Development of a Design Audit Tool for SMEs


  • *This research is supported by the Monument Trust. The author is also grateful to Pete Fraser and Pete Caldwell for support during the application of the audit tool in case companies. The authors are also grateful to the members of the Centre for Technology Management and especially to Clare Farrukh and Letizia Mortara for their support in developing the article following review.

Address correspondence to: James Moultrie, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX, UK. E-mail:


There is strong evidence of the importance of good design to company success. However, it is apparent that despite this evidence, design skills are often marginalized in small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). This article presents a design audit tool that captures good design principles in a form accessible to industry. Previous audit approaches have focused extensively on the management of new product development (NPD). In this research, the audit tool is based on process maturity principles and explicitly targets the design related activities in NPD—specifically in small firms. The design audit has been developed iteratively by application in action research mode and is supported by evidence from literature and exploratory cases. This inductive development enabled the generation of a robust audit tool through intervention in small firms to improve design practices. The resulting audit tool is designed for use in a multifunctional workshop setting. Typical outputs from application include the generation of action plans for improvement in future performance. This audit tool is based around a model of good design that explicitly distinguishes between management and design related activities in NPD. The audit tool has succeeded in encouraging managers to pay greater attention to the design related elements of NPD. This complements the satisfaction of managerial goals typically emphasized in many NPD processes.