There is a growing belief that investing in industrial design is beneficial to company performance. This article sheds more light on how and when integrating industrial design in the product development process can enhance a company’s competitive position. The basic premise is that the impact of industrial design on company performance is not unconditional, but dependent on industry evolution and design strategy. We opted to define industrial design in a general way, namely as the activity that transforms a set of product requirements into a configuration of materials, elements and components. This activity can have an impact on a product’s appearance, user friendliness, ease of manufacture, efficient use of materials, functional performance, and so on.
The empirical data incorporated in this study stems from two Dutch manufacturing industries, namely home furniture and precision instruments. Home furniture and precision instruments were selected because the strategy of integrating industrial design in the product development process is rather mature in the first-named industry and emerging in the second. We collected data from firms investing considerably in industrial design (n = 23) and firms investing little to nothing in industrial design (n = 24), using a semistructured questionnaire that was administrated during face-to-face sessions with senior managers.
Two out of the three research hypotheses were supported. It was found that the extent to which firms integrate industrial design in new product development projects has a significant and positive influence on company performance (H1a), in particular when the strategy of investing in industrial design is relatively new for the industry involved (H1b). There was no systematic pattern indicating that design innovation is more important in industries where the use of design is mature than in industries where the use of design is emerging (H2). Instead, we found that design innovation has significant positive performance effects in both types of industries. One important managerial inference from our study is that new product development managers should consider the changing nature of competition during industry evolution while developing strategies that encompass the use of industrial design in new product development. Another important managerial inference is that, besides being innovative in the field of products, being innovative with respect to design and design strategy can help to enhance competitiveness regardless of industry evolution.