Guiding holistic thinking: 7 innovation frameworks that help us look beyond viability, feasibility and desirability.

Ned Gartside
6 min readFeb 27, 2022


Recently I wrote an article on why we as designers and strategists should now be looking beyond the traditional trio of desirability, feasibility and viability as guarantors of successful innovation, and instead need to think more holistically if we are to understand the full array of impacts, risks and opportunities before us.

The original ‘Three Lenses of Innovation’ associated with Design Thinking

Thankfully, there have been a number of attempts recently to create frameworks that do help us to think more broadly, by pointing to consideration of broader social and environmental factors beyond viability, feasibility and desirability. This article will serve as a brief introduction to 7 frameworks which I have found particularly thought provoking. 3 of these are visualisations which in different ways build upon the original Three Lenses diagram, while the other 4 examples take an array of different approaches.

Part 1: Frameworks that provide us ‘extra’ lenses

(i) Sebastien Mueller’s ‘Expanded Mental Model’

Sebastien Mueller, a founder of design firm Ming Labs, has created what he calls an expanded Mental Model. This supplements the original three lenses with another 2, to include ‘explicit consideration for societal impact (Responsibility) and ecological impact (Sustainability)’. With this framework he hopes to help guide consideration of products and services towards equal respect for ‘people, planet and profits’.

Sebastien Mueller’s ‘Expanded Mental Model’, featuring additional lenses for Responsibility and Sustainability.
Sebastien Mueller’s ‘Expanded Mental Model’, featuring additional lenses for Responsibility and Sustainability. Image credit: Ming Labs

Sebastien also suggests a series of questions that we can ask ourselves when designing products or services.

  • What input and output materials are required for my product or service? Where do they come from? And how are they produced?
  • What is the true ecological impact of my product or service, if I add up all activities required throughout the whole value chain?
  • What radical alternatives are available today or in the near future, that would reduce the ecological impact by 10X?
  • If my product or service were to run for the next 5000 years with incredible success, what irreversible damage would add up?
  • Is my creation aligned with principles used by nature in the sustenance of life on earth?
  • Would I be proud to tell my grandchildren that I was part of bringing this product or service into the world?

(ii) Board of Innovation’s ‘Future Centred Framework’

With their ‘future-centred’ framework, design and strategy firm Board of Innovation have added a fourth lens which they have labelled ‘Integrity’. They say this extra lens challenges us to think about how what we create ‘serves (or fails to serve) our society and our environment’.

Board of Innovation’s ‘Future-centered innovation sweet spot’, adding a fourth lens for ‘Integrity’ to the original three.
Board of Innovation’s ‘Future-centered innovation sweet spot’, adding a fourth lens for ‘Integrity’ to the original three.

In terms of putting the framework into practice, Board of Innovation have tested the 4 Lens visualisation, and report that ‘innovators were reminded and motivated to take the broader impact of their ideas into account. In at least three of the six teams tested, the future-centred innovation sweet spot clearly impacted the way they approached their concepts.’

They’ve also come up with another design tool, a ‘Social Impact Wheel’, to help organisations review how they are doing in terms of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

(iii) Livework’s ‘Four Nested Levels’

Instead of adding other lenses to accompany viability, feasibility and desirability, in the April 2021 issue of service design magazine Touchpoint, Sanne Pelgröm and Erik Roscam Abbing from Livework describe their visualisation that adds 4 nested ‘levels’ to each of the three lenses. These levels describe what they see as a need for ‘evolution’ of the original three lenses, moving from a focus on individual consumers and companies, and instead towards consideration of wider, systemic perspectives. They write: ‘The model encourages the designer to think at four different levels of abstraction concurrently, to connect the macro to the micro, the abstract to the concrete and the visionary to the realistic.’

Sanne Pelgröm and Erik Roscam Abbing’s ‘Four Nested Levels’ within the traditional Three Lenses, progressing from the individual interaction to the wider systemic perspective.
Sanne Pelgröm and Erik Roscam Abbing’s ‘Four Nested Levels’ within the traditional Three Lenses, progressing from the individual interaction to the wider systemic perspective.

For desirability, this means going beyond human needs, taking into account the needs of all participants in our planet's naturally-balanced ecosystem.

Viability would look beyond competition and individual survival. It would
not only include reducing impact while maximising revenue, but would also aim to build systemic resilience based on mutual generosity.

Feasibility would be non-proprietary and distributed in open networks of collaboration.

Part 2: Frameworks that visualise the big picture in other ways

(iv) The Iceberg Canvas

The Iceberg Canvas is a ‘conscious design framework for re-evaluating value propositions’ created by Karwai Ng & Will Anderson. It differs from standard design thinking approaches as it seeks, as the name implies, to consider the ‘unseen’ factors below the iceberg, ‘the forces at play below the polished surface’ of products and services, to help us consider ‘societal, environmental and political ramifications’. To do this, we are encouraged to ask questions such as ‘what is the potential positive or negative impact of this product/service on the individual, people and society? What are some trickle down effects? What is the longer-term effect on the economy, society and the environment?’

The Iceberg Canvas

Instructions on using the Iceberg Canvas can be found on Google’s Design Kit.

(v) The ‘Planet Centred Persona’

Smaply, a producer of journey mapping software, argue that it is our responsibility as designers to adopt a planet-centric mindset and ‘create, adapt and improve’ products and services to deal with the threat of global warming. One way they suggest we might ‘put ourselves in the planet’s shoes’ is to create a Planet Persona, which ‘can be used to visualize the environment’s needs and pain points in your business context, and ultimately aims to give the planet a voice within your design and innovation process.’ Guidance on how to create a Planet Persona most relevant for particular projects, as well as how to include this persona in journey maps, can be found on Smaply’s blog.

The Planet Persona
Smaply’s Planet Persona

(vi) The Triple Layered Business Model Canvas

The standard, single-layered Business Model Canvas affectively considers the areas of the traditional three lenses of innovation — the viability, feasibility and desirability of a business model or service. Alexandre Joyce has made a go of adding two more layers to create what he calls a ‘triple bottom-line approach’, to help users develop businesses that are more genuinely sustainable in the long-run. The second layer features nine environmental aspects, considering the lifecycles of products and other impacts, and the third nine areas of social impact, encompassing a wider view of all stakeholders. The academic paper written on the Triple Layered Business Model Canvas and featuring detailed guidance on its application can be found here.

The original Business Model Canvas — focused on economic success
The original Business Model Canvas — focused on economic success
The ‘Environmental Life Cycle’ Business Model Canvas
The ‘Environmental Life Cycle’ Business Model Canvas
The ‘Social Stakeholder’ Business Model Canvas (Layer 3)
The ‘Social Stakeholder’ Business Model Canvas (Layer 3)

(vii) The Value Mapping Tool (for Sustainable Business Modelling)

This value mapping tool was created by researchers at the University of Cambridge to help organisations ‘better understand their overall value proposition, both positive and negative, for all relevant stakeholders’ and to ‘integrate sustainability more fully into the core of their business’. The tool takes a ‘network centric’ view, and features 4 forms of value (customers, network actors, society and environment),to ‘facilitate a multi-stakeholder view of value’. Instructions on how to use the tool in a workshop context are included in this article.

The Value Mapping Tool, Bocken, N.M.P, Short, S.1, Rana, P.1, Evans, S., (University of Cambridge)

And that’s it for now! Do please ping me with any other frameworks you might have come across.



Ned Gartside

Designer very interested in sustainability, systems thinking and behavioural economics!