Design expertise in product development- a study of small wood manufacturing companies

Publicerad: 22 april 2006

The need to increase profit is large in many small wood manufacturing companies throughout Sweden. Today design investments in product development are believed to be a possible way. However, consulting design expertise puts large demands on both knowledge, time and resources. Something that often is limited in small wood companies.

Focusing the design process in cooperation with design expertise

Most design research today is concerned with larger companies and questions around it's management. Concerning the wood industry the focus is on furniture design in large companies. Within the combination of interest here (wood, small companies and design) almost no research is available.
The aim of this research is to document how small wood manufacturing companies use design expertise in their product development. More specifically the following questions will be investigated:
What does the development process look like using design expertise, what steps are included?
What problems and possibilities are experienced and which are the possible key factors influencing the project outcome?
Does the company and the design expert experience the same problems and possibilities?
This research was financed by “Research station Östra Norrbotten” aiming to find new ways to increase competitiveness in the region. The long-term aim is to increase knowledge about design in small wood manufacturing companies and contribute to more efficient design investments in the future.

Case studies

Three multiple case studies have been performed using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The first examining design use in nine companies from an overall perspective, the 2nd and 3rd focusing the development processes of 4 design projects performed in cooperation with a design consultant. For study 2 and 3 the model in figure 1 above was used as a framework for data collection and analysis.

Great diversity

Results show a great diversity concerning project management, development methods and communication between company and designer. Key factors influencing project outcome was found to be attitudes towards design, project management, communication and length of relationship between company and designer. Contextual factors like timing, competitors and financial opportunities also have varying influence.

The key is efficiency

Design investments can, if used efficiently, contribute to increased competitiveness in small wood manufacturing companies. The efficiency of an investment lies in the management and performance of the design process. However, a lack of experience and knowledge in this area (which is the case in many companies) can be compensated by great enthusiasm from the company's side and involving a skilled designer.

Kajsa Ekberg

Doctoral student

Kajsa Ekberg
Industrial Design
kajsa.ekberg@ltu.se