As successful and experienced design professionals, they reveal their opinions and formulas for success. They highlight how strong leadership in design can give brands and companies cohesion and strength.
When Stefano Marzano started off as CEO of the creative think tank of Philips Design at the end of 1991, he set himself a goal: the integration of the design profession within the Philips business process. Now, 20 years later, he can finally say that he has achieved it. Laura Traldi from Curve recently spoke to Marzano about his many reasons to be pleased.
“I have to admit it was a much more complex task than I had originally assumed. Back in 1991, I actually thought that it would take me no more than seven to eight years, yet it took 20!” says Marzano of the complete change in the role that design has at Philips, which owes a lot to Marzano and his team.
“Obviously not all is perfect, but when I look back at how design was perceived within the company when I started and how it is considered today, I cannot help smiling.”
As a matter of fact, back in the early 90s, designers at Philips would simply be brought into projects at the latest possible stage. Their task was to give some sort of positive aesthetic look to a technology and a function that had already been agreed upon.
Today, on the contrary, three chief design officers (all reporting to Marzano) actually sit in the management team of each one of the three sectors of the Dutch electronics giant: Consumer Lifestyle, Healthcare and Lighting.
“They are thoroughly involved in the strategic decision-making process together with the representatives from the technology and the marketing side,” explains Marzano.
Born and educated in Italy as an architect, Marzano was raised in the same cultural atmosphere that saw the birth of irreverent groups such as Archizoom and Memphis, as well as the development of socially-oriented design philosophies.
It was a time in which technology products were designed by the likes of Marco Zanuso, Ettore Sottssass and Michele de Lucchi and in which the partnership between enlightened entrepreneurs and creative minds (the coupling that brought about the Italian Design phenomenon) was already shaking the industrial status quo.
Using design as a tool to build a better world by making things that are not only useful or beautiful, but also meaningful for people, this was, in essence, the very social message that Italian Design was putting out to the world in those years.
A message that today – 20 years later, after the internet boom and crash years, after the Twin Towers and the wars in the Middle East, after the world economic crisis – seems to be more relevant than ever since it links so closely to the issue of sustainability. It’s a message that Marzano has the great merit of having been able to translate and integrate in an international, corporate reality.
When he started talking about sustainable development at business meetings back in 1991, soon after the then Philips President Jan Timmer appointed him as CEO of Design, many thought that Marzano was out his mind: “At that time businesses were driven only by two factors: quantity (increasing production) and cost.”
Yet it was sustainability and the capacity to add a human touch to technology by using design as a main creative force in product development that was the main topic of his first speech as a CEO – Flying Over Las Vegas – a text that was later turned into a sort of booklet, widely distributed in and outside the company, which instantly turned the perception of Marzano in the eyes of his people (and not only just his people) from ‘yet another suit’ to a thought leader.
It was precisely the passion that drove his whole team of designers – who, working with anthropologists, psychologists and trends researchers were finally asked to look at a visionary future of technology, rather than simply give a shape to the next TV – and their support that helped Marzano bring design at Philips to the next level.
“People work for a manager because they have to,” he says, “but if you are perceived as a leader, they work for you because they want to. The emotional power of a group that is driven by ideas is often undervalued but it is immense,” explains Marzano.
At first, Marzano’s vision of humanised technology was translated into a series of futuristic projects, the recipe for which was simple but effective: to get people’s insights into the Philips technology pipeline and to envisage meaningful contexts of use. Like haute couture stands to prêt-à-porter.
Cleverly, Marzano used communications – under the form of exhibition, videos and books – to ensure that his visions of the future would be seen by as many people as possible.
This also helped (thanks to a growing attention by media and opinion leaders alike) in gaining ever-stronger attention from the top management of the company. Up to the stage when the new (now exiting) President Gerard Kleisterlee decided that it was high time to give design more decision-making power.
“It was partly the fact that the world knew and acclaimed our design approach, not only for the visionary projects but also for the actual products,” says Marzano (under his leadership, Philips has been collecting an enviable quantity of design awards and recognition).
“But also the world has changed in the last few years and there has been a great deal of economic turmoil and uncertainty. The business arena has finally realised that design can play a key role in envisaging solutions that aim at the creation of new qualities such as sustainability. It is not by chance that today many American publications feature design as a key business differentiator.”
One can say that Marzano had the ‘luck’ of growing up in Italy during the era of the great maestros and to be positively influenced by them; of entering an open-minded company with enlightened presidents who gave plenty of freedom to Marzano to act; of living in an era in which, in corporate design terms, the panorama was a tabula rasa and there was plenty
of scope for innovation.
Yet, like all success stories, Marzano’s also stems from hard work and attitude. And it’s a story that, he is convinced, could be repeated by others.
“Many young people have the qualities required to be a leader: ideas, the courage to stick to them, the willingness to stand by others and support them in the good and bad times – we’ve had a few of those at Philips too, obviously,” – he says.
“Nobody can teach you these qualities, but surely it is possible to learn how to free them when you have them in you. It is important for young people to understand that they can think autonomously, and go beyond what is taught.”
It is no chance that Marzano, who also contributed to the development of an Industrial Design faculty at the Technical University of Eindhoven, envisages multi-disciplinarity as a key element to help young designers liberate their potential.
“The school that I dream of is one in which the human sciences and the hard ones go hand in hand. Its purpose should be, beyond just learning the status quo, envisioning scenarios of what could be,” he claims.
It all sounds a lot like Philips Design (that was, in fact, also a very proficient school for many young designers who later left and carried out excellent careers outside the company).
“It may have taken me 20 years instead of seven, but overall I think that Philips Design has truly been able to change the company culture in a positive, more people-focused way,” says Marzano.
“And with design no longer offered as a consultancy service within Philips, but as a thoroughly integrated strategic element together with technology and marketing, chances are that this new culture is there to stay for
a long, long time.”
After all, isn’t it ideas that are supposed to change the world? Surely, in this case, they were able to change a company.
Peter Schreyer has had a distinguished career in automotive design, and has been the lead designer of multi-award-winning automotive design teams. He was the head of Audi design from 1994 to 2002.
He then led the Volkswagen design group until 2006. Schreyer has been in his current role as chief design director for Kia Motors Corporation for four-and-a-half years. Curve spoke to Schreyer from the Kia Design Centre in Frankfurt.
Automotive design has a strong tradition in design leadership and design is well integrated and established in all major car corporations.
The main design direction that the automotive industry is focusing on at the moment is on cars becoming more eco-oriented. For some companies, this translates into reality only for some models. But for Kia, they are thinking in terms of making all of their cars eco-friendly and fuel efficient.
“The creation of car models is based on consumer demand for the type of car people want and not what shape,” says Schreyer. “The preference for a certain form language in a car in the world market is not that different. It’s more the taste for different types of product.”
In the European market, for example, Schreyer explains there is a high demand for wagons – it’s a five-door and wagon market. In Korea, people don’t want to be seen in a wagon. They only want sedans. The American market is more sedan and SUV-oriented. They want bigger cars.
“In general,” he says, “we need to get back to smaller cars again – due to cost and fuel consumption. The nice thing about cars and the car industry is the freedom and the variety of vehicles we get to design and work with.”
This variety is increasing, he explains, as the types of cars seen on the street have more and more variety. At Kia, the focus is on working with this to manage things so that cars in certain categories are not all alike.
“My main focus at Kia is concerned with a form language. In our case, it is very important to establish our brand – a brand feeling, form language and an identity for our product. I would like to find a more specific design language for Kia – a specific expression and identity for us, so that we can then make different models for different markets with this design language in mind.”
So, in the Kia product range, they have to have models that cater to these markets. However, if a sedan or a five-door is made, it still needs to be designed and manufactured to maintain its Kia identity. So the goal is to not create in a style that is dictated by a foreign market and make it a form language model that doesn’t look like a Kia.
“Kia design has international reach and the more places I go around the world, the more Kias I see – so it’s nice to see this happening. Wherever I go I see more and more Kias driving around and the numbers look very promising and it gives the whole team a great feeling,” says Schreyer.
Design has for a long time been closely integrated into the car development industry. There are a lot of designers working at a senior level in the automotive industry. This is an industry that has a strong design tradition and designers have worked very closely with top-level management in automotive for many years.
“So this is very well established in automotive design. Design is acknowledged as being very important to automotive development and the design of a car is a very complex thing that designers are highly suited to managing. Design takes a very important role in automotive design,” says Schreyer.
“At a general business level, design leadership needs to be connected to leadership in other areas of a business. Design alone cannot lead much. It’s a connection of all functions of a business that is needed first – if we want leadership. When all of the branches of a business connect together, then design is able to lead and take an important position in a company.”
Schreyer brings up the example of Apple, a key example in design. Jonathon Ive, senior vice president of industrial design at Apple, Schreyer notes, is in a very important position – a decision-making position and you see this in the results.
“For companies outside of the automotive industry, the times are absolutely over when you develop a product and then say: ‘We’ve got the product, now let’s hire a designer to design it’,” says Schreyer, who likens design in a business to a spider in the centre of a web, with all other parts of the web connecting to it, and all the other parts of the web interconnecting with one another.
“So there are connections between marketing, research and development, advertising, sales and finance – all parts of the company. All of these need to connect to design,” he says.
“In an automotive company like Kia, for example, there are a lot of specialists. There are people that are great at designing an engine, great at selling cars, people who know everything about finance or car production – but there is nobody like a designer, in a car company, who knows about everything.”
Designers, Schreyer explains, know how to position a car in the market, they know the technical issues, they know and understand the costs involved, how you solve problems together with engineers. A designer knows the whole process about a car. Designers understand users of vehicles and what they need.
“Designers have a deep understanding of the entire product range and what the whole range will look like into the future. As designers we have these very clear pictures and visions in our heads, and nobody else has this with such clarity.
"Designers are able to look to the future much more easily than others. So they have this great advantage over other specialist members of a team,” says Schreyer.
Designers also understand users very well, which is a very important part of the design of any vehicle. Compared to marketing people – who are skilled in knowing what people want now – designers have incredible foresight.
“Designers have the imagination and understanding of what products are suitable for a particular application and what people will appreciate in the future.”
Dick Powell is co-founder of renowned London-based design firm, Seymourpowell. Powell and his business partner Richard Seymour have appeared regularly on radio and television design programs. Powell has sat on the boards of the Design Council, the Design Business Association and the D&AD Executive.
He was global design advisor to Samsung Electronics and is currently a member of the International Advisory Design Panel for Design in Singapore. He is group creative director for Loewy, Seymourpowell’s parent company.
Despite all of his commitments, Powell still actively works in product design and also sits on the parliamentary commission for design, which is a new body looking at issues surrounding design and innovation for government in the UK. Curve spoke to Powell from his London Seymourpowell office.
“There are some big themes that designers need to think about at the moment – particularly product and industrial designers like us – when you are actually creating products, not just two-dimensional graphics or communications,” says Powell, on the subject of the most important current directions for design.
The best place to start, according to Powell, is for designers now, and into the future, to have an understanding and grasp of three big changes in the direction of product design. The first is what he calls the ‘metaproduct’. Then there are ‘emotional ergonomics’ and ‘changing paradigms’.
“People experience a product experience, whether it’s at work, home, at the petrol station, or the corner store, so these three elements – hardware, interface and service provision – and the way they are put together is what I call the ‘metaproduct’,” says Powell, who is passionate in the belief that design is about being better for people, business and the world.
“The emergence of the metaproduct should be consuming most of a product designer’s time at the moment,” he continues. “The metaproduct is a thing that is the integration of hardware, software and service provision. A metaproduct is a product that provides a complete experience for people.”
Powell refers to the classic metaproduct that everyone is familiar with – the iPhone or iPad – because, he says, it relies not just on absolutely superb design of the hardware, but also the implementation of an interface coupled with a stunning provision of service.
This is all-consuming for product designers, explains Powell, because the kinds of skills needed to do great interface design are the skills of product designers and product design training.
“As this type of product design gets more and more complex and technically challenging, you need the kind of mind that a product designer has to carry out this sort of design work.”
‘Emotional ergonomics’ – the way we interact with things – is another topic Powell is passionate about. “This is not just about: ‘Can I reach this button and does it feel nice?’ (the machine interface). It’s about how we engage emotionally with something.”
Powell says this is well illustrated in the example of cup holders in cars, which was enormous several years ago in terms of the way a cup holder opened in order for the user to put the coffee cup in it.
Also, the way a car door sounds when it shuts and the way switches feel – not to mention the way certain products interact with other products. “In one way or another we all get seduced by emotional ergonomics,” says Powell.
A slightly more complex issue is the phenomena of ‘changing paradigms’. “People make things and people use things. They get very comfortable with products fitting into a category,” explains Powell.
“When we look at a toaster we say: ‘Yes, that’s a toaster’. In our minds if we see something or come across something that we can’t easily identify our brains will interpret the object and tell us; ‘That’s probably a toaster’.
But it might actually be something else. So a great way of creating interesting new products is to think about new paradigms, new categories of products out of existing norms,” explains Powell.
Industry is focused on delivering in categories of products. So if you break the categories and produce something new, you give that product a terrific chance of success.
“Years ago we did a toaster for Tefal called Avanti. We took their existing two-slot toaster mechanism and turned it through 90 degrees, and designed the toaster so you could see your toast cooking. At the time it created a new paradigm for toasters. If you go into the shops they are nearly all like that now. It was terrifically successful at the time. I call this a new paradigm.”
Powell describes the role of the designer and design leader as visioneering. “I think design leadership is fundamentally about creating new visions for what could be. We call it optimistic futurism, putting visions out there of what the future could be like – whether it’s in transport or domestic products or whatever it is.”
A designer’s function as a visionary is incredibly important in business, Powell explains, in order to help drive the business towards meeting its goals. “If, within a business, you plan for a new product, it can be very challenging and difficult. But if you can dive into it and deliver it then invariably that’s a very successful strategy. This is about thinking far enough ahead,” he says.
“Designers are already working in the future – everything we do here is about three years away. We already know what the train of the future will be like, what televisions are going to look like.
"We are thinking about the future and pushing beyond the boundaries – putting a vision in place very early so everyone can get behind it,” says Powell. As such, designers have a stake in the future. They can look back and figure out ways they need to get there.
“Designers can be very good at coagulating a vision, directions and driving decisions in the right direction,” says Powell. “It is also vital that a designer in a lead role is opinionated, has views and is able to articulate those views widely. It’s not good enough to just sit in your garage creating great designs. You have to get out there and be articulate and talk about them.”
All good design leaders, he says, are very articulate people with excellent ‘bandwidths’ who can think and talk about many different subjects. Too many designers just focus on being great at what they do, and never get their head up from the drawing board and look around and see what is going on around them. “Bandwidth is so important,” he says.
“I think the best design managers are the ones that still design. There are many design managers out there who have moved into a management role – and that’s terribly important in a big company either with lots of staff or projects – so the managing of the design business is terribly important.
"But I think that all the people I would call design leaders are not design managers. They are still active in creating new things.”
The other important issue is to be able to understand the workings of a business.
“It’s terribly important when you are dealing with large companies with complex supply chains and management structures to really know who does what, how things work and the financial implications of new production lines, moulds and tools, for example. There is more need for bandwidth here,” Powell explains.
“You also need that deep understanding and empathy of what consumers are doing, which you get from research – but the bandwidth is really understanding what it takes to get new products to market. That is so critical.”