Cultivating sportswear innovation: A mixed approach combining the lead user method and participatory design

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Collaborative and Industrial Design
110 + 10
This thesis aims to study how could the mixed approach combining the lead user method and participatory design cultivate sportswear innovation in local sports culture. The research consists of an exploratory literature review and an empirical case study. Since sportswear has exceeded its primary function purpose toward fashion, culture, and wearable technology, customers’ needs have become more diverse and heterogeneous. Even though designers in major sportswear firms have involved users during the product development process, most of the involved users are sports hobbyists who work in the firms. Besides, both centralization of the organizational design process and lack of cross-department collaboration in sportswear firms are the additional barriers to translate the actual customers’ needs into the desired products. To explore a new perspective to solve the described problems, the thesis will review user-driven innovation and participatory design, which both have a reputation in “democratizing innovation” (Bjögvinsson et al., 2010). The lead user method in user-driven innovation theory and the conceptualization of design “Things” (Ehn, 2008) in participatory design studies are underlined. The literature review concludes by demonstrating the complementary characteristics of the lead user method and participatory design. Based on that, a framework that combines the two areas for sportswear innovation is proposed. The empirical case study examines the mixed approach in practice based on one experimental project, “The future of flying Finns,” which consists of two collaborative workshops. In both of the collaborative workshops, identified lead users and industry experts together co-identify innovation opportunities and generate solution ideas from the exploration of the Finnish trail running culture. The research collects the data from two focus group interviews, observation, and self-reflection. Two within-case analyses conducted to examine the collected data provide the insights into the research, which leads to the final cross-case analysis that focuses on investigating the similarities and differences between the two. The research results are the basis for three guidelines for practicing the mixed approach: planning a collaborative workshop in an innovation project, designing a co-creative toolkit, and mapping innovation context with collective knowledge. First, findings of planning a collaborative workshop are enhancing the effectiveness of participatory design, recognizing the requirement of abstract thinking for lead users, and catalyzing the process with well-prepared workshop materials. Second, findings of designing a co-creative toolkit for collaborative innovation sessions include a clear toolkit structure for communication and vision, inspiring visual aids, and playfulness with a shared interface. Finally, the findings demonstrate the roles and contributions of lead users, industry experts, and facilitator in the innovation context mapping process. In conclusion, this research implies that the mixed approach is capable of co-identifying innovation opportunities and creating new values and meanings to local runners by switching the focus from performance-driven innovation to social innovation. Moreover, it is flexible in team formation through selecting lead users and industry experts with different knowledge backgrounds to explore new innovation opportunities.
Paavilainen, Heidi
Thesis advisor
Huoviala, Anna
sportswear, innovation, user-driven innovation, lead user method, participatory design, sports culture