Espacios. Vol. 36 (Nº 05) Año 2015. Pág. 11

The insertion of design in small furniture companies to qualify decision making

A inserção do design nas pequenas empresas moveleiras para qualificação da tomada de decisão

Edu Grieco MAZZINI JUNIOR 1; Elpídio Oscar Benitez NARA 2; Liane Mahlmann KIPPER 3; Julio Cezar Mairesse SILUK 4; Ana Julia DAL FORNO 5.

Recibido: 20/12/14 • Aprobado: 05/01/2015


1. Introduction

2. Theoretical foundation

3. Methodology

4. Application

5. Conclusion


This study sought to identify and qualify the processes for developing plans for new products based on design, using the perspective of management planning for new products. The objective was to depict a situation in which design is inserted in a small furniture sector company. A case study was conducted at a furniture company in the municipality of Santa Maria, in Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil. The research involved mapping and qualification of the processes of conception of products based on design, according to the perspective of the product planning managers. The study revealed that a series of factors impede the inclusion of design in the furniture industry, mainly related to the location of design within the organizational structure, distancing it from functions related to executive and production planning of furniture projects, thus fragmenting the process for development and execution of new products.
Keywords: Design, Product, Furniture sector.

A pesquisa desenvolvida procura identificar e qualificar os processos de concepção de projetos de novos produtos com base no design, a partir da percepção da gerência de planejamento de novos produtos, apresentando como objetivo a formatação de um cenário sobre a inserção do design nas pequenas empresas do setor moveleiro. Para este fim foi feito um estudo de caso, realizado em uma organização moveleira localizada no município de Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul-Brasil. Esta pesquisa foi desenvolvida a partir do mapeamento e qualificação dos processos de concepção de produtos com base no design, segundo a visão dos gestores de planejamento de produtos. Para isto uma pesquisa exploratória e descritiva foi realizada por meio de um estudo de caso, com a finalidade de proporcionar uma visão geral das micro e pequenas empresas de mobiliário sob encomenda em relação aos seus processos de planejamento de novos produtos. Como resultado, foi possível detectar que a inclusão do design na indústria moveleira passa por uma série de dificuldades, principalmente relacionadas com a sua localização dentro da estrutura organizacional, distanciando-se de funções referentes ao planejamento executivo e produtivo dos projetos de mobiliário, fragmentando, assim, o processo de desenvolvimento e execução de novos produtos.
Palavras-chave: Design, Produto, Setor moveleiro.

1. Introduction

To gain market share by establishing a distinction in the market requires that companies take actions that provide competitive advantages over competitors by implementing strategies that reduce costs and increase productivity. In some industrial segments, especially in those based on product development, the capacity for differentiation in the market, according to Petter (2009, p. 02), "should value how products will be planned, manufactured and presented." For this reason, Varandas Junior and Miguel (2012, p.185) emphasize that this condition is essential for "constructing and sustaining competitive advantages."

In this context, Dias Filho (2004, p. 03) affirms that design serves as a "link between the production process and users." According to this author, this link is an "essential strategic tool, to the degree that it is able to interpret the desires of people to materialize them in products."

The furniture sector has undergone deep transformations in recent years in an effort to survive stiff competition. Companies sense the need to have something beyond good physical infrastructure or the latest generation equipment (DAL PIVA, 2007). For this reason, the inclusion of design professionals, whose responsibilities are focused on planning new products, has helped small furniture companies change their situations.

This study sought to identify and qualify the processes of conceiving plans for new products based on design, from the perception of management of planning of new products, presenting as an objective the depiction of a situation in which design is inserted in a small furniture company.

2. Theoretical foundation

This section presents theoretical aspects of the research to help characterize micro and small made-to-order furniture companies and the essentials of design. The purpose of this characterization is to establish the theoretical basis that can later be compared with the practical reality of organizations.

A bibliographic study was conducted that as Santos (2000) affirmed is based upon previously conducted studies about the issues related to the theme of the research, mainly by consulting books and scientific articles.

2.1. Small companies of the national furniture sector

According to the data presented in a report that provides an overview of the furniture sector in Brazil, and Rio Grande do Sul in particular (MOVERGS, 2012),[6] Brazil has approximately 16,500 furniture manufacturers, of which nearly 74% are micro and small companies, most of them family owned and run, with management centralized in a single person, and at which knowledge and administrative rules are adapted to each situation. In general, these companies do not have an established organization for planning and development of products. Each procedure is modified, constantly changing the integration of the projects. This system requires great attention by the part of the company manager, because any change in the development process for a product can compromise costs and scheduling and interfere in the company's other projects. According to Dal Piva (2007), considering that each product manufactured is exclusive, the larger the company, the more difficult it is to administer and maintain the same standard of quality, because not all of the parts are manufactured at the same time or undergo the same processes.

Dal Piva (2007, p. 17) highlights some advantages of the made-to-order furniture manufacturing process.

  1. The client finances the product's manufacturing;
  2. Production is customized, creating an exclusive product;
  3. The furniture is better adapted to the space of the residence in which it will be placed;
  4. The product has greater resistance and durability;
  5. It provides greater profitability per product produced;

In terms of the disadvantages, Dal Piva (2007, p. 18) highlights the following characteristics about the production of   made-to-order furniture:

  1. An excess of manual operations;
  2. Low availability of specialized labor;
  3. Requires a large quantity of raw-material, which raises the cost of the product developed;

2.2 Essentials of design

The term design arose during the Industrial Revolution when the production of products for mass consumption began to spread throughout Europe. According to Câmara et al. (2007), artisans and intellectuals sought to develop a concept that would express the process of product conception, from the initial idea to production on an industrial scale. During the Industrial Revolution, the main characteristic sought in a product was functionality. Even if there had been previous efforts to improve the appearance of products, it was only in the early 20th century that studies for the aesthetic improvement of industrial products began to gain prominence, as best represented by the Bauhaus school. [7]

The concept of design, which was initially concerned with the resolution of functional and aesthetic aspects of the products developed, has evolved and design professionals now seek to develop products that are well adapted to production processes and that are socially inclusionary and sustainable. 

Most recently, the International Council of Industrial Design Societies (ICSDI, 2012) defined design as "a creative activity whose objective is to establish the multifaceted qualities of objects, processes, services and their systems in complete life cycles."

For Mozota et al. (2011) design is a continuous process, and its management is essential for the success of a company's innovation policy. Two proposals stand out for the management of design by organizations, according to Mozota (2002). The first is to proportion the understanding between the management and design processes among managers and designs. The second involves integrating management methods to design processes adopted by a company: this involves developing effective design projects that can provide tangible and intangible benefits to consumers; instilling innovation in the company's processes, allowing the interaction of design with all the sectors of the organization; and promoting strategies that generate consumers' continued interest  n the company.

It is clear that design is increasingly present in the context of organizations and that the value created from its implementation, and the possibility for its management is essential. On the other hand, even if it is possible to identify design opportunities, few companies know how to manage them. Even companies that do, present resistance to including design in their strategy, according to Martins (2004), Brunner et al. (2010) and Wolff et al (2010).

3. Methodology

The study involved exploratory research  (Santos, 1999) as well as descriptive research, in which as Furasté (2006) affirms, the researcher observes, describes, verifies and records information, facts or phenomenon without any type of interference, to achieve the proposed objective.

As indicated by Yin (2010), the case study method was used to conduct the data collection procedures in this study, to provide an overview of the insertion of design at a small company in the furniture sector.

In relation to the proposed methodological procedures, the study was divided into three parts, which are described below.

3.1 Identifying the scenario of the study

This phase of the research sought to define the situation in which the study was conducted. To do so, a small company located in the city of Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul was selected. The following company was selected based on the criteria:

a) executes projects to produce made-to-order furniture for residential use;

b) it is a small company, with 11 – 49 employees, as determined by the classification of the Furniture Company Association of Rio Grande do Sul state  (MOVERGS, 2012);

c) it has at least one professional responsible for management and development of its design projects.

3.2 Characterization of the agents participating in the study

The staff responsible for executing the process analyzed in the study included managers of new product planning (designers) at the company studied. The objective of the formation of this group that participated in the study was to identify and qualify the processes involved in the design of new products, based on the application of the methodological procedures described below.

3.3 Mapping and identification of the process for conceiving new products

This step sought to analyze practical aspects, and considered the positioning of the furniture company studied in relation to the development of new products, seeking to identify and qualify the vision of product-planning managers about the procedures involved in the conception of made-to-order furniture products.

For the identification of the practices employed in this step, a study divided in two parts was realized:

  1. Mapping: first a mapping was conducted of the design processes, from the briefing [8]at the first reception of the client to the conclusion of the detailed plan. The purpose of this procedure was to assimilate all the processes and agents involved. This part of the study used the observation method, based on accompaniment and recording - without interference by the researcher - of the work routine of the representatives from the field of design conception. The exploratory nature of this step focused on the identification of the practices that characterize the design method used.
    The observation method is a research technique that consists in the collection of data by the researcher through the observation of the facts or phenomenon that he wants to study. A non-participatory methodological procedure was used, in which the "researcher witnesses the fact but does not participate," which according to Silva and Menezes (2005, p. 33).
  2. Qualification: After the identification of the processes adopted, and with the use of the "brainwriting" method, the qualification of the new-product design process will be conducted with those responsible for product planning.

Brainwriting is a non-verbal technique used to improve the production of ideas, in which the members of the group that participate in the technique conceive solutions and write them on pieces of paper, differently than in a verbal communication process commonly used in a brainstorming exercise (Michinov, 2012).

According to VanGundy (1993) and Michinov (2012), the brainwriting technique increases the productivity of the participants up to four times, compared to techniques in which it is not possible to visualize the ideas written down by all the members of the group.

4. Application

In relation to the diagnosis of the current situation, the company selected is inserted in the Santa Maria market through the development of made-to-order furniture for planned environments, both residential and corporate. It is a family-owned and operated company with 14 employees, which is in the small classification according to  the state furniture industry association MOVERGS.

Two professionals with academic training in product design are responsible for attending to and conceiving projects for new products. They work with the sector dedicated to client service and product development.

The company's production process is fragmented and heterogeneous, largely due to the characteristics of the products developed, which because they are customized, required daily adaptation to the needs of the projects being developed. Although the company has machinery that provides agility in the production of the pieces, the furniture production process is still predominantly manual and artisanal.

4.1 Mapping and identification of the processes for developing new products

The opening of a project for the conception of made-to-order furniture takes place through a client request that is made at the first meeting between a client and the company. The project is the responsibility of the manager of design project planning, who from here on will be called a designer.

The initial service provided to the client involves the formatting by the company designer of an overview of the needs and expectations of the client for the product to be developed. This moment can be associated to the execution of the briefing, although in the case of the company studied, there is no formal document or interview method that has been standardized with clients to delineate the characteristics of the product to be developed.

The realization of this task is based on the designer's expertise, which has been acquired through experience, and which provides him total control over this step of development and conception of projects for new products. At the initial client reception meeting, using a non-structured interview method, the designer uses digital illustrations and virtual models (generated with SketchUp [9] software) related to projects previously developed by the company and which are found in his project portfolio, to assist the client express the characteristics desired in the new product. The information resulting from this step is noted by hand on paper along with the client data and later transposed to a digital document, which the company calls the "sale control." The purpose of this document is to combine all the information about the product to be developed.

It is important to note that at no time in this step does the designer suggest solutions for the product, because his sole intention is to understand the real needs of the client, in relation to both the functional and morphological aspects of the new product. This meeting lasts an average of 30 – 60 minutes. When it is over, an appointment is set for the designer to measure the space in which the furniture to be developed will be installed.

This second moment, which is called measuring, is necessary because the product to be developed has unique characteristics, and must be adapted to a certain environment. For this reason, the designer notes all the information about the environment, concerning both dimensions as well as structural characteristics, so that based on the information extracted in the reception step and in the measuring step, he can develop the design for the new product.

When measuring the environment the professional uses only a tape measure and a notepad, on which the space is sketched by hand, with all of the characteristics included. When the project involves the development of a low complexity product, with a small number of pieces, the designer assumes sole responsibility for the execution of this step. But if the project is considered to be of high complexity and has a high number of pieces to be produced, the designer receives the assistance of the company's production manager. The measuring step requires careful attention by the designer, because incorrect or incomplete information may require a new visit and more work.

Based on the information obtained in the reception and measurement steps, the designer begins the step of formal conception and development of the new product. The size and structural information about the environment are transferred to the virtual environment with the SketchUp  software.

Once the environment is properly configured, the designer then begins the development of the product based on requests from the client made at the reception. The conception of the new product is conducted entirely in a virtual environment and exclusively by the company designer, with the exception of highly complex projects, when the production manager is consulted.

After the conclusion of the step for the conception and development of the design of the new product, the budget is calculated for the service that will be contracted by the client. This task is executed by the product manager and the designer does not participate.

With the project developed and budgeted, the fourth step begins for the development of new products by the company – the approval step. In this step, the result of the previous steps is evaluated by the client with the intention of being approved or altered in some aspect.

If the project is approved, three documents are generated. One is called the "sales document," the purpose of which is to document the service proposed, defining schedules, activities and the responsibilities of both parties, the costs of the services and the forms of payment. The second is denominated "sale control" and specifies the characteristics of the product to be developed. It includes the design of the group of furniture, lists the materials and finish, and indicates the final deadline for delivery of the product to be produced. It is the only control document for the project to be produced by the production manager. The third document is called stock control and includes the list of hardware, raw materials and finishes used to make the furniture. This document is used to identify the items that the organization does not have in stock and must purchase from its suppliers. If the project is not approved, this document returns to the designer who will adapt it according to the observations of the client so that it can later be evaluated and approved. 

Once the design is approved, the production step begins, guided by the sales control document. This step is the responsibility of the production manager, who manages and organizes the production steps and processes needed to produce the new product. The project is completed with the delivery and installation of the product in the environment requested by the client (Figure 01).

Figure 1 - Mapping of the new product development process

Figure 1 depicts the insertion of design in the company evaluated based on the verification of the attributions of the managers responsible for planning new products. In this way, the steps of reception, measurement and development of the project are the complete responsibility of the designer, who is the only agent responsible for decision making in these steps. Meanwhile, in the product production step, the participation of the designer is considered partial, given that his intervention is requested each time that there are doubts or limitations in relation to the project. Finally, the designer does not participate in the budgeting and assembly steps.

4.2 Qualification of the design processes for new products

After identifying and analyzing the actions of the company observed in relation to the development of new products, this study sought to qualify, based on the perception of product planning managers, the procedures involved in the conception of made-to-order furniture products. To do so, it first conducted a focused interview, based on the results of the mapping of the processes described in the previous methodological procedure. This interview sought to reveal the view of the designers about the procedures undertaken for the conception of new products, to define an overview of the insertion of design in the company.

Based on an analysis of the previous methodological procedure and looking to obtain results that satisfy the questionings and the proposals of this study, the design professionals were submitted to individualized brainwriting sessions. The results of each session were interpreted by the researcher and presented to the designers to encourage them to reflect on them and in this way, qualify them in an effective manner. 

Based on the results obtained from the realization of the brainwriting session, two situations related to the procedures adopted by the furniture company for conceiving new products can be highlighted. The first situation, which is evaluated positively by those interviewed, refers to the initial steps of the process analyzed: the identification and interpretation of the client's needs, the definition of the requirements of the project and development of the project for new products. According to the designers, the way that these procedures are executed provides flexibility at the time of formatting an overview of the client's wishes for the new product, and at the same time, it provides control to the handling of information and its conversion to the project being developed.

The initial reception of the client, which is organized as a non-structured interview, according to the evaluation of the people interviewed, gives an informal character to the process, facilitating the communication between the designer and the client and at the same time allows exploring the client's intentions and desires in relation to the product to be developed. Nevertheless, the lack of a defined structure for the execution of this procedure requires that the designer pay close attention, because any incorrect or missing information  can impede success in execution of the product.

The designers also emphasized the moment of development of the project for the new product. The individualized character of the execution of this task gives control to these professionals in terms of handling the information obtained in the previous step and in proposing the characteristics of the new product. Those interviewed also said that this step benefits from the great opportunities created by the use of digital software for the development of designs in virtual environments. The result of this procedure, whether it is a model or a digital illustration, is essential at the time of approval of the project by the client, and is considered by the furniture company as a priority and a decisive tool for the contracting of the service.

Meanwhile, the people interviewed had a negative evaluation about the second situation, which refers to the handling and interpretation of the design solutions, contained in the design for the new product, by the part of the production management. According to those interviewed, the design professional is still quite removed from the step for production of the product designed. The designer is seen as a professional linked exclusively to the sale functions for the new products and is thus quite far from being integrated to the steps of development and production of a new product, assisting in the identification of the client's needs, in the development of the project to find the solutions needed and in making decisions in terms of the production processes. According to those interviewed, many of the products that require reworking after delivery to the clients have problems related to decisions made during production, in which the design professional did not participate, although it is not possible to point to an exact percentage. 

5. Conclusion

Small furniture companies, which are organized in a fragmented manner in regional centers, need to develop competitive advantages that provide distinction in the market in an environment of limited operation. In this context, design is an effective tool for aggregating values to the new products developed and distinguishing the company from the competition in strategic and procedural levels. Nevertheless, its incorporation in the furniture industry involves a variety of difficulties, which are mainly related to its insertion within an organizational structure. This situation reduces the designer to a component of the processes at the company's front line, distancing him from the functions related to executive planning and production of the furniture projects, thus fragmenting the process for the development and execution of new products. 

As a result of this study, the people interviewed emphasized that the insertion and action of design within the organization studied is quite distant from the concept proposed by the ICSDI. This is because the designer responsible for the planning of projects in small made-to-order furniture companies is still seen as an agent exclusively related to the execution of the processes at the front line of organizations, and is not very active in the resolution of their rear processes. This reveals that the designer is seen as a professional linked to the "sales" functions for new products and almost never to decision-making functions related to the production process and the technical resolution of the new product.


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1. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sistemas e Departamento de Engenharia de Produção (PPGSPI); Universidade de Santa Cruz do Sul (UNISC); Brasil;
2. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sistemas e Departamento de Engenharia de Produção (PPGSPI); Universidade de Santa Cruz do Sul (UNISC); Brasil;
3. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sistemas e Departamento de Engenharia de Produção (PPGSPI); Universidade de Santa Cruz do Sul (UNISC); Brasil;

4. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Engenharia de Produção (PPGEP); Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (UFSM); Brasil;
5. Departamento de Engenharia Mecânica; Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (USFC); Brasil;

6. Associação das Indústrias de Móveis do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul [Furniture Company Association of Rio Grande do Sul State].

7. School of art, design and architecture (1919 – 1933), which had as an objective "conciliating artisanal wisdom with industrial production" (MONTENEGRO, 1995, p. 178).

8. A briefing seeks to obtain "all the information relevant to those interested in the project" Philips (2008).

9. According to Ouyang et al. (2013), SketchUp "is 3D design software developed by the @ Last Software Company used mainly for 3D modeling."

Vol. 36 (Nº 05) Año 2015
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