Design Management and Manufacturing

While setting its philosophy or approach, it is fundamental for a manufacturing company to decide whether to focus on the product itself or on the process of its production. By choosing to focus on the process, rather than just on the final product, a company chooses quality before quantity.

In manufacturing, as well as in other types of companies, the design management department assumes a vital role. The quest for quality should be developed by companies through the help of design managers, whose duty is to ensure that all the departments, that work within an organisation, are proceeding toward the same goal and that the transmission of the instructions among the sectors is carried clearly. Design management adds value not only to the company, by helping in the development of ‘products and services that the customers will perceive as superior’, but also to ‘the customers, by informing them about the product’s attributes’ and by making them directly involved in the process (Borja De Mozota, 2003).

Inside a manufacturing industry, the role of the design management department should also be, therefore, about reducing complexity by translating it into simplicity, ensuring good communication, developing effective strategies and problem solving.

A successful manufacturing strategy is, for example, the Toyota Production System (TPS). The system, developed by Taiichi Ohno in the first half of 20th century, is the core on which Lean Management is based. The system, which make the Toyota company internationally recognised for its success, is possible thanks to figures like the design managers.

TPS’s philosophy is essentially based on: eliminating waste, always improving the system and working from the client’s perspective.

A student of Thaiichi Ohno once said: “We at Toyota made a mistake. We should never called it the Toyota Production System, we should have called it the Toyota Thinking System. Because the real point is to make people think and people are the value of the system”.

As explained by Soliman in his essay, the TPS is focused not only on the process of creation but especially on people, which are the measurement by which changes and improvements can be planned and achieved. By talking about ‘people’, TPS means both customers and employees; many companies, in fact, make the mistake of developing their systems and technologies without also developing, training and coaching their people which are the only real ‘foundation of the continuous improvement’.

The system has the property of being able to be customised and adapted depending on the environment in which it’s used. TPS philosophy is also based on two Japanese words: ‘kata’, which stands for ‘way of doing it’ or ‘series of practice moves to build on form and technique’ (Soliman, 2015); and ‘jidoka’ which means ‘automation’ and represents a quality control process. This last term is a principle that ensures the construction, and not the inspection, of quality. TPS goal is to make it right at the first time by primarily developing a strategy for excellence that involves people, safety, people morale, costs, productivity and, of course, quality.

The key for making a difference is to work with people and for people in the prospect of distributing quality and not quantity. Design and manufacturing’s future won’t be about products but about systems in which human beings will eventually stop just producing and start thinking.

Written by: Beatrice Bekar, DMC 2018. 

  • Borja de Mozota, B. (2003). Design management. New York, NY: Allworth Press.
  • Bruce, M. and Bessant, J. (2002). Design in business. Harlow, England: Financial Times/Prentice Hallm. pp. 16-23.
  • Soliman, M. (2015). What’s Toyota Production System Really About?. 1st ed. Cairo: The American University in Cairo.

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