Book Reviews

Date01 December 1993
Publication Date01 December 1993
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8551.1993.tb00064.x
British Journal
of
Management,
Vol.
4,275-279 (1993)
Book
Reviews
V.
WALSH, R. ROY, M. BRUCE, and
S.
POTTER
Winning
by
Design.
Blackwell Business, Oxford, 1992.
Over the last few decades, Britain’s international compe-
titiveness in manufactured good has been declining, with
a loss
of
market share to Germany and Japan and an
increased penetration of import. This may be attributed
to insufficient investment of resources in research and
development (R&D) and product development, resulting
in poor competitiveness on design, innovation, product
quality and price. Britain may have a strong design con-
sultancy business and the Design Council, a national
body to promote design, but the resources actually spent
on design in industry do not match those of more compe-
titive countries. The authors found that ‘design con-
sciousness’ was very variable in British companies, with
relatively few companies perceiving its value for business
performance. This draws us to the book’s main argu-
ment, which is that good product design is crucial to
the performance of firms and economies.
The book provides an excellent analysis of the litera-
ture, relevant to understanding the influence of organiza-
tion, marketing, human resources, business strategy and
government schemes on design and
its
commercial
sue
cess. Design is theoretically clarified in terms of its role
in the innovation process, the new product development
process and R&D work. The arguments are illustrated
through interesting case studies, such as bicycle techno-
logy, railways and the car industry. This reflects the inter-
ests of some of the authors, who are members of the
Design Innovation Group (DIG), which was established
in 1979 at the Open University and UMIST. The DIG
aims to investigate the role of design and innovation
in international competitiveness and to identify the prod-
uct development and strategic management practices
associated with commercial success. Set against
a
com-
prehensive literature review
of
the design process, the
authors report some of the DIG’S empirical work, which
is focused on the often neglected incremental innovation
end of the innovation spectrum. Radical innovations
have tended to receive more attention by researchers and
policy makers alike, possibly because they may lead to
technological revolutions, fundamental industrial
changes and contribute to ‘long wave’ economic upsw-
ings. However, the authors suggest that incremental
improvements and new designs are often more important
commercially and economically, than is usually realized.
Indeed, for the firm, a strategy aimed at making incre-
mental improvements
to
products is less risky and there-
fore more likely to lead to commercial success.
Initial research by the DIG focused on successful Bri-
tish companies
of
all sizes, chosen from industries that
had experienced
a
decline in relative performance over
the
last
decade. The research investigated the relationship
between business performance, good design and the man-
agement of product development in British companies
working in mature industries, such as plastic products,
bicycles and motor vehicles. This provided hypotheses
for
a
subsequent international study of further industries,
such as office furniture, domestic heating equipment and
office electronics, in several countries including Den-
mark, Sweden, Holland, Japan and Canada. The authors
report further on a related DIG study of design and inno-
vation management in industries such as railways, air-
craft, chemicals, lightning and consumer electronics.
Lastly, DIG conducted a major study of over
200
British
firms, which had received design consultancy support
as part of a Government scheme, and assessed the com-
mercial risks and returns on investments in design in
small and medium-sized manufacturing firms.
It is difficult to prove conclusively that product design
is crucial to the business performance of firms, as there
are
so
many other factors involved. Using various mea-
sures of ‘good design’, such as ratings by the Design
Council, design awards and peer group assessments, the
researchers found that ‘design conscious’ firms per-
formed significantly better commercially than a represen-
tative sample of ‘typical’ firms. However, there were
differences between sectors on different measures
of
financial and market performance. Furthermore, the
authors recognize that good design is not the only factor
influencing commercial success, as not all ‘design con-
scious’ firms performed well commercially, e.g. the toy
company Meccano went bust shortly after being listed
on the Design Council’s index of ‘good design’. The most
successful firms were characterized by a ‘systems’
approach to the design innovation process. Management
skills in co-ordinating the work
of
those involved and
shared decision making within multifunctional teams
or
1045-3 172/93/040275-05$07.50
0
1993 by John Wiley
&
Sons, Ltd.

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