Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 11
Issue 4
Wood Technology
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume11/issue4/art-23.html


Stanisław Dzięgielewski, Beata Fabisiak
Department of Furniture Design, Poznan University of Life Sciences, Poland



The article presents the results of research carried out in various countries, in order to describe the impact of design on different aspects of company operations. More and more attention is paid nowadays to those strategic tools that can enable the company the differentiation of its products and gaining the competitive advantage on the market. It turns out that design is considered to be one of the most crucial factors influencing the development of the company.

Key words: furniture, design, development of the company, economic effects of design.


The observed high rate of changes taking place in the modern world poses a very serious challenge to managers of enterprises operating in highly developed countries. The process of globalisation, the ease and speed of the transfer of technology, knowledge and information, increased levels of market competition and growing consumer requirements who have access to the ever increasing quantity of goods meeting their everyday needs, all the above-listed factors have made it necessary to concentrate especially on these aspects which can contribute to making manufactured products distinguishable in one way or another and achieving, by a given company, an advantage over its competitors. It is believed that one of such factors can be the readiness and capability of an enterprise to innovation, understood as the process of designing of new products as well as their marketing and sale [18]. It is the design, believed to be a powerful strategic tool playing a fundamental role in companies [11,17] that constitutes a means which is becoming an essential factor allowing enterprises to achieve a market success. It is critical to remember that the design process is not restricted only to giving a specific product an aesthetic appearance but also it should be viewed as a wide, multidisciplinary approach to product design allowing to give products their required form and function and, at the same time, taking care that they are characterised by appropriate technical properties, features associated with, among others, their ergonomics, functionality, strength, safety or durability. In addition, design affects all aspects connected with production, distribution, marketing and sale. Designing should be treated as a device allowing to combine into a single, logical and consistent whole the entire range of the company's actions accompanying the given product during all phases of its life and which contribute to the achievement of its market success.

The objective of this study is to present the role played by industrial design in the development of activities functioning in conditions of modern economy in highly developed countries.


At the present time, a very strong emphasis is placed on design development, on seeking new, creative and innovative solutions. This is particularly important in the countries which achieved high levels of technological development. Whereas in the case of enterprises operating in developing countries productivity can be increased and advantages over competitors gained by the employment of the existing technologies or introduction of improvements in the remaining fields of their activities, companies operating in developed countries must resort to other methods as the above-mentioned ones are insufficient as a rule. Firms acting in those countries must fall back on other resources such as designing and development of new, distinguishable and innovative products and processes. There is no doubt that such activities require the creation of appropriate conditions which will support and encourage these types of activities and promote the importance of design, creativity and flexibility in seeking new solutions for the development of enterprises and achieving by them competitive advantages.

The significance of these values for modern economy was emphasised by the Council of Europe in Lisbon in the year 2000, when special attention was drawn to the necessity to increase the competitiveness of European enterprises and to transform the European Union into a knowledge-driven and most competitive and dynamic world economy [10]. Two years later, in Barcelona, an ambitious strategic target was set according to which, by the year 2010, expenditures on research and development in Europe should reach the level of  3% GDP [1]. Fig. 1 shows the level of spending on research and development activities, including design, as well as the index of the economic activity expressed in terms of GDP per capita in EU-25.

Fig. 1. The level of spending on research-development activities, including design, and GDP per capita

The analysis of the above data reveals that the EU old member-states are characterised by a high income per capita as well as high expenditures on research and development. From among the old EU members, Sweden and Finland show the highest level of expenditure for research and development, while Greece and Portugal spend the smallest sums on research and development and are characterised by the lowest GDP per capita. The new member states of the European Union, including Poland, spend much less on the research and development activities and achieve much lower income than the EU-15 countries. It is worth stressing that there is a linear correlation between the level of investment of a given country into the research and development activities and GDP. If the observed trend is maintained, then the assumed level of expenses on research and development of 3% will mean the per capita GDP of 30 000 €, while at the moment this value is 22 000 € [14]. Furthermore, investigations indicate that there is a correlation between investments in design and the competitiveness of a given economy [7]. It is also worth underlining that countries in which design is treated as a key factor in the development of enterprises are among the most competitive world economies [8].

It is evident from investigations carried out in Sweden [5] at the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004 that 75% of the examined companies invest in design employing designers or buying design services in design offices. It is also interesting to note that 50% of enterprises (2/3 of the companies using design) utilise design both by employing qualified designers and making use of designers working in design offices. The performed studies [15] show that also part of British production enterprises pays much attention to the design of products manufactured by them. According to investigations whose aim was to gather information which would allow to determine to what extent designing is used in enterprises, up to 76% of manufactures said that design constitutes an integral or important aspect of the activity of their companies. On the other hand, only 9% of the interviewed production enterprises stated that design plays no role in their operations (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Importance of design in production enterprises

In the course of recent years, the role and importance of designing has been increasing steadily [5]. To a considerable extent, this increase can be attributed to the growing consumer requirements. The performed investigations indicate that 51% of companies reported increases in their investments in design during recent years. Only a small proportion of enterprises (merely 7%) showed a decline in investments associated with design activities. It is logical and complies with a trend of increasing demand for designing which also indicates that investments in design will continue to increase [5].

It should also be remembered that modern enterprises operate in the environment which is characterised by permanent changes in requirements and expectations of consumers. There is no doubt that no product can be manufactured in an unchanged form for an unlimited length of time. Enterprises which want to gain a durable advantage over their competitors must watch carefully changes taking place on the market and modify permanently the portfolio of the offered articles. It is precisely decisions associated with the process of development of new products, the withdrawal from the market or modification of the existing products that precondition the survival and development of the company on the market [12]. In the past, a well-designed product guaranteed a company the success and profits for many years but today such a situation appears impossible. The life-cycle of individual products has undergone a significant shortening. At present, this period rarely means years, more and more frequently – rather months. It is estimated that up to 80% of new articles which we shall be using in 10 years from now have not been invented yet [20]. Strong emphasis is placed not only on the shortening of the process of product preparation but, simultaneously, on the widening of the assortment of the offered articles and development of products which may meet the growing requirements of consumers most comprehensively.

At the present time, much attention is paid to the process of product development. Transformations which have taken place in modern economical reality have also made it necessary to depart from competing by means of price in favour of conferring a given product higher added value. Hence, we can observe an important new trend consisting in the abandonment of production characterised by low costs in favour of high added value resulting from factors not connected with price such as quality and design [20].

The application of the design process allows winning a competitive advantage resulting from the capability of an enterprise to design, manufacture and introduce into the market an original offer of products. It is exactly this originality, innovativeness and design that make consumers perceive given articles as better, more unique than others and which allow them to distinguish them from products offered by competing enterprises. It is also worth drawing attention to the fact that consumers are ready to pay more for products which fulfil to a greater degree their requirements associated, among others, with the feeling of prestige or which meet their aesthetic, emotional or practical  requirements since for them such products present higher value [13]. Furthermore, it should be remembered that by purchasing a given product, the consumer buys not only this particular article but, equally importantly, a whole set of advantages perceived by him/her and which comprise both material and immaterial traits creating a competitive advantage at the present moment and in future with regard to local and international markets [18]. It can, therefore, be said that the design process is very important for modern enterprises and design is perceived as a key instrument without which no company aiming at achieving a significant position, either on the domestic or international market, can operate. It is also worth underlining that design is an important form of innovation, especially in such sectors as furniture science which is oriented towards a permanent improvement of the design value of the offered products [4].

The great importance of design for the development of enterprises was confirmed by investigations conducted in Great Britain [3]. It was shown that 74% of rapidly growing British enterprises invest in design and in the case of 69% of companies design contributed to the increase in the competitiveness of these companies. Firms which invest in design in their activities achieve the greatest market successes, develop quickly, are characterised by creativity and flexibility. Therefore, it is important for company managers to be aware of the importance and possibilities associated with the application of design in their enterprises. Absence of such awareness as a key factor leading to success can result in the stagnation of the company, lack of development opportunities or poor operational results. It is also evident from the discussed survey that design plays a crucial role in the activities of up to 90% of rapidly growing enterprises, while only 26% of managers of stagnating companies consider design to be important for the operation of their enterprises. In addition, 79% of the rapidly developing enterprises declared that design, innovativeness and creativity has either a strong or visible impact on the increase of productivity, whereas only 4% of managers of enterprises which failed to show any growth expressed a similar opinion (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Significance of design in the operations of rapidly growing and stagnating enterprises

A positive influence of design on the development of activities of enterprises was also confirmed by investigations carried out among 1000 companies in Denmark [16]. The results of the discussed survey showed that enterprises that introduce design usually develop faster, export more and achieve higher income (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Impact of design on the results of operation of enterprises

Investigations aiming at determining benefits associated with the application of design were also carried out on a group of Spanish enterprises [2]. Using a scale of 1 to 7, respondents were asked to assess what impact the application of design exerted on individual aspects of activities of their company (Fig. 5).

The results of the discussed studies revealed that design exerted the strongest influence on the improvement of the company's image, improvement in the market share, increased level of customers' satisfaction as well as increased competitiveness. Among the remaining advantages gained thanks to the application of design, the surveyed managers also mentioned: improvement of the process of product development and possibilities of diversification of the product portfolio as well as increased sales, quality improvement of manufactured articles, breaking into new markets. It should also be stressed that the expressed high evaluation of the design on the remaining aspects of the activities of companies, among others, on the level of rentability, export levels or cost reduction further confirms the importance of design in the examined enterprises.

Fig. 5. Effect of design on activities of the enterprise

Investigations conducted in Sweden provide further evidence that the application of design leads to a wide range of advantages for the development and operation of enterprises [5]. One of the sectors in which designing is perceived as one of essential factors influencing competitiveness is furniture industry. Research results revealed that of all the production industries, in Sweden, it is the furniture industry that invests most in design (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Share of enterprises investing in design

Investigations aiming at determining the share of industrial design in enterprise development were also carried out in Poland. The survey was conducted among enterprises belonging to the following branches of industry: furniture, textile and household equipment. The study made an attempt to estimate, among others, the impact of designing on the process of product and company development [9]. The results of the discussed investigations carried out among furniture manufacturers are presented in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7. Impact of design on product and enterprise development in the branch of furniture industry

Managers of furniture manufacturing companies indicated that design exerted the strongest influence on the aesthetic values of individual products. The research results also confirmed that designing was of great significance for increasing product competitiveness. It was also emphasised that the design process played a crucial role in the course of strengthening the prestige and image of the company as well as in the improvement of product quality and functionality.


Recapitulating, it should be emphasised that the design process plays a considerable role in the development of enterprises. Deliberate application of design allows companies to create innovative articles of high aesthetic, ergonomic, functional and practical value capable of meeting the growing expectations and requirements of modern consumers. Companies which manufacture consumer goods, that is – among others – furniture should pay special attention to the changing behaviour, likes and dislikes as well as expectations of consumers and update and modernise permanently the portfolio of the offered products. It is evident from investigations carried out so far that designing is an important strategic instrument which modern enterprises can utilise in order to distinguish their products and win a competitive advantage over other companies and, in doing so, increase their chances for development and achieving a market success. It is important to make every effort so that the concern for the high design value sinks deep into the organisational structure of a given company and becomes an integral part of each and every activity.


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Accepted for print: 26.11.2008

Stanisław Dzięgielewski
Department of Furniture Design,
Poznan University of Life Sciences, Poland

Beata Fabisiak
Department of Furniture Design,
Poznan University of Life Sciences, Poland

Responses to this article, comments are invited and should be submitted within three months of the publication of the article. If accepted for publication, they will be published in the chapter headed 'Discussions' and hyperlinked to the article.