Design thinking and business innovation strategy in creative SMEs
: a comparative study between the UK and Thailand

  • Akapan Thienthaworn

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Design thinking is crucial to the creative economy. However, a comprehensive literature review revealed that there is a lack of studies discussing how design thinking could influence innovation strategies and business developments, especially in the context of small-and-medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. Without suitable implementation within organisational structures, design thinking might not be utilised to its full potential. Hence, this research aims to help SME businesses make better use of design thinking.

This study has focused on design businesses in order to find out whether design
thinking has been strategically utilised outside traditional design domains and
influenced innovation strategies as well as business developments. In order to help SME design businesses become more competitive, this study chose the Thai creative industries as the main focus, since the majority of Thai design businesses are SMEs. The UK creative industries were chosen as a benchmark because they have been recognised worldwide as a leader in this field and could help evaluate how well design thinking is utilised in Thai SME design businesses.

This study adopted the multiple-case study approach for data collection and the grounded theory approach for data analysis. It began by identifying differences in the use of design thinking by creative agencies in the UK and Thailand. By undertaking eight case studies (four leading companies in the UK and four leading companies in Thailand), it was possible to make comparisons in regard to design policies and creative cultures. The case studies involved semistructured interviews with key stakeholders, site-visit observations and reviews of relevant literature. The main questions explored were 1) how does design thinking fit within organisational structures?, 2) what key factors are required?
and 3) how is design thinking successfully implemented in business innovation strategies?. The research engaged with participants at the senior management level, such as Executive Directors, Managing Directors and Creative Directors.

The key findings showed that each of the UK companies studied understand the strategic value of design thinking and that its effective use can lead to business success. Thus, they perceive design thinking as an integral part of their business innovation strategy. Consequently, design leadership is evidenced in their collaborative teams and practices and design thinking is properly embedded into their organisational cultures, alongside their branding and marketing strategies.

The key findings also revealed that each of the Thai cases studied mainly utilise design thinking to create customer experiences, which can be understood as a human-centred approach and a form of design-led business practice. However, the focus among these cases is on raising reputation, generating customer
insights and building partnerships, rather than design leadership.
Using a grounded theory approach allowed themes (key findings) to emerge. These themes were then integrated to form a conceptual model titled ‘Design Thinking for Business Innovation Strategy,’ which was further refined to offer distinct frameworks for the two contexts, UK and Thailand. These models
highlight the importance of design leadership, design thinking and design service as the core concepts for implementing design and business strategy in practice.

To conclude, this study sets out the ways in which the application of design thinking within organisations is largely influenced by the mind sets of top management, alongside their design knowledge and management skills, and by other variables such as the emphasis placed on customer experiences.
Date of AwardAug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorTerry Perk (Supervisor)

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