Design as a consumer commodity
Design in a consumer commodity
National Consumer Research Centre
My presentation focuses on the ways in which business organisations have designed,
defined and redefined the practice of consumption in different stages of market
evolution. The cases to be studied are related to Finnish leisure products:
the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia and the sport equipment manufacturer Exel.
Also, the heart rate meter manufacturer Polar Electro and the wristop computer
manufacturer Suunto are considered briefly (mainly in the spoken version of
this paper). All the products are currently on the verge of entering the mass
market. These companies are united by a strong emphasis on design and consumer-orientation.
Therefore it is no surprise that the archives of the Helsinki Design Museum
contain many references to these companies and products.
It remains to be seen whether firms like Suunto and Polar will make a breakthrough
like that achieved by Nokia in the mid-1990s and Exel in the last few years.
My reference point is the early history of the car industry, the ways in which
Ford and General Motors transformed the market from an elite into a mass market
and later on into a fragmented one. Preliminary suggestions on key features
in this process are given in Table 1. In this phase of the study, the main findings
are presented in the spoken version of this study. One might say, however, that
a dramatic shift in understanding consumer practice is always needed when companies
grow above a critical threshold. For instance, the need for this shift can be
seen in R&D practices, which are first based on the developers’ own
personal knowledge, and later on need to evolve into new ways of capturing the
more distant, mass-market user.