Early Involvement of Industrial Designers in Product Development: Exploring Motives and Challenges
Licentiate thesis, 2009
The ability to develop and market products that customers value determines a firm’s competitiveness, and product development that aims at competitive advantage must address
development efficiency in a conscious way. From a strategic point of view, improvements in the early phases of product development, before a development project is launched, are
emphasized, and there is a need to study the best way to organize front end teams, and what personal qualities are likely to facilitate front end performance.
The role of industrial designers as mainly giving shapes to products has evolved, and both design scholars and practitioners advocate that the skills and practices of industrial designers can contribute to a better understanding of end-users and to creating solutions to their needs.
Yet few firms fully understand where, how and when they can actually use design, which results in a fragmented design effort, and the organization does not achieve the full benefits from the possibilities with design.
This thesis sets out to investigate the role of industrial designers in the early phases of product development, and takes its point of departure in an empirical study of two industrial manufacturing companies in Sweden and their internal and external design partners. The thesis deals with what motives companies might have for this early involvement and factors affecting design collaboration on an individual and inter organizational level.
The results of this study showed three principal motives for companies to involve industrial designers in the front end: involving for innovativeness, involving for customer understanding, and involving for process facilitation through visualization. The thesis also showed many
challenges for a company setting out to include design in the front end. Key factors that were found to affect collaboration were generally of two types: related to the different professional cultures involved, and related to the position of design in the company. The main contribution
of the thesis is that it offers an understanding of the use of industrial designers in a context that has been scarcely studied: the combination of industrial designers in the front end of product development in “non-designerly” companies. Rich case study examples illustrate both
possible benefits and pit holes along the way.