An Interview with Two Red Dot Design Award Veterans David Hill, Lenovo & Ruben Castano, Executive Director, CXD Americas, Motorola
Lenovo and Motorola both share a history steeped in product design. From the classical Bento Box design of the original ThinkPad to the elegant modularity of Moto Z, we’ve worked to create designs that resonate with users around the world. We’re continuing this design philosophy today, and it’s played into our most recent products, winners of the prestigious Red Dot Award: Product Design 2017 from the Red Dot group in Germany. This is the first time we’ve received awards jointly – 11 in total – for products that are uniquely different from each other, yet better because they’re bound by a common design approach. We’re also doubly honored to have 10 PC products receive the 2016 GOOD DESIGN Award from the Chicago Athenaeum and Museum of Architecture and Design.
Here, David and Ruben share their design insights behind the list of recognized products.
Q. Where does your inspiration for new products come from?
A. (David) I believe most designers would agree it comes from three places. First, the customer. We put the customer at the center of everything we do, asking will this help the user do something better? Will this make it easier? We start by defining the customer needs – whether that’s for a capability, size, thinness, weight, etc. It’s important to remember that a need isn’t always utilitarian. Sometimes it’s aesthetic. And that’s where classical design approach fits in. We’re looking at both form and function – good design is about making an object look better and work better. There’s a purpose behind each element of design, similarly to the stripes on a tiger. They’re there for a reason, to help camouflage the animal from prey. Everything we do is deliberate.
Good design simplifies complex tasks – it’s easy to say, but much harder to do. It requires a meticulous attention to detail, something we’re known for from measuring the pitch of a key to how quietly a fan circulates. And design has an authenticity to it that resonates and lasts. I’d argue ThinkPad has that withstanding the test of time in its nearly 25 year history. Its design evolves in increments, but it retains the elements that make it iconic and useful, so much so, that you can recognize the design without a logo. Just like you may recognize the car, even without its label.
And finally, there’s an emotional component to inspiring design. The best products evoke an emotion – they become more than an individual’s tool. They become more personal than that. That’s the pinnacle of good design.
(Ruben) As designers, we’re always looking at a combination of elements from which to draw inspiration. Typically first, we’re zeroing in on how consumers are integrating and living with technology in their daily lives. Then we’re combining that perspective with insight into new trends and technologies across industries and of course a constant curiosity and challenging mindset of “what if”. While Eureka moments do exist, we believe in the process of refinement and curating an experience throughout the development of a new product as the best way to deliver truly meaningful innovation.
Q. How do you know when you’ve succeeded in drawing out that emotional response?
A. (David) There’s no one measure, but I think you know it when you see it. People are buying your product, but you see a strong response come out in user reviews and customer feedback and even in awards.
(Ruben) We’re looking for that spontaneous reaction from consumers – it’s second to none as a way to understand we’re on to something unique. However, past that initial response, what we really want to see is an immediate affinity to the concept, a clear understanding what it can do and how it can be part of their life with no explanation at all – users just get it. You really want to remain silent and hear consumers talking back to you about what they’re seeing and describing the concept in their terms. We also aim to create a spontaneous connection to the brand even before noticing it on the product. What the product it does, the way it looks and the innovation it brings should trigger an emotional connection to Motorola.
Q. What are some of your favorite objects that evoke this kind of emotional connection you’re talking about?
A. (David) One of my favorites is the classic Hug Salt & Pepper Shakers designed by Alberto Mantilla in 2002. It artfully connects simplicity, usefulness and emotion into a singular object. They’ve been featured in MOMA.
(Ruben) Augmented and virtual reality solutions right now are good examples that trigger that kind of emotional connection. Consumers don’t want to be limited by technology, and the more technology is designed to behave in the same way human beings interact, the stronger the emotional connection. You can see examples of this on our Moto Z platform with focused, plug and play (with no set up required) MODs that enhance the smartphone tailored to consumer needs. We’ve also evolved our Moto Experiences following the same principles of simplicity and intuitiveness designing solutions that easily become part of your daily life. Another great example is our Moto G franchise which constantly surprises consumers by delivering unexpected levels of quality and design.
Q. How did the customer play a role in some of the Red Dot award winning products?
A. (David) Well, customer research and feedback plays a role in developing all of our products. For example, in the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, we took a lot of measures to understand users’ practical needs. Our business professionals who used convertibles told us they wanted a cleaner keyboard design so that ultimately led to creating the retractable keyboard. They also wanted a practical yet elegant solution for storing the electronic pen. That’s how the storage slot in the keyboard was born.
(Ruben) Consumers played a key role throughout the process. They expected a breakthrough in an established category that was becoming stagnated, and we had clear evidence that they felt their phones weren’t living up to their full potential and limiting their productivity. Along the way, they helped us refine the product and as I mentioned, always bring us back to what would be the most simple and easy to use solution.
While the concept of modularity can easily take designers and engineers down the path of breaking up the phone into multiple stand-alone components, the key learning was to focus on enhancing the device in ways that could be tailored to consumer changing needs. That’s what drove us to single purpose, extremely easy to use plug and play modules or MOD’s focused on sound, imaging (zoom and projection), battery life or simply style.
The Red Dot Product Design 2017 winners are:
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
ThinkPad X1 Yoga
Lenovo Smart Assistant
Lenovo Smart Storage
ThinkCentre M910 Tower
ThinkVision P27q Monitor
Think Wireless Mouse
Moto Z Family
The 2016 GOOD Design winners are:
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
ThinkPad X1 Tablet
ThinkPad Yoga 260
X1 27” Monitor
X1 Touch Monitor