the scope to work on many different products in a variety of market sectors – so I joined their ranks.

The work was very focused on technology-push, however; a development route that didn’t sit comfortably with me. I always believed that unmet need was a more appropriate starting point for innovation so I took a breather from corporate life for a year and studied for an MSc in Strategic Marketing at Cranfield School of Management. I then worked in front end innovation for a number of years, using Outcome-Driven Innovation and other methods to identify market opportunity and devise innovation strategies for global clients. It was frustrating having to hand over the insight at the end of each project – without seeing or being able to influence where they led – which was another reason I was keen to join CDP.

My background spans a number of the steps required to implement the full needs research-to-product service that Cambridge Design Partnership offers its clients. Whilst my focus is still front end innovation, I can use my science and engineering training to help balance market need with technical feasibility and to be the internal customer advocate throughout the development process.

What interesting projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently helping an organisation that has its traditions in a particular market sector, to extend its platform technology into healthcare. Essentially, we’re able to start with a blank piece of paper, scope out future trends that will determine where the greatest opportunities are likely to lie, then devise new product concepts that will meet the demanding needs of the healthcare environment.

We’re finding that these open strategy briefs are becomingly increasingly common so have adapted our front end innovation approach to accommodate them. They’re refreshing as they really open the door for some genuinely breakthrough products and demonstrate our full range of creative thinking.

What do you see as the hot trends in your area at the moment and what is coming up in the future?
Closer attention to user need has to be applied in some of the ubiquitous technology-led trends at the moment, such as ’wearable technology’ and use of ’big data’. Continuing development may eventually converge into numerous products and apps that deliver genuine value. However, at the moment, I think technology is still the dominant driving force and, subsequently, nobody has quite hit the sweet spot and realised the potential in these areas.

Do you have any hobbies outside work?
Life outside of work revolves around sport and travel. This year I’m managing to combine cycling with my love of travel and am part walking / part cycling the Camino de Santiago – an 800km pilgrim trail from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. The pancake flat Cambridgeshire Fens don’t really provide the best training landscape for taking on the terrain of Northern Spain but I’m confident of making it to Santiago in time for my flight home!

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