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Reporting on innovative ideas in business.

Patrick Whitney on Reframing Design Thinking -- and Beyond

Patrick Whitney is dean of Chicago’s Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology a graduate school focusing on researching and teaching design methods.  He is a luminary in the ever-growing field of design strategy. His work focuses on design’s role in transforming not only products and services, but also companies and markets. And he is researching how companies and designers can better manage design strategy with effective methodologies. I recently spoke with Patrick as he was gearing up for the annual IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference, which will take place from May 14-15 in Chicago. He shared not only some sneak peeks at the line up, but also his wise and witty observations on how design and business can improve how they intersect.

RJ: "Reframing" seems to be a theme at the conference and also in the innovation landscape in general. Why is this concept so important when looking at design as an innovation strategy? 

Patrick Whitney: The conference is a strategy conference. We think of strategy in the context of Roger Martin’s term -- deciding where to play and how to win. For the last 30 years, companies focused on Six Sigma, total quality management, and other efficiency programs. It was clear they could make profits and grow financially by doing a better job at what they already knew how to do. Now that companies have succeeded at decreasing costs, they see innovation as the path to profits.

P&G's Global Design Officer Phil Duncan: Why Emotional Connections Are Crucial For Branding

When Phil Duncan speaks, whether on stage or in a one-on-one conversation, you can hear the emotion in his voice and read it on his face. You can practically hear him smile.

And he’s not shy about admitting that he cries when he hears moving stories of real-life moms sharing their pride over their children, when they have qualified to compete at the Olympic Games. As the Global Design Officer of Procter & Gamble, Duncan knows that tapping into consumers’ emotions—as well as those of the P&G staff—is an effective way to build not only individual consumer-goods brands, but also a behemoth of a company such as P&G.

He and I met up in New York after he gave a talk at the Design Management Institute’s annual conference this past fall. His presentation had many of the executives and creatives in the audience choked up when he shared videos from the 2012 London Olympics, where P&G hosted a family center for athletes and their kin. The center featured P&G products and, quite honestly, some pretty lovely furniture and décor. Competitors could treat their moms to a salon treatment; there was a man-cave-like environment where it was possible to sit back and watch sports in a relaxed way. There was food; there were diapers. It was a huge production, but it tied beautifully into those inspiring TV ads that ran during the Olympics, claiming that P&G is…the sponsor of moms. (Cue the tears! I admit, I was guilty of crying when I saw the ads, too).

Here’s our lightly edited and condensed chat about what Duncan calls ‘the next chapter in design strategy,’ now that many major corporations have design in the C-suite. Not surprisingly, it centers around tapping into consumer emotions.

Why is it so important for a brand to spur an intense reaction, such as tears?

When you have a deep insight of consumers and are truly empathetic to them, it’s important to hold true to that understanding with every aspect of strategy. For instance, our approach during the Olympics was to show that we are in service to moms and families. We didn’t get distracted with “broad consumer activations.” The idea of communicating how P&G supports families above all else paid off from a company and business standpoint. And from a personal standpoint, too. Honestly, it was a transformative experience internally. I felt that I moved from being a design officer to being in service to moms and the home across the world.

That said, what are some specific and practical tips that you have for drawing people in emotionally, both internally and externally?

I use the saying, “the fruits are in the roots.” What I mean by that is that it can be very helpful to take inspiration from a deep understanding of a brand’s heritage, where it comes from. Then, tap into a new mindset, and new insight, and add an element of creativity to keep that insight fresh. I tell my colleagues that it is the responsibility of brand teams to write the next chapter for the P&G book, not to write a new book. The goal is always to keep the story interesting and moving forward. Keep the characters going. And never stop writing. Otherwise, there is always the temptation of changing everything to follow some sort of trend. Then you risk being disingenuous. At P&G, we always keep in mind the brands people know and love, and then figure out how to make them contemporary by figuring out their relevance in people’s real lives, and then tie that sense back to the company’s heritage.

If you can do so, then you’ll tap the source of truth and inspiration of the brand. But of course it’s really important to then place it into the context of contemporary competition in the marketplace.

New Year, New Context for Wind Turbine: Emergency Relief

Two months after the New York City region was hit by Superstorm Sandy, the devastating scope of its damage is becoming even clearer. Consolidated Edison, for example, recently estimated that the cost to repair its electric grid in the New York area will reach $450 million. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, power was lost at many homes and businesses, affecting millions of people. This meant no heat, no way to store food safely, and no way to charge mobile phones for basic emergency communication. As of today, many residences, offices, and stores are still reeling from business lost and lives upturned by losing electricity. Hearing these stories (and because many of us at frog experienced power loss ourselves at home and at work), we wondered what simple-to-use emergency power-generating solutions could prove effective as a disaster relief tools.

15 Must-Reads from 2012

Across sectors, from communication technology to retail to emergency response and education, frog has explored, analyzed, and brought to market concepts with the goal of improving how we experience and share our worlds as human beings. We’ve curated some of the most daring, and widely recognized, thoughts from frog in 2012.

Download our collection of frog's most thought-provoking essays, timely interviews, and recognized projects here or browse the digital version below. 

frog’s Tech Trends: What 2012 Predictions Came True?

Last year, frog compiled its first-ever set of technology trend predictions for the year to come. Because it’s the end of 2012 (and because we are also launching our second annual edition of frog’s Tech Trends for 2013), we thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to see how we fared, in terms of foreseeing the near future.

TED Comes to frog: Lunchtime Conversations on DIY Biology and Smart Materials

To celebrate the recent publication of the "Radical Openness" issue of Design Mind magazine, created in partnership with TED, frog welcomed two 2012 TEDGlobal speakers to the New York studio to share their work. On November 13, Ellen Jorgensen, the president and co-founder of community biology lab Genspace (pictured above), joined us for lunch and discussed how DIY biology is both a growing segment of the Maker movement and a compelling source for innovative new materials and fresh product and service ideas. On November 15, Catarina Mota, a TED Fellow and visiting scholar at New York University, shared her research into simple, DIY smart materials and announced a new initiative she is co-organizing to mobilize Makers to help develop humanitarian solutions. Both events were available via video- and phone-conferencing to frog studios around the world.

Staying Strong During Superstorm Sandy: A Report from New York, Plus Relief Resources

It was a truly terrifying Halloween this year, with superstorm Sandy hitting the East Coast. Our New York team at frog was particularly affected, as the studio is located in downtown Manhattan and was closed for five days due to extended power loss. Even more challenging: the personal experiences of our entire team. Most of frog NY was without power at home, too; many had to relocate temporarily to safe places to stay, often with generous friends and family.

Many neighborhoods in the New York City area had to cope with flooding and fallen trees (and, tragically, losses of life). With the entire subway and bus system, bridges, tunnels, and other transportation arteries shut down, it was often impossible and very dangerous to get around. This meant that even very basic services, such as food deliveries, were stalled (and with gas shortages, these and repair services are still delayed in some areas). We thank everyone in our global community for their kind concern, understanding, and support during such a difficult time.

Despite the extreme challenges, frog's creative, let's-improve-the-world spirit has been shining through. Throughout the storm and afterward, we shared reports with each other on the damage of the storm and offered resources to help those in need (which included many of us). New York frogs joined in on the relief effort in a hands-on way, by dropping off food, baby blankets, and diapers to collection efforts for storm victims, and by volunteering to clean up areas throughout the area, from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Red Hook, Brooklyn, to Riverside Park on the Upper West Side.

PopTech Report: Looking at "Resilience" in the Context of Innovation

On a chilly October day, a stone’s throw from a postcard-perfect New England harbor and across from an adorable town square, a group that included chief executives, grad students, physicians, public-school educators, activists, scientists, and artists gathered. Some members of this diverse crowd, assembled in Camden, Maine, for the annual PopTech conference from October 17-20, were from large companies such as Nike, Google, and Procter & Gamble. Others were the twentysomething founders of start-ups that no one has ever heard of–yet. Or they were academics, investors, designers, engineers.

They came to listen to, and mingle with, the head of a public school for pregnant girls in Detroit; a Paralympic World Cup snowboarding gold medalist; an Icelandic childcare specialist; and a bank robber/hacker turned neuroscientist, among many others. While this roster is only a tiny sample of the PopTech speaker list, it offers a taste of the broad spectrum of voices and stories presented on the Opera House stage. As varied as they are, they all share the common theme of “resilience.” It is a topic that is gaining momentum not only as a coping strategy in an age of economic uncertainty and dramatic natural disasters, but also as an innovation strategy, too. And the first day of PopTech offered a number of lenses from which to understand the concept, which is also the conference’s theme.

Cisco CGO Wim Elfrink: Why Cities Will Soon Be 'Smarter' Than We Are


Speaking one-on-one with Wim Elfrink, the first Chief Globalisation Officer to be appointed at software giant Cisco Systems, is always a delight. I must confess that I’ve only had conversations with him via Cisco’s high-end telepresence system at the corporation’s One Penn Plaza offices in Manhattan, when it’s been morning in New York and evening in Bangalore, where Elfrink often works. As he said the last time we spoke, “sometimes it’s hard to remember if I meet people in person or on telepresence,” and this is true about our own meetings. Our chats have been so vibrant, so warm, and so engaging that we may as well have been talking at a dinner party. This is testament to Cisco’s telepresence equipment, of course, but also more exemplary of Elfrink’s dynamic mind and lively, affable personality. It shines through, no matter what the forum.

Recently, we talked about the future of cities: how they can best leverage exciting new technology possibilities in terms of becoming “smarter,” via connecting people more quickly online or via mobile devices, and processing real-time data from sensors and other equipment. In other words, we explored how urban communities can better use social networking, sensors, Big Data, and sophisticated information technology infrastructures to evolve and prosper. Here’s our edited conversation.

Why are cities such a focal point for anyone interested in inspired innovation today?

Cities have always attracted people by offering three things: security, prosperity, and quality of life. Because of those three things, innovation takes place in cities. There has long been a misconception that cities aren’t safe, that they are filled with poor people, that it is hard to live in cities.
But today, security is not about brick and mortar safety, it is not about walls. Surveillance has changed that.
Cities offer more opportunities for people to improve their lives than in smaller towns, so even if they attract people who are challenged by a lack of resources, they have better chances of becoming more prosperous.
Telepresence will also help the poor have access to cities, perhaps bring them the education, work, and even healthcare possibilities that they didn’t have before, and in a way, make them part of cities. 
Also, we must remember that great cities have souls. Think of what they are known for: Paris, for art. New Orleans, for music. San Francisco, for high tech. What is so promising about social networking is that in the future, we’ll be able to connect more people with each other around these aspects of cities while we are in them—or away from them.
Finally, we should consider that the future of competition is between cities, whereas it used to be between nations. Many people today identify themselves as what city they are from, versus what country. If cities do not work to become smarter, in all aspects of the word, they will lose the competition for visitors, industries, and revenues.

Teaching (and Learning from) Kids Who Love Video Games

On a steamy August day in New York, a group of 19 kids, aged 8-12 years old, are excitedly talking with their parents, their summer arts camp teachers, and each other about their latest favorite video games. In a makeshift “arcade” at the Children’s Museum of Art (CMA) in Manhattan, each child is eager to demonstrate the games—with titles such as “Three Rooms of Doom” and “Fall of the Parasites.” It’s clear from their body language and bubbling voices that they can’t wait to share the details of how to play them. One enthusiastically describes a digital image of a black button, which propels a player into a time warp; another is animatedly talking about a house built of mazes and how to navigate through it effectively. The biggest reason these kids love these games? They designed them.