Exploring the opportunities between design thinking and micro-enterprises in regional Ireland
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This thesis follows Irish Design 2015 (ID2015), a year-long Government backed initiative and key component of the Action Plan for Jobs (APJ) 2015-2017. The aim of ID2015 was to grow awareness of Irish Design in order to support job creation, foreign trading and the increased competitiveness of Irish businesses (ID2015, 2016). Building on ID2015, Mary Mitchell O’Connor asserts that Design must become a key component in Ireland’s innovation agenda (2017). Design is now firmly associated with strategic management and innovation processes globally (Lawlor et al. 2015). Design Thinking (DT) emerged from these broader applications of Design, and is now identified as a co-creative strategic activity (Lindberg et al. 2010). While Design and DT are widespread among large organisations, awareness in smaller businesses is far less developed. 69% of Irish businesses never use Design, or use it only at a superficial level (Hennessy and Milton, 2017). Additionally, previous research on the relationship between Design and the wider-enterprise base in Ireland has made it difficult to see how it applies and relates to micro-enterprises. This research aims to develop a grounded theory on the relationship between DT and micro-enterprises in regional Ireland. It explores how DT offers strategic value to these businesses, by supporting understanding of the purpose and identity of the business for the owner. A qualitative research approach within five diverse micro-enterprises in an Irish town located in the South-East (SE) was undertaken to gain an empathetic understanding of their culture, difficulties and alignments with Design and DT. Categories generated in the pilot study, facilitate the collection and synthesis of all field studies. Further restructuring of these categories enables the identification of the core category and sub-categories of this study, which are illustrated in the final framework of business analysis. This framework is validated through comparative analysis with Doblin's ten types of Innovation framework (Monitor Deloitte, 2014). The validated framework directs the research to the development of two distinct but directly related Design interventions. Firstly, the method "Ecology Mapping" is created and encompasses a series of collaborative workshops where DT is practiced to empower the business owner in articulating their purpose and identity. Secondly, building on findings from the "Ecology Mapping" a strategy framework is developed. The intention of the strategy framework is to facilitate the owner in adopting and sustaining a Design-led approach to their business. Findings highlight that micro-enterprise owners have difficulties in articulating their purpose and identity, which is reflected throughout the business. This study indicates that DT can be a powerful instigator in re-invigorating the purpose and understanding of a micro-enterprise identity through the proposed "Ecology Mapping", which can enable the desire to adopt a Design-led approach. Additionally, research highlights that adopting a Design-led approach directly compliments the challenges facing micro-enterprise owners on a day-to-day basis, who despite being highly skilled and knowledgeable in their area of expertise, lack management, innovation and marketing skills. Therefore, this research asserts that the potential for Design and DT in the micro-enterprise is great, and engaging with Design at a strategic level from the outset can offer novel and broader value creation. However, many obstacles are faced in sustaining Design and DT among these businesses.
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