DESIGN.INT - DESIGN FOR SMES’ GLOBAL INTEGRATION
The paper reports first results of an action-research project aimed at defining the potentialities in using design as strategic resource for SMEs’ global integration.
The topic comes from observing SMEs’ difficulties in facing global economy renewed mechanisms (Brunetti, Rullani 2006; Crowther et alii 2000; Etemad 2004; Preti, Puricelli 2007), especially looking at the European context, where they represent more than 90% of the total enterprises, 25% of which are Italian (European Community, 2005). As markets are re-shaped and the consciousness of a new meaning of geography raises, those enterprises are facing a great destabilization, due to the new characteristics required to be competitive, such as increasing international openness and the adaptation to new organizational typologies, more bottom-up (peer production mechanisms) than hierarchical (Norman, Ramirez 1995; Manzini 1999; Micelli, Guelpa 2007; Tapscott, Williams 2007; Palmisano 2006). In this context, Italy holds a role mainly in producing household and personal goods (Fortis 2005), a medium-low-tech kind of production that involves market sectors particularly exposed to international competition. Such strategic positioning is drawing made in Italy towards market niches mainly oriented to luxury. On the contrary, the most important characteristics thanks to which made in Italy has gained a great international fame are concerned with quality, smart solutions to everyday problems and a typical dimension of diversity, shown in a peculiar development of local resources (Maldonado 1989; Maffei, Simonelli 2002).
On this theoretical basis, a research project has been set off as collaboration between university and trade-union, funded by Regione Lombardia within the 2006-2010 Convenzione Artigianato. The research (design.INT) is a pilot-project for a selected group of enterprises in the bathroom sector. It suggests a possible design approach to help Italian manufacturer SMEs compete on the global market. Focus of the experimented model is the creation of a network, main strength of which is represented by the shared values (tradition, made in Italy, flexibility, design) and by the internal Design Center. This is a reference and coordination point, in contact with design professionals, universities and trade-unions, manager of activities related to brand communication, production and distribution of the network. To the Design Center is combined a Service Point, as antenna located in the foreign markets and with a double intent: to be point of visibility (showroom) and to address clients’ wishes, offering not only products, but also project related activities.
The project has followed a participated process, that has involved each partner in decisions related to organization, management and communication.
This experimental model identifies an innovative method (low-cost, low-impact, network-based) at the disposal of enterprises for their global integration. Here designers become fundamental supporters. This professional, as strategic resource that works on building product-systems, nowadays can and should contribute to promoting SMEs, as well suggesting innovative approaches to face the new global market. This can happen identifying new directions for development, researching and promoting new models for business, production and communication. In this direction designers are becoming connoisseurs of the super-local, connectors of people, places and things and catalysers of change.