Design as the new marketing?

December 10, 2008

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop new products, services and processes and even strategy”. These are words by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. He is evangelising the idea of what he calls ‘design thinking’.  In an article at the Harvard Business Review he writes:

“As more of our basic needs are met, we increasingly expect sophisticated experiences that are emotionally satisfying and meanigful. These experiences will not be simple products. They will be complex combinations of products, services, spaces and information. They will be the ways we get educted, the ways we are entertainted, the ways we stay healthy, the ways we share and communicate.”

 According to Tim, “design” is longer just about styling or aestheticts but more about innovation.  There are more proponents of this idea. For instance, Josphine Green from Philips Design  claims that ‘design’ will be new marketing of the 21st century (as part of here presentation around ‘social innovation’).  The way I intrepret this comment is that tradionally, (product) marketing function is in charge of the product creation process whereas more and more ‘design thinkers’ (should) take charge of this process.

That brings me to the question as to how corporations should (re)organise their product creation and innovation process. From my own experience, typically product marketeers play a central role in the creation process, starting by defining product functionality and specs.  Marketeers often act from a narrow view of the type of products  they (are allowed to) work on (in Wacom’s case, the product marketeer for pen tablets thinks about computer interaction as ways to use pen input with a computer).  It is not hard to imagine that this kind of process results in products that are fairly similar to past products and that real innovation is very difficult to achieve.

According to Tim and Jospehine, design thinkers should play the central role in the creation process. In a collaborative way, they should lead a group of marketeers, engineers and end-users throughout the complete design process. This is not limited to the initial creative fuzzy idea phase, but goes all the way from ideation to implementation. For instance, it includes supporting marketing to design a communication strategy.  

For corporations that do not want to rely on the IDEO’s of this world to create new products, where in the functional lines do you put these ‘design thinkers’. They do not naturally belong in any of the functions such as marketing, development or engineering. Should it be a function in itself? If so, which place in it the hierarchy does it belong to?

By the way, I regard myself as ‘design thinker’, even though I do not have a design background and I do not think of myself as ‘designer’. Maybe it would be better to think of some other term, in direction of ‘creation’ or ‘innovation’. Anyway, I would appreciate any examples of how corporations are dealing with this issue, e.g. how they are organising themselves for the new century.


Nabaztag – ambient and emotional design

February 5, 2008

nabaztag.jpgI am a firm believer that all the great things on the web will be made available to us in new ways, in a more natural (or ‘ambient’) way. For instance, I would love to get my news updates or messages while having breakfast without the need to start my computer. Here is a device that claims to do so: The first smart rabbit – Nabaztag. This wifi-enabled ‘rabbit’ can send and receive MP3s and messages that are read out loud as well as perform the following services (by either speaking the information out loud or using indicative lights): weather forecast, stock market report, news headlines, alarm clock, e-mail alerts, and others. It is basically an evolution of the famous Tamagotchi and shares the same phylosophy as MIT spin-off Ambient Devices.

It also reminds me of a (research) project at Philips called Smart Companion. The device combines computer vision, speech and robotics to interact with users in a natural way, by understanding spoken requests, giving replies, recognizing faces and using body language such as facial expressions, head nodding and shaking or colored light. It even recognizes individual users and can turn its head to follow users as they move around in the room. I have not heart from it since 2005, so I guess this project ended like many Philips iniatives… no where. The irony is that Philips’s vision behind Smart Companion is very good, but the focus is too much on technological advanced solutions rather than developing a product that is ‘usable’ and ‘affordable’ (with current available technology). The approach from Violet with their ‘rabbit’ is much more practically and therefore has more chance of survival.