Bridging the_Gap: Using design thinking to move FMCG NPD from incremental to radical innovation

Jonathan Willows
29 May 2020

Willows, J. (2020). Bridging the_Gap: Using design thinking to move FMCG NPD from incremental to radical innovation. (A partially redacted thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the Master of Design Enterprise at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand).


This paper explores three distinct layers of impact within the seafood industry: a transformation in professional practice, a resolved product and implementation plan and a new design-led FMCG framework that can be applied across the FMCG sector.

Within these three layers of impact are five key recommendations:

  • Transformation in professional practice
    • Personal and professional reflection and limitations of relying on tacit knowledge alone
  • A resolved product and implementation plan
    • Rejecting the established methods of new product development
    • The value of effective communication across multiple stakeholders of non-linear and iterative design processes
    • The social and environmental value of seafood serve-over counters within retail
  • New design-led FMCG framework
    • Trademarked new development model including its application within FMCG

Through personal and professional reflection, I will explore my intertwined relationships with the environment, personal values and a sense of place within fishing communities. These elements of working, class survival and protecting our planet are what drive my conscious and unconscious bias within my design practice. In addition, it is about what my career has meant, not only to me but the wider community in which I operate. Within this, and more critically, are the limitations of relying on tacit knowledge and other traditional development models from FMCG industries, such as stage-gate models. An identified area of weakness in the existing development model is that it is predominantly linear; therefore, a rejection of these established methods is critical for the evolution of novel products and services.

This notion of rejecting the established methods of new product development will be explored through the application of design thinking, and more especially Human-Centred Design (HCD). Further explored will be how design thinking and HCD can be used to facilitate and explore users’ needs and pain points, thereby creating desirability and integrating design thinking into new products. This incorporation of design thinking over traditional methods results in a new development model, one that is able to communicate the value of non-linear and iterative design processes across multiple stakeholders.

This development and application of the new model is explained through multiple sections of this document. The application will be applied to fisheries resource management and value creation within seafood, exploring consumer health, environmental considerations and social connectivity.

The rationale for this approach in relation to focusing on seafood and fisheries is the declining human connection associated with the purchasing of seafood, on a global scale. Seafood counters are facing extinction, unless a radical approach is adopted. I wish to ensure seafood counters become more relevant to providing solutions to shoppers’ everyday problems, whilst understanding and highlighting the notion of value beyond purely financial metrics.

The switching of seafood sales from traditional serve-over counters to single use packaged seafood are noted, and whilst advancements in packaging is explored from the viewpoint of environmental considerations, such as replacing unrecyclable foam trays destined for landfill with packaging made from recycled material, suitable to be recycled, this is still not addressing the root cause of the problem.

Whilst using recyclable packaging is significantly kinder to the planet from a reduced carbon emissions viewpoint, it is not the long-term solution. We must stop the problem in the first place, adopting a new model of environmentally sound reusable packaging with HCD at its core. A paradigm shift is needed through the awareness of the failures and continued destruction of a body of accepted behaviours and patterns embodied in mass packaged fresh foods, and from this destruction a new model emerges.

Keywords: fast moving consumer goods, design, new product development, seafood, design thinking, sustainability

Jonathan Willows' primary supervisor was Tim Lynch.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Creative Commons License