Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Business and Management.

Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Technological University Dublin, July, 2011.


Seismic shifts in 21st century market conditions – globalisation, immediate digital communications, rapidly developing technologies, an ever more sophisticated, knowledgeable consumer – create a new landscape for organisations seeking to create products of greater value, which better meet evolving needs and desires. While the marketing-led approach, dominant in the past half-century, focused on persuasion, design, with its specialised tools, is suggested to be more adept and flexible than marketing at understanding and providing relevant value for today’s consumer. A literature review argues that, in history, design has endured periods of particular strength followed by decline. This thesis examines the proposition that design is moving into an era of ascendancy. The literature review considers notions of design and designers’ involvement in the new product development (NPD) process, and suggests that they are having a wider input of increasing significance in NPD. This acts as a base for developing understanding of the role of designers, and their interface with business. Evidence was gathered in a case study approach at four industrial design consultancies creating products for a range of international clients, mostly in mature consumer product categories. Recorded interviews, observation and case diaries were analysed using an interpretivist approach, and themes were built from this data. Greater responsibility – leadership – on the part of design was manifest in numerous ways in the work of the designer and consultancy design studio. The findings suggest an overall transition from a marketing-led NPD approach to one of ‘design leadership’. First, designers are taking greater responsibility in solving problems of greater weight and complexity than in previous generations. The role and remit of the designer has expanded to embrace some of the tasks traditionally associated with the marketer. Second, the nature of the relationship between designer and client is instrumental in determining how the designer is involved in NPD. A growing closeness means that designers are involved from the beginning, or even pre-project, and this allows greater input in realms beyond product function and aesthetics. Third, consultancies are reorienting their offering to one of involvement across the NPD project. Studios consult in the clients’ overall business strategy, and become coordinators – leaders – in the product’s realisation. There is a shift from designers following marketers’ suggestions to designers acting as consultants in the purest sense. Design leadership denotes an approach whereby designers marry the sensibilities of business with the experiential approach of design. The findings of the study are synthesised in a series of models that act as a guide for consultancies and clients as they navigate the shift to greater design leadership. These models have considerable implications for design in practice, as well as for policy and design education. Chiefly, they become a substantive tool to enhancing the designer’s empowerment in the business context, as they become involved in, and take decisions upon, a wider ranging breadth of activity of ever-increasing significance.


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