Design management in a startup: A multiple case study on managing the visual product identity in 13 startup companies

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Degree Programme in International Design Business Management
How do you manage the visual identity of a product in a startup company with no product history? Determining how a product should look like is an important and challenging task for a product based company. Product’s appearance and connection to a recognized brand influences the customer's buying decisions and enables the product to get noticed on the market. In order to build a strong brand identity, a company has to manage the visual identity of their products and how the identity develops over product generations. A startup company developing its first product often has to create the visual product identity from scratch, with no product history or brand heritage to utilize and built on. At the same time, a startup may be facing significant challenges and uncertainties in building up its business, and strategic intentions in visual identity of a product may be only a secondary priority for the company. This master’s thesis was carried out to find out how a startup company can manage the visual identity of a product for commercial benefits. First, a literature review was carried out to find out what suggestions from the past studies in design management could be relevant and adaptable for a startup company. The empirical part of the research was a multiple case study on thirteen startup companies developing physical products. The study revealed strategic intentions the companies had in developing the visual product identity. A further focus was in finding out how the intentional and unintentional choices in the practices of product development process influence the formation of visual product identity. The past literature on design management was found to emphasize a strategic approach in managing visual identity of the product, and less guiding was found for implementing the strategic intentions in a practical level. In contrast to the literature, this study indicates the practices of product development process playing a key role in defining the visual identity of a product in a startup. Structure of product development process, how professional designers were used, and how the company made design decisions, were found to be the most influential in forming the visual product identity. Three product development models were defined from the findings of the case studies. These models point out how the agile nature of a startup can enable a synergy between the development of a visual product identity and a solid brand strategy. These findings were derived into recommendations for a startup founder on how to utilize the strategic potential of product’s visual identity in a practical level for commercial benefits.
Person, Oscar
design management, startup, visual product identity, product styling, brand identity, strategic design
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