Ulises Navarro Aguiar
Design is increasingly acknowledged as a competitive factor and a strategic asset that generates value. Indeed, design allows firms to align themselves and respond to external factors and changes in their environment, via the creation of new (or revamped) products, services or brands. The nature of design is one of translating needs into practical and desirable solutions. Typically, in industrial B-to-B contexts, the role of design is exclusively restricted to products (and branding to some extent), a role inherited from a strong manufacturing tradition proper of industrialization.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the role of design has been shifting, emerging as an intangible asset and tackling new kinds of problems that go beyond the form and function of hard products. Despite this progress, Junginger (2006) affirms that many people still think that the role of design is limited to the invention and development of products for their external customers, overlooking the capacity of design to integrate and fine-tune organizations to achieve desired organizational change. What if design became deeply involved in the organizational life of a large industrial B-to-B manufacturing company, being used as a force for internal organizational change? What if the current assumptions held about the design practice were challenged across different departments?
Papanek (1995) asserted that the patterning and planning of any act toward a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process. Following the same line of thought, Buchanan (2008) contemplates the idea that organizations are products, and like any product, organizations can be designed by intelligent forethought and appropriate action. Also, Murani (1966) affirms that designers are planners with an aesthetic sense. Therefore, what role might designers play, as aesthetic planners, in designing a more desirable, effective and human-centered organization in an industrial B-to-B setting?
Understanding organizations as complex networked systems that can be designed, and departing from the premise that design has much to contribute to organization studies, this research seeks to investigate the role and meaning of design within an industrial B-to-B manufacturing company (Volvo GTT). It also aims to portray the different obstacles and resistance that arise when design is set in motion as a force for organizational change. Furthermore, it seeks to build upon and bring a design perspective to the conversation about organizational aesthetics, which has been going on in organization studies for several years.