Many of the companies and organizations we work with on a culture of innovation focus want to set up an innovation center or lab. This can actually be done in just a day with basic materials. Use a design thinking innovative mindset to get into action quickly with a prototype for your innovation center that you could keep iterating and evolving. In this article, we will explore innovation center ideas—7 basic elements that you likely already possess and can implement to bring your concept of an innovation center to life and make it a physical reality much sooner rather than later.

Before diving into the specifics, let’s clarify the innovation center meaning: it is a dedicated space where organizations of any kind can foster creativity and development, often resembling labs or makerspaces. Organizations of any kind can benefit from the establishment of an innovation center, lab or makerspaces on their own site. Innovation centers and their kin establish a physical space for the digital and physical tools and fruits of innovation.

Beyond conducting facilitated innovation centers in the space, companies will oftentimes use an innovation center to showcase their own innovations or new products to employees, investors or even customers. And, as spaces for innovation, innovation centers typically include the latest technologies and tools for employees to use to experiment or iterate on their ideas or see how else they might apply the technologies in their business.

An innovation center also serves as a space where people can gather and design thinking for innovation can directly happen, meaning it is designed to host brainstorming sessions, design sprints, or innovation workshops. Organizations need to structure and outfit the innovation space for mobility and collaboration to accommodate this innovation, especially for innovation teams to engage in design thinking or agile activities.

Here, I outline both the tools and supplies for the most basic setup of an innovation center, as well as explore some of the kinds of technologies you might consider including given your own innovation goals and needs.

Innovation centers, labs, hubs, and makerspaces

Innovation Center Ideas: The Essentials and Basics

Here are some of the common elements we’ve seen across innovation centers and labs. Much of what is needed is so basic that you probably have enough things in your office to pull off a prototype of an innovation center or lab in an empty room today! Design thinking, design sprints, lean, and agile are popular approaches that are human centered, collaborate, and quickly iterative…and can be applied in an innovation center. While I believe various innovation center ideas can be executed through approaches like Agile, where teams do daily standup meetings, collaborate, or chalk up a scrum board, anywhere, a physical space – like an innovation center-can help. I imagine an Agile physical space to look like an innovation lab would. Many organizations use design thinking to create innovations and agile or scrum approaches to execute and advance on that innovation project.

Top 7 Essential Elements for an Innovation Center

1. Electronic displays

For sharing updates or announcements about upcoming events. Displays help the whole team or participants in the innovation center see visually what you are working on. Much of the focus on innovation is digital innovation, so have plenty of monitors and displays that people can easily plug their mobile devices or laptops into to show something or share their screen.

2. Whiteboards and Wall Space

So teams could have their kanban/scrum boards with stories they are completing displayed. Whiteboards help teams rapidly visualize ideas or projects. I’ve also seen innovation centers that utilize whiteboard paint on the walls. In our design thinking sessions we make full use of wall space and the whiteboards with post it notes or using painters tape to stick a concept to the wall that people can gallery browse or vote on to validate further.

3. Moveable tables and chairs

So teams can work together or partner off to help each other. If you are hosting an innovation event or design thinking workshop oftentimes you will divide up the larger group. Being able to easily move the tables and chairs helps. Plus, you can keep the room fresh and experiences fresh with new configurations.

4. Open space

Utilize open space for customer events or non-traditional meetings that may be more high touch and feel or collaborative. Many of our innovation sessions are done standing up or in movement…especially with the walls or with partners. It is nice to have open space outside of the tables and chairs for this. Plus, you may bring in something large and physical to demo, tinker with, or use as inspiration. Open space helps.

5. Rapid prototype making materials

There are many great digital prototyping tools that people can use on the device they bring with them. It is also essential that this space have “low-tech” office supplies to help you get into action quickly at a visual and physical level, like:

  • Magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Foam boards
  • Post it notes
  • Markers
  • Painter’s tape
  • Blank sheets of paper…big and small
  • Selfie sticks (to create quick videos or pictures)
  • Any other materials you have handy both high and low tech. We also encourage people to raid the supply room or grab or use anything from the office, room, or nearby.

6. Small room or moveable walls

To hold private meetings, take phone calls, or host a virtual workshop from. I’ve seen innovation centers also be offices for innovation leaders. In this case it is great to be able to divide the larger room into smaller rooms.

7. People

This is the most important part. You can get people together in any space for innovation to happen. You don’t need all of the bells and whistles. Try to have a trained innovation facilitator who can guide people through design thinking or innovation activities. Almost anyone can participate and has something of value to add to an innovation session…but you will get better results with session participants who are trained, skilled, and have an interest and mindset for innovation!

At the very least just get people together and start with an activity…just get into action! Don’t let the development of an innovation center stop you from taking action on innovation and design thinking. Start by keeping it simple with the things we have listed above that almost every organization has. Iterate your innovation center or lab from there. Use the innovation process to develop your innovation center. A criticism of innovation centers is that sometimes people in the organization think that the center is the only place where innovation happens. Make sure that you have a culture of innovation that values innovation from anyone, anywhere, anytime. A center can provide the extra boost due to it’s focused space and tools.

A center can also be the home base for your design thinking facilitators and innovation coaches. Since the room is set up for design thinking (and may be where the supplies are stored), it can be an ideal space to host an innovation design thinking facilitator train the trainer program for those trainers, facilitators, coaches, and leaders in your organization.

Beyond the Basics

Innovation Center Technologies You Might Include

Many innovation centers showcase new technologies that are being experimented with, in development, or are ripe for application for the organization. The innovation center can be a place where people get their hands on the new tech for the first time. Sometimes workshops will be held in the room to demonstrate new technologies so people might think of unique applications to the organization.

  • Virtual Reality headsets
  • Prototyping tools
  • The latest IoT or connected devices that relate to your industry
  • A 3D printer or CNC machine
  • Connected wearables
  • Various mobile devices to view rapid prototypes or wireframes of apps, sites, etc.
  • Any new tech gadget that is gaining in popularity, such as an Apple Vision Pro device or in the past Amazon Alexa voice enabled device, etc.

    Would you like help creating and offering programs to get your innovation center moving forward? Please contact us to share what you are working on.