Prior to joining Philips in March 2011, Carney was leading the global experience design operation for the Imaging and Printing Group for Hewlett Packard and was based in San Diego, California.

 Curve editor Belinda Stening spoke to Carney about his design approach in his new role with Philips.

How would you describe your management style?

I like to work with people directly and to have a personal one-on-one relation-ship with as many people as I can. This can be a bit of a struggle in a large corporation like Philips [with over 500 designers, the largest design team Carney has managed to date] especially when you have many management teams and processes to adhere to. I’m probably a little too ‘open door’, but I get energy from being with the designers and participating in the projects we have on the go; from walking around and trying my best to avoid sitting in an office.

Do you think the role of design in business is changing?

I was at a design conference in England a couple of weeks ago and I was struck by a perception that designers there almost seem to be behind the curve, with lots of talk about how we need to get design on the agenda of companies. We don’t need to keep selling design to business in the same way we used to – most successful businesses appreciate that design is important now. We need to move the debate forward, and focus our efforts on ways of becoming more effective.

It’s a good time for design in business. A lot of CEOs and boards have woken up to the fact that design isn’t a cost and that it is a value creator for business. Of course, we always need to be on our toes continuously improving this, but as designers we now need to step up and start delivering.

Is the role of design at Philips changing?

I have inherited 20 years of Stefano Marzano building design competence at Philips Design and the opportunity to work with a team that is world renowned for their design talent and capabilities. This is what made me leave the sunny beaches of California for rainy Amsterdam.

This is also an interesting time to be at Philips. It is a large global business facing some significant challenges. I believe we can leverage our unique design capabilities to help the company weather the economic challenges and in building strong platforms to enable growth. We are looking at how we can more effectively deploy our world-class design team to have a more positive and marked impact on the business as a whole. This is really in terms of building sustainable growth for the company into the future, while delivering on our nearer term ambitions.

Just recently design has been recognised as one of the key strategic levers that will help the business to grow into the future. This isn’t about future gazing, it’s about the short-term actions that we need to take to help our business and markets to achieve their results, as well as making sure we think longer term about where the business is heading.

In the design industry you are known as a leader in design thinking – can you explain this?

There are core discussions currently within the design community about design thinking. Over the last few years, design thinking was going to be the holy grail – it was going to change the world of business and designers were going to be the saviours of business; we often aimed to try to do everything ourselves and build multifaceted, multi-skilled design teams who could run projects from soup to nuts, beginning to end.

The danger that I see in this direction is that you can breed a team of gen-eralists, and quickly lose sight of the real core skills that made us valuable in the first instance. We need to find the right balance between system thinking, identifying patterns, looking for synergies, while still respecting the simple act of designing. Essentially, business needs more creative people, regardless of which department they sit in. But equally business also needs those individuals who  can create beautiful, desirable products where the emotive qualities of a brand can really be brought to life through
the product experience. Design thinking all too often neglected to recognise the need for those who can give form to the intangible attributes of a brand. I want to make sure at Philips we find the balance to do this, and celebrate both the Thinkers and the Doers.

But I will stress that we do need to balance this and encourage more thinking at a system level – so not just designing the one product but thinking about the platform we are building and how that is leveraged through the life-time of that product. To create different variants, reduce complexity in the man-ufacturing environment and also give the diversity people need for different cultures and markets in a globalised world.

I do think we are very fortunate; design is about pushing and creating beautiful forms – compelling, desirable, emotive products – and simultaneously thinking more holistically about the systems we are putting in place, as well as creating more engaging and rewarding experiences. That’s a pretty cool task for anyone to have. On top of this, we need to ensure that the products or systems we create are meaningful to people – in the context of their activities, whether in healthcare or the home.

Success for me means that all our solutions are economically robust, scalable and they have to be sustainable. 

In essence I fear that the whole notion of design thinking may have had a little bit of a negative effect on what I call ‘pure designers’. We still need to celebrate the great designers – the form givers; the designers who can make something mundane look wonderful. They can transform everyday objects into desirable objects and make them a notch above everything else.

But at the same time there is a great opportunity for designers to step in and think about the wider customer and end-user experience. In terms of eco-systems, thinking about how to leverage learning across categories; more end-to-end solutions. More than ever we need to be thinking about service design and total solution design.

At Philips Design we are a team of people sitting in an organisation of 120 000 other people and within that community a lot of the skills for successful business already exist. So we need to find other ways to partner with these other internal teams at Philips to make sure we connect and can bring products to market more effectively that way.

This is even challenging the notion that we have a design department and, as such, I believe we need to soften and blur the boundaries that exist when we think of design as a function. We need to move towards embedding design as an action that includes all functions operating across the wider Philips Group. I think that by doing this we can be more effective at bringing design thinking (or design doing) into the Philips ways of working. We’re already taking the first steps by appointing Design Managers to each Product Category Management Team and setting up more
regional offices to ensure that we are closer to the markets.

As with most things in business there is a trade off. In this case we will do a little less on the conceptual blue-sky projects, which have been fantastic for raising the profile of Philips Design, but haven’t been adopted widely by Philips. I want to make sure that we continue to think beyond the current horizon and encourage next-generation thinking, but ensure we embed this into today’s roadmaps and so guide and influence our future products.

Can you explain the importance of fostering a bold, positive and entrepreneurial spirit?

I had a long courting period with Philips while I was working in California. I hadn’t been with Hewlett Packard for very long and wasn’t really looking for my next move when Frans van Houten, the then soon-to-be CEO of Philips, contacted me. I flew over to meet Frans as he was formulating his ideas about where he wanted to take the company. 

He had worked in California and he knew the guys at Hewlett Packard well. What he admired and liked about how they had operated (historically) was that they nurtured an entrepreneurial way of working and encouraged people to not let process get in the way, but to really challenge the business and find new ways of getting product to market.

He said he wanted to bring me in to Philips but he didn’t want me to adopt the Philips way of working. He wanted me to challenge and bring a more entrepreneurial mindset to Philips. He wanted to bring change to the business and create some urgency about it.

This has since turned into the Accelerate program, which is being adopted company-wide now. This is getting every-one to challenge what they have done historically – and think of ways they can do things faster and connect and drive change more coherently and effectively.

Can you explain the importance of communicating the advantages of design in a clear and simple language within Philips?

At Philips Design we have to be careful when we talk about the bigger visionary, longer-term issues, as we have colleagues in the country sales organisations, the marketing teams, for example, who are working in the reality of today, dealing with downturns in economies (Greece, Spain, USA) – they are at the front line with these challenges every day. If design gets on to a cloud in the sky and talks about issues too abstract and far into the future, then these Philips teams get anxious and they check out. These people need us to help fix current problems and find solutions quickly.

So we have to consider this and empathise. It’s important that we find a balance, between maximising the short-term opportunities while building for the future. We have to understand how we can optimise and leverage the current portfolio and the revenue streams that will support longer-term growth.

Economic pressure brings new challenges, as well as opportunities. Some companies do well in a downturn, others not so well. There are certainly markets where you can start to see opportunities. We are sitting in Europe with this gloomy cloud over us, but if you look at South-East Asia, sales are exploding in these markets. 

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