Samsung Beats Apple in the IDEA/BusinessWeek Design Awards

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on August 1, 2009

Wow. Samsung beat out Apple 8 to 7 in this years annual Industrial Design Excellence Awards sponsored by Business Week. This is a remarkable achievement for the Korean company.

I remember meeting Samsung executives year after year at the annual dinner given by the IDSA and Business Week. Each time it was a table of middle-aged males in suits. Then about a dozen years ago, we had dinner and it was different. With the suits were two young, flamboyant guys in colored shirts and ties who knew the language of design. Something was happening at Samsung.

Later, IDEO opened up it’s IDEO U, mainly for Samsung, as I recall. Dozens and dozens of Samsung managers and designers spent months in IDEO’s offices in California learning, absorbing, engaging in the culture of design. A bit later, I put Samsung on the cover of Business Week’s Asia edition when it won big in the IDEA awards for the first time ever.

It’s hard to believe today but in the early 90s there was a lot of talk about how hard it would be for Confucian-based cultures to be creative. The argument was that these cultures (Korea, China, Taiwan), were conservative, hierarchical, with long traditions of copying older artists.

Well, yes, in schools throughout Asia, there remains a strong element of that culture. But Samsung shows that history is not always a guide to the future, that people can break out from their cultural straight-jackets and that in the competitive world of business, old ways of doing things can be sacrificed for the new when the new can show it creates value.

Samsung’s success should be copied—and there is no better country to start copying than the US. American business culture has resisted innovation and creativity for far too long in the chase for short-term profits.

And check out the interactive gallery of all 151 winners.

Reader Comments

csven

August 2, 2009 7:31 PM

"there is no better country to start copying than the US. American business culture has resisted innovation and creativity for far too long in the chase for short-term profits."

Wow. What a serious 180-degree turn you're making here, Bruce. Did you forget your "Design Has Won" proclamation ( http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2005/10/the_national_de.html ) where you wrote: "The great struggle for respect in society and in the corporate world is over. Design has won."? The one with which I took issue ( http://blog.rebang.com/?p=363 ) and wrote in response to the comment you left: "I wouldn’t disagree that companies are increasingly understanding the value of design (both the limited definition and the broader concept). And I’d also venture that - within the U.S. at least - we’re at or near a tipping point for larger corporations {though a precarious tipping point from which ID could easily slide back down the wrong side of the slope}. But after the last round of this in the early 90’s, I prefer waiting until the robust person audibles.
...
So until I see a change in the design trenches, I’ll remain skeptical of announcements such as yours. And I’ll warn against making them prematurely. It didn’t really help last time. And I suspect if some other price-dropping game showed up in the corporate boardroom, it wouldn’t help the design industry today."

As far as I'm concerned, we still have to "sell" design, and mostly because "American business culture has resisted innovation and creativity for far too long in the chase for short-term profits."

The question I have for you, Bruce, is how did you get it so wrong when you have such extraordinary access?

Murli Nagasundaram

August 2, 2009 7:53 PM

Bruce, I have been having a Twitter/email debate with an American friend, each of us claiming that own own cultures stifle creativity. I've lived and worked in the US for over two decades, and my friend has traveled around the world a lot. He is a innovation and creativity trainer and consultant, and an excellent one at that. My friend points out several aspects of US culture and institutions and culture that appear resistant to innovation, and so do I. I guess each of us knows our parent cultures much too deeply, and are able to focus on the warts.

Nevertheless, despite institutional constraints, US academic institutions, US immigration policy, and the American penchant (at least among some Americans) for borrowing and experimenting with ideas from elsewhere contributes to this nation being able to lead the rest in innovation and design.

The one important matter that I am beginning to understand is that it's not necessary for every man, woman and child to engage in innovation for the whole nation to appear to be innovative. In fact, it takes only a tiny fraction to freely innovate and thereby influence the rest of the culture. Any society that gives free rein to that tiny minority and allows it space and the means to disseminate its ideas will find itself far ahead of the pack with respect to innovation.

This is not the same as Richard Florida's notion of a 'Creative Class', an idea that I am not too excited about.

The bottom line is that it really doesn't take too much to shift the balance from staid and unimaginative to innovative and exciting - sort of like a 'butterfly effect'.

I expect Samsung's recognition this year will begin to snowball. Koreans will naturally be excited about this recognition bestowed on Samsung and will focus their attention on the matter of design. Other businesses will wish to emulate Samsung's feat and get in on the action. Young Koreans will enroll in design programs in increasing numbers and new institutions may sprout to accommodate the demand.

Soon, people will begin expecting outstanding design from Korean businesses, and this expectation will soon become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sergei Dovgodko

August 2, 2009 11:22 PM

Most of the design work that had been done in the US has been already outsourced to Asia and it will not be back.

Most of computers, electronics, semiconductors, displays, batteries, green energy, communications, advanced materials are designed OUS (Asia). That is high-tech stuff. Software design is being outsourced to India.

Besides, Germany leads in mechanical systems design/machine tools, Northern Italy in fashion, cars, and many other design areas. Switzerland/Germany lead in chemical engineering and pharmaceuticals.

The US lost its design capability because it is impossible to separate the manufacturing and product design while outsourcing manufacturing.

Sooner or later your outsourcing partner wants to do more of "value-added" stuff. Before you know, they can already design and manufacture the whole thing. Plus, they have their suppliers right there in Asia.

As a result many times the US businesses is getting reduced to a marketing arm of OUS manufacturers. Did I mentioned furniture?

I am kind of thinking of Dell that, as far as I remember, recently sold all its manufacturing to Asian companies, after leaning them out for a decade and viewing them as a competitive advantage.

What comes next is an "empty" brand shell is put on sale (e.g. Polaroid, RCA, etc) and the OUS manufacturer buys it. The process is complete.

The process demonstrates how individual market-driven decisions, perfectly logical, lead to the loss of entire industries. Including the design capability.

Sergei Dovgodko

Murli Nagasundaram

August 4, 2009 7:14 AM

Whoops ... I hit 'send' too early and then the BW server seemed to have gone down.

Continued ...

Microsoft too only designs its peripherals which are all manufactured in Asia. So while there are many American companies that have become 'mere shells', the next potential step of the OUS buying them out hasn't happened -- yet. I can't foresee Apple or Nike being bought out by an OUS. But it's possible that that could happen to smaller, 'boutique' design labels, the way China is investing in the US.

I don't know what fraction of Nokia's products are still made in Finland; I suspect that most of it gets manufactured in Asia. Yet, Nokia still remains a Finnish marque.

The scenario you paint is a possible one with the future of the US resting precariously on design-only firms, which function, you suggest could also move overseas. I don't have any data to back up my claim, but it doesn't seem likely that this last, and critical design function will also be outsourced.

As I look around me, sitting right now in India, it would take a generation, at the very least, for a cultural and economic shift to occur that would create a challenge for the US. It's still only a very thin sliver of the country that has absorbed some of the positive elements of American culture conducive to breakthrough innovation (while also taking on at least a few not-so-positive ones). Also, the kinds of innovations coming from India are likely to be qualitatively very different from those that emerge from the US, not just because of cultural differences but also because of economic ones, especially, resource (other than human) scarcity. I recall back in 1981 when an Indian group took a long-obsolete IBM 1401 which had a designed maximum 'core' memory capacity of 16 KB, and jury-rigged it to accommodate 64 KB of semiconductor RAM - the sort of stuff that would warm McGuyver's heart.

So at least for a generation, the US is safe -- from India, at least. China's a whole other story, but for different reasons, I don't see US design superiority threatened yet.

david french

August 4, 2009 2:26 PM

Sergei is only partly correct. The largest examples of what you speak Polaroid and RCA are hardly good examples as they were bankrupt in the first place and became a shell brand...The best example of US losing design capability is TTI which owns Hoover, Dirt Devil, Ryobi, Milwaukee and other companies, all design worldwide is done in Hong Kong. Vast majority of consumer product design for US is done in US not Asia or by US firms with resources in Asia, not Asian companies or Asian trained designers...Includes, Dell, HP, Apple, OXO, Samsung, LG, Microsoft hardware plus literally dozens of other major consumer product companies.etc. etc.. Furniture design I have had stuff done in Asia with great results. With advent of real time design and engineering sharing designers and engineers can be anywhere on the planet and be effective (see automotive industry).

Sergei Dovgodko

August 4, 2009 10:54 PM

David,

I agree, the US multinationals do a great job in spreading the design work around the globe. My company is moving toward a global network of product design organizations so that we are able to aasemble the needed design, development, and commercialization capability in our subsidiaries.

Yet the outsourcing trend in manufacturing is a major force that will lead to appearance of foreign giants previously doing only contract manufacturing. Taiwan is a prime exmaple.

Besides, that truly matter where the work is done geographically, not where the business is registered. For example, in our business, 70% of revenue is coming from OUS, and the economic incentives are in place to locate the work where the markets are.

In the absence of US industrial policy the design capability will be shifting OUS, following the outsourced manufacturing.

Madaboutresults

August 6, 2009 6:31 AM

Making cool looking, different products is not innovation. Innovation is what consumers buy at high margins (not because of low price). Samsung might win a lot of awards for making pretty and different stuff but which of thier products do people wait in line for 24 hours to buy at high margins? The Judges in this competition select cool looking stuff regardless of how they do in the market. This is not innovation!

Madaboutresults

August 6, 2009 6:31 AM

Making cool looking, different products is not innovation. Innovation is what consumers buy at high margins (not because of low price). Samsung might win a lot of awards for making pretty and different stuff but which of thier products do people wait in line for 24 hours to buy at high margins? The Judges in this competition select cool looking stuff regardless of how they do in the market. This is not innovation!

Murli Nagasundaram

August 6, 2009 7:59 AM

The size of the economy and the uniqueness or idiosyncratic nature of a culture are two critical variables that will influence if and where design centers will be located. For instance, Toyota, Honda and even Mercedes Benz design products targeted at the US market right in the United States. Many products meant for the Japanese market may not sell as well elsewhere. To the extent that aesthetic sensibilities as well as functional requirements are local rather than global, it would take a design group that is deeply immersed in that specific culture to be able to design products and services that are embraced enthusiastically by a specific market. Of course, the size of the market will determine whether a corporation will assign the resources needed for local design.

Then again, there are products and services that are quite global -- blue jeans, come to mind -- but which do have a culture of origin (the US, in the case of jeans). As long as American culture (in the case of blue jeans) is perceived as 'cool' or desirable/positive/etc., the perceived value of such lifestyle products will remain intimately connected to that culture, and would require that design activity remains rooted in that culture.

The forces that determine where design activity will take place are, therefore, at least somewhat different from the largely economic forces that drive the geographical shift of manufacturing activity. Design (and by this I mean design that involves at least some decisions relating to aesthetics and to human behavior) is, to a significant extent, a culturally-grounded process; it is far more 'sticky' with respect to location than manufacturing. Design cannot easily be reduced to a paint-by-numbers rational process -- as is the case with manufacturing -- and shipped around elsewhere.

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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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