Changing customer roles to innovate business models: an overview of design-intensive industries

Paola Pisano, Cabirio Cautela, Marco Pironti


Framing business models as relational devices governing transactions with the customers and stakeholders, the current article aims to identify new rules of customer engagement and their impact on business model innovations in design-intensive industries. These industries, characterized by a continuously changing product language and meaning, sees the customer as a product “sense giver,” an interpreter of the meaning, the cultural and symbolic messages attached to the product. In this setting, new customer roles are explored through a case study analysis based on a fast-growing company operating in the furniture sector.

The case study analysis highlights three main customer roles that impact business models: (i) the customer as a market bridge, where the customer attracts new potential contacts and customers; (ii) the customer as a company “show-room,” where the customer’s home setting is designed to convey the company’s product language mood; (iii) the customer as an external company design lab, where the customer continuously submits and fosters new language moods and product propositions.


business models; design; innovation

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