The role of industrial design in technological innovation
This is an exploratory study in a field which previously was virtually unexplored. The aim is to identify, for the benefit of innovators, the influence of industrial design on the commercial success of new science-based products used for professional and industrial purposes. The study is a contribution to the theory of success and failure in industrial innovation. The study begins by defining the terminology. To place the investigation in context, there is then a review of past attempts by official policy-making bodies to improve the competitiveness of British products of manufacture through good design. To elucidate the meaning of good design, attempts to establish a coherent philosophy of style in British products of manufacture during the same period are also reviewed. Following these reviews, empirical evidence is presented to identify what actually takes place in successful firms when industrial design is allocated a role in the process of technological innovation. The evidence comprises seven case studies of new science-based products used for professional or industrial purposes which have received Design Council Awards. To facilitate an objective appraisal, evidence was obtained by conducting separate semi-structured interviews, the detail of which is described, with senior personnel in innovating firms, with industrial design consultants, and with professional users. The study suggests that the likelihood of commercial success in technological innovation is greater when the form, configuration, and the overall appearance of a new product, together with the detail which delineates them, are consciously and expertly controlled. Moreover, uncertainty in innovation is likely to be reduced if the appearance of a new product is consciously designed to facilitate recognition and comprehension. Industrial design is an especially significant factor when a firm innovates against a background of international competition and comparable levels of technological competence in rival firms. The likelihood of success in innovation is enhanced if design is allocated a role closely identified with the total needs of the user and discrete from the engineering function in company organisation. Recent government measures, initiated since this study began, are corroborative of the findings.