I recently did a Q+A for a publication that's going to be included at this year's IIT Institute of Design Conference (you should go). The question got me thinking about Motorola and the RAZR. It used to be my de-facto story to communicate the power of design. But as I began answering the question—I quickly realized how the story highlights both the power and limitations of design. Anyway—thought you might enjoy a preview. And definitely consider going to the conference which will include esteemed individuals such as Bill Buxton, A.G. Lafley, Claudia Kotchcka, Roger Martin, and Bruce Nussbaum to name a few.
Q: Give me your favorite example of a company or project that used design to figure out "where to play" or "how to win".
A: Interesting timing on this question. I used to reference the Motorola RAZR as a textbook example of the power of design. The story had all of the right ingredients: A brand that needed a breakthrough product, a prototype that pushed the idea forward, an end product that had reflective emotional appeal and influenced the design of other products. But it’s worth taking a look at Motorola today which is currently having difficulties finding a buyer for their handset division. Somehow along the way, they could not disseminate the success of the RAZR and the story ironically becomes a case study for the limitations of design. I still believe design can be transformational, but it cannot be divorced from the corporate culture or values that a company believes in.
My favorite current examples tend to highlight the ecosystem of experience a brand or company can provide. I like to talk about examples such as Trader Joe's, SouthWest Airlines and even digital cousins such as Flickr and YouTube as examples of not only design—but the total experience. What once started out as the poster child for design—the RAZR may actually become the poster child which demonstrates that form and function is simply not enough. It was good design which ultimately became a low-priced commodity. Sustainability is a hot topic in the design world right now and the RAZR illustrates that we need to think about sustainability beyond the “green” sense—Motorola was simply not able to sustain the momentum of the RAZR. I recently read an article where the author said that the Apple Air is the “RAZR for notebooks”. With hindsight being 20/20, this may not be the compliment it was intended to be.