ARE DESIGN-LED INNOVATION APPROACHES APPLICABLE TO SMES?
Editor: Guy Bingham, Darren Southee, John McCardle, Ahmed Kovacevic, Erik Bohemia, Brian Parkinson
Author: Melehat Nil Gulari, Chris Fremantle
Institution: Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
Section: Learning Paradigm
This study analyses the design discourse and approaches in order to identify whether design-led
innovation approaches are applicable to SMEs. It discusses the number of concepts that are widely
used in design including design-driven innovation, design thinking and user-centred design to identify
to what extent these approaches are derived from the findings about SMEs, take SMEs’ characteristics
into consideration or meet SMEs’ specific needs.
To explore SMEs’ characteristics and design and innovation, not only literature but also a series of
interview conducted with SMEs (n=8) and designers (n=9) were consulted. To reflect design
innovation discourse, the core literature on design innovation and a number of audio-visual materials
that are publicly available were also analysed.
It has been found that most of the innovation approaches are exemplified through large enterprises and
multi-nationals. Findings indicate that several design innovation concepts encourage businesses to
understand their users who can provide valuable insights informing the design process. However,
SMEs often have close relationships with their customers, and they already integrate these insights to
their innovation processes. Note that SMEs do not incorporate such information into idea generation
process systematically. Most of the knowledge within the company is tacit. Thus, design innovation
should focus on articulation of this knowledge and integrating into the innovation process. A barrier to
innovation is SMEs avoid experimenting due to the risks involved. Rapid prototyping emphasised by
design thinking provides a low-cost opportunity to explore whether the new ideas will meet the needs
and requirements and address some of the uncertainties involved. Since it is cheap and quick, it is
relatively a safe way to address the uncertainty of innovation. Therefore, this aspect of design thinking
is applicable to SMEs’ innovation processes.