25 September 2006

Design intervention at Philips [Fast Company]

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Philips' Ambilight TV
In a long, in-depth Fast Company feature article, Jennifer Rheingold tries to answer the question if Philips will “emerge as a shining example of an organization that fueled its renaissance with design, or as one that ultimately failed because it lost sight of its real objective?”. In the article she provides a detailed portrait of the Philips Design unit and its role within Philips in general.

“Mapping out just how it should function has fallen in large part to Andrea Ragnetti, Philips’s chief marketing officer, and Stefano Marzano, the longtime CEO and chief creative director of Philips Design, a freestanding unit with 450 staffers, a satchelful of prestigious awards, and an estimated annual budget of $250 million. Marzano has been tapped to unify the company through what it calls ‘simplicity-led design’. He wants to establish his design principles–the unity of form and function, ease of use, and, in Philips’s world, improving the consumer’s life–as an organizing framework for the entire company, from its corporate structure to the ways departments and executives communicate, right on up to the user interface on every electronic gizmo.” […]

“Marzano’s attempt to overhaul Philips through design is not just some right-brain fantasia. There is a method here, one that draws together the data-driven old guard, the truest of blue-sky thinkers, and everyone in between. Marzano has devoted his career to exploring meta-trends in society and has put that experience at the center of product development at Philips. So, where a company of this scale would typically rely on designers or engineers to generate ideas in-house and then force them into the market, at Philips the process starts out as macrofocused as possible.”

“It starts, in other words, with a mandate not to develop the next iPod but to assess what, exactly, would change consumers’ lives for the better, whether a lightbulb or a music player. Drawing on broad, proprietary sociocultural research, the group– a small army of designers, social scientists, cultural experts, and assorted brainiacs–might identify, for example, an emerging baby boom, a global water shortage, or a growing desire to spend more time at home. It then distills its research into a series of “personas,” each representing a group with like-minded interests, needs, and values–on child rearing, maybe, or the ideal home. Only then do designers and engineers try to imagine and build a series of products such a composite person might want.” […]

“Ragnetti established a new vetting process three years ago in which design, marketing, and technology evaluate each new product idea as a team at every stage of development–both to translate the big think for more-analytical types and to anchor that big think in reality.”

“Philips is also trying to better track the impact of design at the company. Now, design shares its broad-based research at every early meeting to ensure that each proposed product is backed up by a real “validated proposition,” in Philips jargon. This means it’s based not on a hypothesis about what people might desire but rather on hard research that shows what people actually desire. Since March, the company has been tracking the percentage of R&D funds spent on such propositions; products that are now “mission critical,” meaning one to two years from the market, must be tied to research or they will not go forward. And thousands of managers have had to be retrained to understand these new metrics.”

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