Vision Concepts for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Developing a Design-Led Futures Technique to Boost Innovation

By Javier Ricardo Mejía Sarmiento

Citation (APA)

Mejia Sarmiento, J. R. (2018). Vision Concepts for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Developing a Design-Led Futures Technique to Boost Innovation


Concept cars have long been successfully applied in the automotive industry as a design-led way to envisioning the future. While automotive corporations use this futures technique as a driver for innovation, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in other industries have not had the benefit of such explorations, largely because concept cars are too resource-intensive and poorly suited to the SMEs’ needs and idiosyncrasies. To democratize this design practice and help SMEs, which are essential to social and economic prosperity, we have developed DIVE: Design, Innovation, Vision, and Exploration. It is a design-led futures technique that assists designers in making and using concept cars –as experimental artefacts that act as visions which embody ideas about the future– as ‘vehicles’ for innovation in SMEs, no longer confined to the automotive sector. Its development began with an inquiry into concept cars in the automotive industry and concept products and services in other industries. We then combined the insights derived from these design practices with elements of the existing techniques of critical design and design fiction into the creation of DIVE’s preliminary first version. This was then applied and evaluated in seven iterations with SMEs, resulting in DIVE’s alpha version. All iterations of DIVE in context show that SMEs can make and use concept cars, tailored to their own domain, to receive some of the benefits of exploring the future using design within the front-end of their innovation strategy. These companies can make concept cars to identify opportunities and threats and to give a sense of direction when they face a significant change. DIVE begins with setting a vision, embedded in an artifact, and then working backward to map a path of ideas, connecting the future to the present. Although the results of these activities might be less flashy than concept cars, these simple prototypes and videos help SMEs internalize and share a clear and concrete image of a preferable future for employees, allies, and investors. Concept cars, prototypes of the future, can also be used at the start of a new product’s design process to combine all the results of investigations on product, market, and technology. Subsequently, it is used to define a design brief and as a criterion to select the most promising ideas.


Los automóviles concepto (concept cars) han sido usados exitosamente en el sector automotriz como una forma de diseño orientada hacia el futuro. Mientras que las corporaciones automotrices utilizan esta técnica de anticipación de futuros como un motor para la innovación, las pequeñas y medianas empresas (PYME) en otras industrias no se han beneficiado de este tipo de exploraciones, en gran parte porque requieren demasiados recursos y son poco adecuadas para las necesidades e idiosincrasia de este tipo de empresas.
Para democratizar esta práctica de diseño y ayudar a las PYME, que son esenciales para la prosperidad social y económica, hemos desarrollado DIVE: diseño, innovación, visión y exploración. Es una técnica de futuro dirigida por el diseño, que ayuda a los diseñadores a fabricar y utilizar automóviles concepto como artefactos experimentales para visualizar el futuro. Estos artefactos actúan como vehículos para la innovación en este tipo de compañías, no limitadas al sector automotriz.
El desarrollo de DIVE comenzó con una investigación sobre los automóviles concepto en la industria automotriz y los productos y servicios concepto en otras industrias. Luego, se combinaron los conocimientos derivados de estas prácticas con elementos del diseño crítico (critical design) y del diseño de ficción (design fiction), en la creación de la primera versión de DIVE, que luego se aplicó y evaluó en siete iteraciones con PYME, lo que dio como resultado la versión final de esta técnica.
Todas las iteraciones de DIVE evidencian que las PYME pueden hacer y usar automóviles concepto, aplicados a su propio contexto de negocio, para recibir algunos de los beneficios del diseño cuando exploran el futuro. Así, estas compañías pueden convertir a los automóviles concepto en una práctica de diseño dentro de su estrategia de innovación para identificar oportunidades y amenazas, y dar un sentido de dirección cuando se enfrentan a un cambio significativo. Esta técnica comienza planteando una visión de futuro, materializada en un artefacto, y luego, desde esa proyección, mira hacia atrás para trazar un camino de ideas, conectando el futuro con el presente. Si bien los resultados de estas actividades pueden ser menos llamativos que los automóviles concepto tradicionales, estos prototipos y videos simples ayudan a las PYME a interiorizar y compartir una imagen clara y concreta de un futuro preferible para los empleados, aliados e inversionistas. Los automóviles concepto, como prototipos del futuro, también pueden usarse al comienzo del proceso de diseño de un nuevo producto, ya que combinan todos los resultados de las investigaciones sobre el producto, el mercado y la tecnología. Posteriormente, se utiliza para definir un brief de diseño y como criterio para seleccionar las ideas más prometedoras.

Chapter by chapter
  1. Chapter 1 Introduction
  2. Chapter 2 Futures techniques
  3. Chapter 3 Concept cars as a design-led futures technique for automotive corporations
  4. Chapter 4 Design-led futures techniques used outside the automotive industry
  5. Chapter 5 Development of a design-led futures technique for SMEs: DIVE
    • First iteration: The Alchemist Club 2025 for Marlioü (the full case here)
    • Second iteration: Continental Energy 2030 for Continental Boilers (the full case here)
  6. Chapter 6 Evaluation of DIVE with SMEs
  7. Chapter 7 Application of DIVE in practice: recommendations and considerations
  8. Chapter 8 General discussion
Related publications
  • Mejia, J. R., Chitiva, A., van Bruinessen, T., & Verhoeff, W. (2018). DIVE in SMEs: a design-led technique to explore product and service futures. In Touchpoint, The Journal of Service Design, 10(2), pp. 56–61. The full document here.
  • Mejia, J. R., Pasman, G., Hultink, E. J., & Stappers, P. J. (2017). Developing DIVE, a design-led futures technique for SMEs. In C. Vogel, & G. Muratovski (Eds.). Proceedings of the IASDR Conference Re: Research (pp. 770–787). Cincinnati, Ohio, USA: University of Cincinnati. The full document here.

  • Mejia, J. R., Pasman, G., & Stappers, P. J. (2016). Vision concepts within the landscape of design research. In P. Lloyd & E. Bohemia (Eds.), Proceedings of DRS2016: Design + Research + Society – Future-Focused Thinking (Vol. 4, pp. 1659–1676). Brighton, U.K. The full document here.

  • Mejia, J. R., Hultink, E. J., Pasman, G., & Stappers, P. J. (2016). Concept cars as a design-led futures technique. In Proceedings of the 23rd Innovation and Product Development Management Conference (Vol. 1, pp. 1–21). Glasgow, U.K. The full document here.

  • Mejia, J. R., Simonse, L. W. L., & Hultink, E. J. (2015). Design of vision concepts to explore the future: Nature, context and design techniques. Presented at the 5th CIM –Creativity and Innovation Management– Community Workshop, Enschede, The Netherlands.The full document here.

  • Mejia, J. R., & Parra, J. (2014). Strategic PES: Product-experience-service, a visual tool to support SMEs through service-dominant logic. Touchpoint, The Journal of Service Design, 6(3), 80–85.The full document here.

About me

Ricardo Mejia is an industrial designer and engineer. He earned a Master of Science in Strategic Product Design from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands with distinction (cum laude). He is an advisor and consultant on design-driven innovation with over fifteen years of experience working with private companies, local and national governments, non-profit organizations, solidarity institutions, and communities across Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. Organizations he worked with include, among others, World Intellectual Property Organization, Executive Agency for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of the European Union, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, and several Chambers of Commerce in Colombia, and numerous SMEs in both regions.
Ricardo led the National Design Program within the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in Colombia. This included the development of a strategic plan to create a “design culture” in Colombia that would help bridge the gap between professional designers and the productive sector. He helped define policies for the design and implementation of design thinking in SMEs.
He also has experience as an educator at different universities, a lecturer in more than fifty places around the world, and an author of several publications, including several books and articles about design and innovation.
As a doctoral fellow of the ID·Studio·Lab at the Delft University of Technology, supported by a full scholarship from Colciencias (the Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation of Colombia), he experimented with how to make and share vision concepts, commonly known as concept cars in the automotive industry, to explore and communicate the future of smaller players ―DIVE―.
Ricardo understands design to be a powerful mechanism to help people dream and build their own future. He firmly believes in design as a driver of change, one that leads to a free and fair society.
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