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Is Philips The Absolute Best Design Company in The World?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 28, 2006

I don’t know the answer, of course, but I go to a lot of events and see a lot of fascinating things and on Monday night I went to The Simplicity Event put on by Philips Design on Pier 94 in Manhattan and it just blew me away. I saw technology as natural harmony, seamlessly integrated into the way we normally move through life. Not communicating through keyboards and computers but through our voices and hands and eyes in normal, natural and yes, simple, ways. It was human, not technoid, and it was clearly the future. I couldn’t find any actual reference to this great event on the Philips site but our partner, Core77, was right there.

So on Monday evening I got out of the cab on 54th and 12 avenue on the Hudson River and walkedinto an old pier. Philips constructed an entirely new world inside, with white gauze panels for walls and ceilings. I walked down a long aisle to a table to get your ID. Now I really hate IDs that you have to pin to your suit or shirt. The idea of making a hole in what I’m weaing bugs me (OK, OK). Philips invented this totally cool magnet ID. A small magnet slips into your pocket or dress or shirt and the ID adheres to it. Brilliant concept. No holes.

Then I walked down to the bar—where lots of New York’s (or should I say Brooklyn’s?) young, hot designers were talking and networking. There were folks from Smart Design, Microsoft, David Rockwell’s group, Audiovox, RitaSue Siegel, the doyen of design management headhunters and Angela Yeh, an up-and-coming design headhunter and others—plus a small army from Philips.

Stefano Marzano was there, dressed in a white sports jacket and looking very European. He's done great stuff at Philips Design since taking over as chief creative director. His speech, however, needs some work. It was very "euro," bewailing the troubles of the world, from pandemics to terrorists to global warming and yes, food additives. We're a little more optimistic on this side of the Atlantic, Stefano.

And the incredible consumer and healthcare product concepts that Philips showed right after the speeches by Stefano and Scott Lehman, director of Philips Design USA, were paens to optimism. They were glorious in that they were so well thought out in terms of how we live and move through the world.

I can't do justice to the Illusion System entertainment system and the intuitive interaction between the wand and the incredible screen and wrap-around sound system. Just know that there is no computer interface to deal with, no buttons, no menus, no computer paradigm. It's just you. The In Touch Video Messaging was pure joy. It worked as you would want it. And the Ambient hospital room for kids getting scanned was brilliant. Getting them to choose their own music and moving images to soothe and calm them is such a wonderful idea. You could extend that to different age and culural groups.

One of my favorite things was the Light Chime--a whole new thing. A round light on a three foot stick, It changes color as the wind blows harder or softer. Line your walkway or put dozens into the ground, it creates a beautiful effect. Never seen anything like it.

Philips Design has now spun out from Philips--just like IBM's design and innovation group under Lee Green. BMW and Porsche did this years ago. You can actually hire these brilliant people. You should.

And go see this exhibit if you can. It travels. Next stop is London.

Reader Comments

Ralf Beuker

April 28, 2006 4:06 PM

... not to forget "designafairs" ( the former design department from Siemens based in Munich as well as in Seattle and Silicon Valley.

Best, Ralf.

Tamara Giltsoff

April 28, 2006 10:56 PM

Sounds incredible, until you get to the bit about Stefano/Europeans and bewailing the troubles of the world. Agree; we can be a bit glass-half-empty at times compared to the enterprising spirit of your nation. I speak as one. But to suggest that responding to our world context, as a designer, is pessimistic is tantamount to saying climate change is not happening (er... that sounds familiar).

What a shame that your estimation of design, and your nation, to respond world issues like climate change or disease and embark on a new paradigm is so shockingly low. If everyone remains as 'optimistic' as you, design will remain in the studio, on the mantle piece and in landfill, as opposed to in the boardroom, on the policy table and in solutions to our world context. And the U.S. will remain (or, more accurately, will be perceived to remain) in complete denial and in an absolutely uncompetitive position to own the new, new, new economy – the one that is measured on the triple bottom line.

Thank you none-the-less for the rich description of your experience.

RitaSue Siegtel

May 2, 2006 1:24 PM

I was puzzled by the apparent disconnect between Stefan Marzano's focus in his talk on ifluencers such as climate change, terrorism, and those at the bottom of the pyramid with the wonders of technology on display.

Richard Stowey

May 2, 2006 11:53 PM

Great stuff. Have you got any information on the event in the fall in England?

Stefano Marzano

May 4, 2006 10:56 AM

Hi Bruce, thanks for visiting our Simplicity event. I am glad you were impressed by the concepts. I wanted to put some context to your interesting comments referring to a sort of 'Euro pessimism'. I believe an element of Simplicity is also anticipating and forecasting potential problems and crisis, and from there developing hypothetical solutions that can innovate by improving people's life.
Unfortunately problems and crisis are a given, bringing with them the preoccupation and the pessimism. The solutions are my territory and the territory of Design. Solutions, when well designed, bring optimism, humanism and hope
to all. I am glad you recognized this in our Next Simplicity concepts.
For example, anxiety and sedation in a hospital are emotional and practical problems. Ambient Experience was designed as a human and optimistic solution. Think about our present experience when travelling. Shoes out shoes in, belt out belt in, pc out pc in....wouldn't be great to simply cross a gate as we did in the 'safe' days ?
I am exited by the idea to meet you soon again in NY to discuss more on innovation.....

ciao, Stefano

Dr. Robert Blaich FIDSA

May 8, 2006 9:38 PM

Thank you for the report on the Philips Simplicity event. It makes my heart feel good to see Philips Design continue to be in a leadership position and have BW recognize their expertise. Stefano was my hand picked successor at Philips and at 80 years old Philips Design is by my vote " The Best Design Company in the World" and he continues to provide the leadership. See you at the ID Strategy Conference. Bob

Robert Fein

May 10, 2006 12:59 PM

Again, thanks for the posting. Looks like it would have been a great event. I do have a couple of questions.

1) can anyone describe to me what the "new, new, new economy" and what the "triple bottom line" is?

2) Philips has had GREAT design for at least the past 15 or so years (when I first noticed them). However, I have never or at most rarely seen any of these great designs in the shops. why?


Dr.Robert Blaich

May 11, 2006 4:21 AM

Robert fein,
A partial answer to your question. First Philips has been in a Design Leadership [position since 1980, While I was the Head of Design we recieved over 500 International Design Awards during this period and probably as many since then. Perhaps you do not see all the great designs in the shops as some arenot available in the U.S. If you visit Europe, Asia and South America you will find them. Also their expertise in the Medical Field are in the hospitals not the shops.
So head to Europe to see many of these great designs.
Bob Blaich


June 12, 2006 2:02 PM

this is the most famious company in technology side it is growing fast

John Stevens

August 9, 2006 11:44 PM

This is just a humble and belated "right on!" from the back of the auditorium in support of maestro Marzano's and Tamara Giltsoff's responses (and a tenuous excuse to appear on the same page as Stefano and Bob Blaich).
Yep, we euros are a miserable bunch, but I can't help thinking Charles Eames would be bringing up the same concerns. How strange it seems that identifying the biggest possible challenges for design could be seen as pessimistic. Stefano's DMI keynote in Amsterdam had the same theme and I found it if anything overly optimistic, in the sense that "design can conquer all woes". I shared RitaSue Siegte's concern. But whether it's national security, climate change, or pin holes in your suit, the first step towards a solution is naming the problem.
I hope I get to see the show in London.

VInay Rao

October 12, 2006 10:22 AM

I guess I'm reading this article a whole half year too late by which time many of these concepts would have either found market favour, ended up in a corporate museum, or buried in the graveyard of great concepts.

Philips is a household name in India, because it was here practically before everyone else. But the 'Simplicity' concept may just not work here. As a generalization, life is extremely chaotic here, and people are actually quite comfortable with that. Something 'simple', even elegant, can transate to 'not enough' or 'there is something missing here'. As of now, people don't want 'less' of something - they still want more - more different things, more of the same thing, etc. Elegance and sophistication are synonymous here with 'pointlessly expensive'.

So it is a path that one has to tread judiciously here. 'Simplicity' is not even a good thing. A 'simple' person is a simpleton, someone who may not have the smarts to get through life, someone with tons of what else - simplicity!

india will be better prepared for enhanced and enriched experiences when we have the time to stop and enjoy them, when the country becomes more 'usable'. We are a long way from there, and dont hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Not to sound sour because we're happy as we are. We actually like the cows in the traffic :).

Remko de Jong

October 23, 2006 3:12 PM

Seems that the sense and simplicity theme is quite a western vision on how products should be. I guess this is culturally based and mostly appealing to countries with low uncertainty avoidance (Hofstede’s cultural dimensions).
Very interesting to notice that this ‘simple’ way of using technology can be in contrary when seen from another point of view.
Maybe Philips should organise a ‘behind-the-scene’, more techy version as well?

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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