Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Briefing beyond Documentation: An Interview Study on Industrial Design Consulting Practices in Finland

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Briefing beyond Documentation: An Interview Study on Industrial Design Consulting Practices in Finland

Article excerpt

Introduction

The specific phases and outcomes of design projects are often open-ended and subject to change. However, design consultants are often pressured to predict the full scope of projects upfront when securing commissions. The situation is complicated by the fact that design consultants often have only partial insights into the processes, challenges and operations of clients’ businesses at the pre-project phase or the early phase of a project (e.g., Hakatie & Ryynänen, 2007, pp. 42-44). Establishing effective practices for briefing and sales, therefore, represents a prime concern for design consultants in settling the scope of their work in projects.

This paper reports on a study of the professional context of industrial design consulting in Finland and the practices of consultants in settling briefs for projects and securing commissions from clients. To date, a number of practical guidelines and recommendations have been published to aid designers and managers in formulating and managing briefs in different fields of design, including architecture (e.g., Blyth & Worthington, 2001; Cox & Hamilton, 1995), visual communication and advertising (e.g., Morrison, Knox, Ellis, & Pringle, 2011) and design management (e.g., Phillips, 2004). Focused research studies have addressed the real-life briefing practices of designers in more regulated fields of design, such as architecture and civil engineering (e.g., Bendixen & Koch, 2007; Luck, Haenlein, & Bright, 2001; Ryd, 2004; Ryd & Fristedt, 2007). Briefing in other design fields has received sporadic research attention through studies on problem framing (e.g., Dorst & Cross, 2001; Hey, Joyce, & Beckman, 2007; Paton & Dorst, 2011), or requirements elicitation and documentation (e.g., Haug, 2015; Wild, McMahon, Darlington, Liu, & Culley, 2010). Studies on client-designer relationships indirectly address briefing by studying how client companies work with and manage external designers (e.g., Bruce & Morris, 1994; Hakatie & Ryynänen, 2007) or how client-design consultant relationships are established and maintained (e.g., Bruce & Docherty, 1993). The reported study adds to the past guidelines and research efforts by providing a focused empirical perspective on the professional context of briefing in industrial design consulting and the practices used by consultants in settling the brief for new projects with clients.

By studying briefing beyond problem framing and answering the call for studies on the “meta-activities” design consultants engage in while formulating briefs for projects (Paton & Dorst, 2011, p. 575), we provide insights into, and practical guidance for, how industrial design consultants structure interactions with clients during briefing and sales prior to project commission. Through an inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006, pp. 83-84) of interviews with and documents collected from 19 experienced industrial design consultants in Finland, we identify how briefing and sales are entwined during this pre-project phase of industrial design consulting and the impact of this on the interactions between clients and design consultants. We found that consultants engage with briefing and sales simultaneously, which presents challenges for settling effective briefs with potential clients. Moreover, we argue that the entwinement limits the possibilities for design consultants to iterate the initial brief throughout projects, as often recommended in literature (e.g., Blyth & Worthington, 2001; Phillips, 2004; Ryd, 2004). We note that the broader professional context of briefing and sales in design consulting involves uncertainties about the scope and outcome of design projects and the perceived readiness of clients to work with design. The consultants adapted their practices for successful project outcomes, as well as to succeed in securing project commissions. We discerned three distinct types of practices the consultants adapted for more effective briefing and sales—customised communication, codified conducts and productised services. …

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