Archive for the Tag 'design'

Pixar: Space as an Instrument for Collaboration

Point: Design physical spaces for unplanned collaborations that spark creativity.

Story: One place to look for advice on designing physical spaces for creativity and collaboration is Stanford’s design school, the birthplace of design thinking as we know it today. (The term dates back to Herbert Simon’s 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial and was further explained by Robert McKim’s book, Experiences in Visual Thinking, but it was Stanford’s Rolf Faste and David Kelley who popularized the term and applied it to business.)

Now, Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, co-directors of the Environments Collaborative at the, have written a book, Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration that’s full of advice and case studies of these creative spaces.

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and of the, writes in the book’s forward: “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful collaborations in your work and life.”

Example: Pixar
A real-life example of a physical space that encourages creative collaboration is the building that houses Pixar, the computer animation studio that created innovative, Academy-award-winning blockbuster films like Toy Story, Monsters and Finding Nemo.

As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs designed the Pixar building to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”  The front doors and main stairs and corridors all lead to a central atrium, where a cafe and employee mailboxes are located as well.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, confirmed the success of the building’s layout: “Steve’s theory worked from day one. I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”


  • Create open spaces and natural gathering places that draw people out of their offices and into the collaborative social space.
  • Organize entrances, stairways, and passage ways to intersect in ways that encourage random encounters and mingling (help people congregate rather than segregate).
  • Offer movable walls, whiteboards on wheels, lightweight movable furniture (put things on casters), and other flexible objects to encourage reconfiguration and organic development of the work environment.

3 Comments »Case study, CEO, Creativity, How-to, Innovation

Innovating in Emerging Markets: Tata & Unilever

Point: How you get a product to market may be as important as what you get to market.

Story: The previous post looked at product systems innovation to build a new car. Going a step further: some companies expand the systems thinking to include distribution and service. Consider Tata Motors, which created the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano. To reach a retail price of $2,000, Tata focused on the costs of every system of car, including the system for distributing and selling the car. To keep costs low, Tata created a modular design and an innovative distribution model. Tata will manufacture modules centrally and, in some cases, ship the cars as kits to local entrepreneurs who will assemble & sell them. Tata designed to the modules to be glued together rather than welded because gluing is less expensive and doesn’t require costly welding equipment. Tata will also train the entrepreneurs to do servicing.

Similarly, Hindustan Unilever pioneered a distribution model in 2001 to get its personal care products into the hands of rural villagers. A significant fraction of rural villages lack paved roads, making traditional truck-based distribution very difficult. The company developed a network of 14,000 women and women-owned co-ops to serve 50,000 villages. The women handle the logistics and door-to-door retailing of a range of personal care products. To address the needs of the market and the novel distribution system, Hindustan Unilever changed product packaging. By using this approach, Hindustan Unilever does not have to deal with the problem of moving product in rural India. The women or their employees come to the company’s urban distribution centers to get the product.

* When designing new products or services, consider how those products will be distributed.
* Think about the role that local entrepreneurs or business partners can serve
* Design the product to support the distribution channel (e.g., modularity, ease of assembly, packaging, etc.)

For more information: Vijay Govindarajan discussed Tata Motors’ strategy at the HSM webinar on March 18 and will be speaking at the World Innovation Forum being held May 5-6, 2009 in New York City

Hindustan Unilever’s distribution model: Discussed at MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics Roundtable on Supply Chain Strategies in Emerging Markets led by Dr. Edgar Blanco.

4 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

Will Your New Product Innovation Succeed?

Point: Use a simple formula to evaluate a design

Story: “Italian design” sparks images of beauty, the Renaissance, craftsmanship. Alessi, a leading Italian design firm, has been creating products for the home for three generations. CEO Alberto Alessi describes the company as an artistic mediator, bridging the highest possible expressions of product design with customer dreams. Given such intangible goals, how does Alessi access whether a new product design will succeed?
Alessi has a 4-part formula:

  1. Does it speak to the customer? (Do customers say “oh, that’s beautiful”?)
  2. Does it help the customer express a core value? (For example: simple yet elegant; uniqueness; earth-friendly)
  3. Function
  4. Price

CEO Alessi developed this formula after evaluating 300 of his firm’s products and asking why some were big successes and others were fiascoes.

Action: Look back over the portfolio of products or services that your firm has produced. Are there patterns in which ones succeeded and which ones failed? Use these commonalities to devise your own formula, or try Alessi’s.

For more information:
Interview with CEO Alberto Alessi in the McKinsey Quarterly

About Alessi:

7 Comments »Innovation, Metrics, New Product Development