Planning for the Unknown

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This paper explores the role of a design-led orientation strategy for automotive firms. Specifically, the study examines the industrial conversion strategies of companies that have found new markets thanks to the discipline of design. Indeed, the central thesis of this paper is to investigate how design can boost entrepreneurship, managerial procedures, and be a source of competitive advantage. Commonly, industrial conversion has been studied by many researchers belonging to the area of management. However, studies on the role of industrial designers in corporate strategies represent a growing domain in design. The research is based on three case studies of Italian companies that have produced components for the automotive sector for years and following a moment of instability, used their expertise to move into different markets. The paper shows a tool developed by Harvard University to display new opportunities based on existing capabilities. The analyzed visionary companies broke away from one production sector and ventured into new ones where design was a strategic lever. As the case studies show, industrial reconversion brings companies “back to life” and makes them flexible and resilient to sudden changes, thanks to switching products and markets based on existing capacities. What emerges is that industrial conversion is a winning strategy in cases of corporate crisis where sunk costs are to be exploited to explore new opportunities. Starting from this, we can assume and replicate comparable strategies in companies currently experiencing difficulties due to the changing technological paradigms in the automotive sector.