Value to the Industry Sponsors of Project-based Design Courses

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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International Design Business Management
In the academic discourse on ‘perceived value’ within the last three decades, a wide variety of both simpler and more complex models exist, but they fail either in their abstraction to sufficiently explain value formulation or in their concreteness to provide a universally applicable model. It has been suggested, that value is highly contextually bound, which would explain the difficulties in creating a sufficiently concrete but universally applicable model. Furthermore, in today’s complex economic landscape, companies are increasingly turning to design to create knowledge in collaborative, organizational settings to innovate using open-ended processes. While a multitude of studies have shown how investment in design has favorable returns on the business’s success, a firm understanding of how design creates that value is lacking. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the value in the context of two Master’s level, project-based design courses. As a core pillar of their pedagogy, are the real-world experiences achieved by working on a project with industry partners on topics that the companies consider challenging. The sponsorship of the industry partners is vital to the existence of the courses, and therefore ensuring a positive outcome for the sponsors is important. In the almost 30 years combined development the courses have gone through, they have been able to lean on thorough research on both the problem/project based learning and design process fronts to ensure a good student experience, however, the difficulties in both perceived value and design value researches has given little support for the development on the sponsor front. This thesis is a qualitative study in to five sponsoring companies to better understand the various forms of value – both benefits and sacrifices – that the sponsors experience in the course of the projects. More specifically, as the perceived value literature highlights, value is an entirely subjective contexts, and therefore the subjects of this study are the liaisons, as they have a unique position at the intersection of the courses and the rest of their company. The data consists of 13 interviews. The results highlight an extensive set of different forms of value – many of which were personal for the liaison or strategic for the company – that fall outside of the traditional focus of the pedagogical approach as well as the design process. One of the more significant insights was that the liaisons utilize the projects to drive some form of strategic change within their companies. Furthermore, the results imply that in addition to the temporal and situational contexts highlighted by the literature, the contextuality of value is a lot more complex as each stakeholder brings in their own contexts to create a multi-dimensional, ‘compounded context’. By highlighting the various potential forms of value for the sponsor, the courses can be adjusted to better match a real-world need, ensuring a more realistic experience for the students, as well as ensuring future collaboration with the industry partners. Furthermore, the results can help the industry partners to be more aware of also the implicit value they are already gaining, and the potential for new forms of value that other companies are managing to realize.
Thesis advisor
Nurmi, Niina
perceived value, project course, sponsor, liaison, design, Finland