The empirical literature investigating the issue of the heterogeneity across firms has proposed the concept of innovation modes. This aims at grouping firms depending on a number of innovation characteristics. The role of design as a source of innovation has been largely disregarded.
The aim of this paper is to fill this gap as it i. seeks to identify the main characteristics of firms which rely on design for their innovations; ii. aims to bring the role of design within the framework provided by the literature on the innovation modes of firms. Design activity is predominant in firms characterized by: i. complex innovation strategy, and ii. intense interaction with the external environment. Investment in design it is associated with higher performance of the firm.