Beyond the Product – Enabling design services in small and medium sized enterprises

Abstract: While the design industry is moving into new domains, it seems that potential customers do not always understand how the designer can contribute beyond the aesthetically appealing product. The overall purpose of this thesis is to expand our understanding of design as an enabling service in the context of small and medium sized enterprises. Enabling design services have the potential to result in organizational learning and change. The co-creation of new knowledge and competencies can in turn enable the customer organization to become more innovative and able to deal with an ambiguous environment. The first part of the research consisted of interviews and workshops with the major industrial design consultancies in Sweden and Finland and some smaller American consultancies. A conceptual business model canvas based on service dominant logic is presented in the thesis to increase our understanding of the business of the industrial design consultancy. During the study, we observed several changes in the organization of the industrial design consultancy. We also noticed self-confidence among the industrial design consultancies in respect to their skills in methods to orchestrate collaboration and contribute to strategic development in customer organizations. An analysis of the initial interviews and workshops together with a literature study helped me to summarize the characteristics of the methods and processes designers are educated in as being integrative, collaborative and explorative. They are integrative in that they incorporate hands with thought, and theory with practice. They are collaborative in that interaction between individuals is a necessity to solve the wicked, ambiguous and open-ended problems the designer usually faces. This has resulted in designers being educated in methods involving a broad range of stakeholders such as users in development processes. Finally, the methods and processes are explorative in that they aim at ingenuity and focus on how things ought to be rather than on the present state. The second part of the research consisted of interviews and observations and had a focus on shared activities between design students and participants from small and medium sized companies. Design methods and processes were put into the context of organizational learning and change theories that centered on knowing as embodied and encultured. An activity theoretical model was applied to enrich the analysis of the diversity of perspectives that may lead to conflicting interpretation and negotiation in shared activities. The concepts of place and space were used to highlight the dynamics between how structures and human desires and needs motivated participants in the shared activities. Place is characterized by stability and is the strategy of the prevailing and often connected to identity. Space is practiced place and connected to change and human agency. The thesis presents how design services enabled individuals and organizations to be introduced to and to strengthen a given place, such as a discipline or organization. It also provides examples of the opposite, with individuals distancing themselves from a place, such as a discipline. Mediating artifacts and the integration of doing and reflection created experiences that evoked emotional involvement and enactment among the participants. Most activities resulted in creating space for change and learning and the outcome can be characterized as business and organizational development.