Meaning in the Making: Introducing a Hermeneutic Perspective on the Contribution of Design Practice to Innovation
Abstract: In recent years interest has grown in how design can contribute to innovation in business and society, such as through the management concept of design thinking. However, up-close studies on design’s contribution to innovation are still scarce. This may be one reason why rhetoric arguing the benefit of design in innovation con- texts is often related to pervasive innovation concepts, such as idea generation and problem-solving, rather than to concepts that capture tacit and embodied dimen- sions of design as an aesthetic practice. The purpose of this study is to develop an understanding of the contribution of design practice to innovation. This has been achieved through an experimen- tal research-approach in which five designers, through different interventions, in- volved multi-disciplinary groups of non-designers in experiencing design practice “hands-on” in five "non-designerly" companies. The aim of the interventions was to strengthen the innovativeness of the organizations. The interventions have been studied through ethnographically inspired methods and an interpretative and reflex- ive methodological approach. In the interventions established product understandings in the companies were challenged, initially leading to friction. However, the immersion in design hands-on meant that established meaning-spaces were gradually expanded through processes of entwined conversation and hands-on making. In these processes new product understandings were developed through aesthetic deliberation and material practice, which in three cases lead to innovative concepts that could not have been developed within the meaning-space in the organization before the interventions. This study thus sheds light on how the emergence of innovative concepts can be understood as processes of meaning-making, and how design practice may provide processes for such innovation work in multi-disciplinary contexts. It also suggests that when design practice is abstracted away, as is common in design thinking rheto- ric, relevant dimensions of design’s contribution to innovation may be lost. The main theoretical contribution is to show the relevance of hermeneutics as an explicit concept for understanding the contribution of design practice to innova- tion. This can be seen as establishing a missing link between design theory, design management studies and innovation management theory. Beyond articulating the contribution of design practice to innovation, this thesis also supports the relevance of understanding meaning-making as central to innovation.
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