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DMI International Singapore Conference

“Using design and design thinking to solve business objectives”

DMI Conferences has always been synonymous with the massively successful networking sessions between design managers and business leaders, with all in attendance having one overriding goal in mind – that being solving business problems with the aid of design, innovation, creativity and technology, as well as participate in setting the agenda for the future of business strategy and design thinking.

Held in Singapore for the first time ever, the DMI International Singapore Conference was a confluence of brilliant and successful business ideas and strategies built upon demonstrating how design and design thinking is optimally maximised in order to achieve business objectives. With the role of design in business management having enjoyed a burgeoning in popularity in recent years, numerous multinational corporations have come to realise the true value of design as a strategic business asset. Based on the triple bottom line of economic, social/ cultural and environmental value, the panel of international speakers sought to communicate how value is created through design and its ability and immense potential to continue doing so in the foreseeable future.

Dr. Thomas Lockwood, Chairperson and Moderator for the conference, opened the event with a resounding keynote speech on the introduction of design in all its forms (product, innovation, environment, communication, etc.) as a powerful business tool where it is possible to utilise specific techniques, processes and structures to catalyse success. It remains a great challenge to move design from a project-based function to a strategic function – mindsets would have to be tweaked, and design thinking will have to be generally integrated into people’s lifestyles as a necessity and not an optional.

While many people may be under the misconception that designers work alone, this cannot be further from the truth. In order to maximise the potential value of design, one must undertake to understand multiple facets such as customer behaviours, corporate leadership, culture, cross-functional and cross-border work teams, specific methods and processes, utilizing both qualitative research and intuition in decision making, and in the same manner applying design visualisation and design methods to core business processes.

User Experience Manager of Microsoft Corporation Tonya Peck started off her presentation “Distributed Design Teams: Current Trends and Future Opportunities” by driving home an extremely forceful point on how the issue is not about Asia taking over – but rather, more about the harmonious blending of East and West, without being put in cultural boxes. With Microsoft having more than 60% of its revenue coming from outside of the U.S., having a “one size fits all” solution simply is not feasible. Global business imperatives have now made it more necessary than ever for large companies such as Microsoft to focus on the building of virtual teams that are spread out globally for early user research and design of products sold to a culturally fragmented global audience.

Emphasizing on the fact that “Authenticity and relevance is key”, Peck goes on to explain how these distributed design teams are uniquely positioned based on strategic geographical locations in order to meet new opportunities and challenges head-on. Some of the essential factors that contribute to Microsoft’s success today includes a combination of building great teams, within an environment of immediacy and collaboration, together with building products that delight consumers. A company must also expect to invest (time and money), nurture a team of resilient and flexibile leaders, and promote face to face collaborations.

Bringing an Asian perspective to the table is Desmond Loh, CEO of OXO with his presentation “Living in Asia – Sensing the World: Creating Iconic Brands”. Drawing upon local and international icons alike, Desmond picks up on how ‘instantly recognisable” icons are the DNA of a country, a person or a product. Iconic design should not be an incidental benefit, but should be part of a long term brand strategy. Certain brands have been successfully leveraging on the talent and fame of iconic designers in recent years to great success – including Veuve Cliquot featuring Karim Rashid, Paul + Joe and Perrier, and Phillip Starck and Fossil. Using Evian as a case study, Desmond goes on to demonstrate how iconic design is best applied to business, breaking it down in layman terms for easy understanding. However, he was quick to caution that iconic branding can only be successful in the long run provided that the product has real potential to be an icon, and does not merely constitute fanciful design.

“Design is to branding what Jazz is to music” – a quote taken from the next speaker Marc Gobe’s latest book “Brandjam”, where he seeks to exemplify how design not only humanizes brands, but also stimulates sense and feelings, and celebrates the power of collaboration and improvisation. One of the many examples used in his presentation “Humanizing Brands through Emotional Design’ was the case study of Sao Paolo, where outdoor advertising was banned – creative store owners and businesses instead turned to graffiti artists to come up with original and exciting artwork for the front of the stores. According to Gobe, branding needs to be consistent in every sense of the word to be successful. As Chris Bangle, Chief of Design for BMW Worldwide, would put it, “If there’s so much horseshit, there must be a pony in there”.

Branding takes on an entirely different perspective with Christine Jane Moody, Managing Director of Moody Design Pty. Ltd., in her inspiring presentation “Branding a city: Gold Coast City, Australia” – where she demonstrates the unique challenges faced when tasked with an assignment by the Brisbane City Council that nobody on her team had ever done before when initially embarked upon. With a series of small but effective implementations incorporated into a holistic landscape where entire coastal fronts, parks, and other public areas were redesigned and transformed into user-friendly places, Moody Design demonstrates how simple brand strategy was able to take the Gold Coast from a small-down seaside resort to a mature and sophisticated internationally-recognized city, in which other cities can emulate.

Renowned for its international brand and holistic lifestyle concept, the IndoChine Group made a stirring appearance with a glitzy presentation given courtesy of Michael Ma, Group CEO and Founder. Drawing upon previous experience, Michael demonstrated how he turned IndoChine into the fast-expanding lifestyle group of companies with more than 26 bars, restaurants, clubs, cafés, hotels and resorts internationally it is today. The IndoChine Group caters to an ultra-premium clientele with a host of specially-designed lavish events, including the annual IndoChine Festival. In this day and age of the global citizen, consumers are becoming more aware of what they seek, and dining out is no longer simply about the “wine and dine.” Ma emphasized on the fact that the experience is as much about the food eaten as it is about culinary presentation, and even the interior design and the entertainment provided by the establishment.

DMI Board Member and President/ CEO of LPK, Inc. Jerry Kathman demonstrated four principles upon which brands need to embrace in order to achieve and maintain global leadership status in his presentation “Building Leadership Brands by Design - Timeless Principles That Companies Can Embrace to Establish Powerful and Enduring Brands”. Drawing upon LPK’s rich and varied experiences after thirty years of partnering with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Kellogg, and Samsung, Kathman states that leadership brands need to: (i) articulate and inculcate brand strategy; (ii) leverage on the power of design; (iii) establish a culture of innovation; and (iv) connect emotionally with consumers. The last is especially powerful, since “the real contest occurs in the arena of emotion”, says Kathman. The result for a leadership brand is a winning proposition that the market readily understands, embraces and rewards.

People like brands because they generate choice, help in self expression and simplify decisions, but in today’s society the brand strategy no longer remains the same as back in the heydays of Ford Motors – this is why conventions that seem almost timeless yesterday needs to be retooled or abandoned altogether.

Singaporean success story Ban Y.J., CEO of Stikfas, explained the design rationale and philosophy behind his brand in his presentation “A Brand Born Out of the Internet”. From its humble beginnings, Stikfas has managed to transform into a global toy brand following a highly-coveted and much publicized collaboration and subsequent split from toy giant Hasbro. “Branding is about a promise, and about delivering those promises,” explained Ban, who emphasizes a clarity of vision and seamless design throughout the entire brand, as well as holistic customer care which demonstrates the importance of building up a strong and solid relationship base between the brand and its consumers.

Gus Rodriguez, Vice President, Partnerships and Consulting for Philips Design, demonstrated how design has an intangible value contribution to business with his engaging presentation “Design is Big Business: Unlocking Value through Design”. Philips Design, one of the most innovative and renowned brand of today, has made it its mission to design solutions and brand experiences to create value for people and the environment, and loves a high design process comprising of simple philosophy and a practical way of developing.

Describing how the design profession needs to transform itself and learn how to make transform its value into a tangible form, Rodriguez goes on to say for design to really influence society, there must be the added dimension of time – to change, stimulate change, and to change culture. The focus needs to be on people orientation and understanding, and to see where society is going and from there, how one can create change that is revolutionary. Only then, can design gain a seat in the strategic boardroom and unlock its value for business and society as a whole. With these lessons in mind, Rodriguez ends with a short presentation of facts and figures: By introducing meaningful solutions to improve people’s lives, Philips is now ranked #1 in its industry in the Dow Jones sustainability index.

Continuing in the trend of successful and innovative product design, Kia Tong Tan, Chief Technology Officer of OSIM International Ltd. demonstrated how OSIM had evolved from being just another trader of household products in early days, to the internationally renowned brand that designs, builds and markets many of its own products, in his presentation “From OEM to ODM: The OSIM Experience”. With a repertoire that spans the design and construction of massage chairs, portable massages, treadmills, air purifiers, to the smallest massager, the massage pen, etc., Tan talked about how good design translates to good value and significant sales. Tan also touched upon how OSIM has also diversified into sponsoring many sporting events, in order to create a holistic lifestyle and wellbeing.

Peppering his presentation “The Digital Landscape” with amusing phrases such as “ambient intimacy”, “taste stalking”, and “social slipstreaming” in order to demonstrate how digital media is set to burgeon even more than it already has become, President of D&AD Simon Waterfall, roused the crowd with his highly entertaining insights into the always-evolving digital landscape and its impact on creativity. As Creative Director of POKE, Waterfall is the perfect emblem to expound upon what the international digital agency does in reality, which is challenging everything is learnt, practiced and preached in order to define and make the Web better. With insightful yet whimsical phrases to sum up key points of his presentation such as “Content is King, Community is Kinger” and “Add Anything to the Web and It’ll be made Better”, Waterfall ends with a hopeful note that the Web of the future will contain less choice, but more informed opinion.

Rounding up the entire series of presentations was Niko von Saurma, Director of the Singapore Studio, BMW Group Designworks USA, with his inspiring finale “Beyond Beautiful Design: Approaches to Future Growth”. Explaining how some companies all strive for the same ideal, therefore resulting in their products starting to resemble each other’s, von Saurma went on to demonstrate the need to measure design by what value it adds to a company. Taking Red Bull as an example, it had become a hugely successful brand by creating an entire community around it that consumers can identify and connect with.

Beautiful design is no longer sufficient to secure leadership, which is why a brand needs to attach ideas to its product in order to differentiate it from other brands, and this is where design comes in by adding value to all sides of the equation. By understanding one’s next target group, von Saurma goes on to explain that design is the most right-brain in its exploration of opportunities in new arenas. One must also be able to provide the ultimate user experience, involving both emotion and entertainment. It is also important to embrace all cultures and beliefs, as well as to make internal people in the company as aware as external consumers. To be successful, one must also influence and infect people through imagination and vision, Lastly, it is also important to validate results and create and collaborative creative culture.

With the next DMI Conference held in Paris in April, the successful series of design management continues with an ever-expanding repertoire of world-class speakers and presenters set to educate and present on vital business issues and concerns that affect the design industry, and along the way offer up practical and innovative solutions on what essential constitutes making the design world a better place for present and future consumers and practitioners alike.

DMI International Singapore Conference
13-14 March, 2008
Grand Hyatt Singapore

TAXI Design Network is honored to have been in Singapore on 13-14 March 2008 to partake in this exciting event.

© 2003-2008 by TAXI Design Network. All rights reserved.
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