Small manufacturing enterprises comprise the bulk of manufacturing industry yet little account is taken of such firms in the literature on design theory and methodology. This paper presents an account of the in-house design style of a small, innovative company that designed and manufactures an award winning range of hydraulic cylinders. With assistance from the University of Queensland this company is adopting more formal design methods as part of a major new product development project over three years. The company’s experience of learning about and adopting quality function deployment (QFD) concepts and procedures is presented as an example of this process. The transition to new methods has been accompanied by changes in personnel and responsibilities. Based on this shared experience, the process of transforming design practice in the company is not characterised by a linear model of technology transfer. Rather it is best described by an action research model of cyclic learning and mutual discovery focused on practice, research and teaching leading to a set of concurrent outcomes for each participant.