Design as a functional leader: a case study to investigate the role of design as a potential leading discipline in multinational organisations

Aftab, Mersha (2013) Design as a functional leader: a case study to investigate the role of design as a potential leading discipline in multinational organisations. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This research investigates the role of design as a ‘functional leader’1 in multinational organisations, to drive innovation successfully at a strategic level. It
involved a detailed case study of the innovation process, and practices within Philips Design, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, where design is a key function within the company but not yet recognised as a leading strategic discipline. Philips Design wanted design research to build an integrated map of its actual practices and correlate these with other corporate innovation practices, to help establish strategic recognition for their value. The doctoral challenge was to explicate the process and determine whether the findings have generic capacity to support the role of design as a leading functional discipline.

The investigation integrates an iterative loop of; abductive reasoning of design thinking and inductive reasoning of management thinking in an action research cycle. The case study was an empirical enquiry, where the researcher became a ‘participatory observer’ at Philips Design, conducting one-on-one interviews for data collection and refining their analysis using a Delphi Technique. The contribution to knowledge has been generated by combining these research
methods to represent data in a logical manner using visual mapping techniques to produce an explicitly defined ‘design innovation process map’ for Philips Design. Comparison with three other multinational organisations explored how each
perceives the contribution of design and the different roles it plays in their organisation. Triangulation with a third party expert was also used to validate the findings.

The correlation of the research with literature in the field explored the relationship between human behaviour, organisational culture and business innovation cycles and took this an incremental step forward by visually illustrating the conceptual relationship between different theories. The focus became understanding the reasons for the differences between the thinkers and the practitioners in a design team. Significantly, this led to it validating the theory of ‘Design Driven Innovation’ by Roberto Verganti (2009). The study contributes value to his theory of
innovation by highlighting four gaps in its application in multinational organisations and demonstrates that design can share the role of innovation leadership with other important functions only if it has an explicit process that aligns with organisational brand values and communicates the value generated by design effectively to the wider team.

Therefore, whilst the research has not been able to confirm whether design can lead an effective innovation process at a strategic level, rather it needs to share this role in multinational organisations, it has identified the major reason for this as the differences between design team thinkers trying to find viable options for the future
and practitioners trying to defend the core business in their organisation, resulting in a gap between strategy and operation. The research has confirmed the conditions
for design to act as a leading functional discipline and provided design practitioners with tools that can help in strategic decision-making.

It is hoped this research will inspire design researchers to carry out further study on the topic to improve and develop knowledge and competency to support the strategic role of design as a leading functional discipline in organisations. Also, that business, strategy and marketing researchers will be inspired to generate theories that could link the strategic role of the design innovation process to strategies in their own fields. Finally, the research identifies the need for quantitative research to explain the qualitative conceptual relationships it has depicted between designer behaviour and organisational culture in the different innovation cycles that exist in multinational organisations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: design driven innovation, design leadership, innovation processes, innovation, design thinkers, design practitioners
Subjects: W200 Design studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Design
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
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Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 05 Aug 2013 10:04
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 15:13

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