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Sam Lucente: The Ethnographer


Among the paintings of Van Gogh and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection in New York City sits the work of an artist named Sam Lucente. It is IBM's Leapfrog computer, which Lucente co-designed with Richard Sapper in 1993.

Lucente has been an artist since early childhood. At 5, he was taking adult drawing classes at the Dayton Art Institute, training his eyes to observe the people and world around him. Ponytailed, soft-spoken, and always clad in midnight blue or black, Lucente is still an artist. But now he also leads the turnaround in design at Hewlett-Packard.

For Lucente, the ethnographer, consumer observation has been a big route out of HP's dilemma. Until recently, HP's merger with Compaq Computer had produced an unintegrated company with hundreds of isolated businesses and thousands of products. To help build a unified, creative culture and reconnect with HP's customers, Lucente launched a major research project. He involved members from all departments -- design, marketing, R&D, even outside consultants -- to immerse themselves in the lives and homes of 28 families around the world. The goal was to make sure that HP was "living and breathing with the customer," Lucente says.

What the trips showed was that families across the globe were deluged with information from their phones, computer screens, cameras, and social networking connections. They were lost, with no idea how to navigate through the information. To Lucente, the obvious answer was a steering wheel.

Lucente's design team came up with Q control. This standardized start-button-cum-steering-wheel, which looks like a backwards Q, is in the process of being attached to all of HP's products. Not unlike the dial on an iPod, it's intuitive and simple to use. It requires no owner's manual. It has a quick and dirty "savior" button so consumers can go back.

Lucente is effective inside HP because he doesn't "talk design." Rather, he speaks the language of business. Observing how people work, socialize, eat, cook, even sleep shows Lucente where the gaps are: what people need and what they don't have. He then maps out these findings on an algorithm-enhanced database that identifies which areas present the biggest opportunities. He made the case for Q control by showing the financial and marketing benefits of using a common design device that could be replicated across all of HP's products. Next up for Lucente: helping people organize a personal library of digital photos. Lucente plans to do for photos what Steve Jobs did for music.

Sam Lucente

VP, Design

Hewlett Packard

6:00 a.m. Wake up, feed cats, log onto wireless HP tablet PC, review updated design presentations (downloaded during the previous night), check work schedule and personal calendar, make notes, check work and personal list, check Web, news if I have time, wake up oldest daughter, drink a shake, grab coffee for the road, review day with wife, Cynthia, make changes where necessary.

7:08 a.m. Take in view of Golden Gate Bridge via the Presidio, get traffic update then onto Highway 280, conduct conference calls with people in the U.S., New York, Ohio (my mom or sisters) or Texas, in Bluetooth-laden mobile office: the Prius

8:15 a.m. Phone in hand, dock tablet PC at work, finish calls, check in with my assistant, Tina

8:30 a.m. Meetings on required Marketing Resource Management classes

9:30 a.m. Find some people to walk with, and buy them a latte

10:00 a.m. Back to meetings

11:00 a.m. Visit design firm to discuss common user interface project

1:00 p.m. Check in with my boss, Gary Elliott

1:15 p.m. Lunch brought into a meeting or a quick trip to the cafeteria, mostly lunch at my desk with yet another latte

1:45 p.m. Conduct a Halo meeting with HP Vancouver on retail photo processing kiosk

3:00 p.m. Go through critical e-mail and news, blogs

3:30 p.m. Walk around and check in with the team, discuss projects in the design area, sketch on boards and tablet, review design or videos via Groove (collaborative software) and big screen monitor

5:00 p.m. More meetings via conference call and NetMeeting, transfer calls to cell phone and walk to car

Between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Make commute home, call Cynthia, or our personal assistant, Melody, to check in, finish phone meetings before I arrive home

6-7 p.m.Take a walk with my two daughters

7 p.m. Prepare and eat dinner with the family

10:00 p.m. If possible, late night e-mail catch up.


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