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Are design-led innovation approaches applicable to SMEs?

Gulari, Melehat Nil; Fremantle, Chris


Melehat Nil Gulari


Guy Bingham

Darren Southee

John McCardle

Ahmed Kovacevic

Erik Bohemia

Brian Parkinson


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.


GULARI, M.N. and FREMANTLE, C. 2015. Are design-led innovation approaches applicable to SMEs? In Bingham, G., Southee, D., McCardle, J., Kovacevic, A., Bohemia, E. and Parkinson, B. (eds.) Proceedings of the 17th International conference on engineering and product design eduction (E&PDE 2015): great expectations: design teaching, research and enterprise, 3-4 September 2015, Loughborough, UK. Glasgow: Design Society [online], pages 556-561. Available from:

Conference Name 17th International conference on engineering and product design eduction (E&PDE 2015)
Conference Location Loughborough, UK
Start Date Sep 3, 2015
End Date Sep 4, 2015
Acceptance Date Sep 3, 2015
Online Publication Date Sep 3, 2015
Publication Date Sep 30, 2015
Deposit Date Nov 13, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 13, 2015
Publisher Design Society
Pages 556-561
ISBN 9781904670629
Keywords Design thinking; Design driven innovation; Innovation; SMEs
Public URL
Publisher URL


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