I was not going to blog about the big Apple vs. Samsung IP battle, as in my view IP and patent battles are only for organizations with deep pockets and that the money used to pay the lawyers should be better spent on the next big thing.

However, one evening at a recent screening of the Design & Thinking Movie we organized for our close friends, an old ally asked what I thought about Apple’s win.

I replied that it was a big win for innovation. Immediately, I wondered where that comment came from?

You see, in the consumer electronics industry there is one company everyone loves to hate. So much so that in any business or product strategy formulated, there is always a defensive plan on “what Samsung would do” and to prepare for it in a big way.

Companies constantly looked over their shoulders and hoped that the Samsung “Fast Follower” juggernaut would not be lurking too close by. A “Fast Follower” design strategy means that Samsung would pick the winners, then follow their winning x-factor but make it just a little better through product spec and design. Did I mention that they also often made it cheaper?

It is by being cheaper that’s where many of the contrarian views of Apple’s win come from.

Enrique Gutierrez, chief technology officer of Digithrive, observed anecdotally that customers at Starbucks complained that they have overpaid for an Apple product, when they can get the “same” product by Samsung at a cheaper price.

This has always been the intended outcome of Samsung’s Fast Follower strategy.

Former Microsoft employee and tech blogger, Robert Scoble writes: “I think this is actually a sizable win for Samsung. Why? It only cost $1 billion to become the #2 most profitable mobile company.

Robert implies that through “following” Apple, Samsung has acquired market share cheaply and with little risk. Really, you can’t help but grudgingly respect what Samsung is all about.

Personally, I disagree with Enrique’s observation. I have separately observed or was told by many Samsung converts who were tempted by the larger screens, thinner bodies, cheaper prices etc. and then complain how unsatisfying the Samsung experience is. Worst still many of them could not get used the system and can’t wait for the next iPhone. (Which has just come out!)

This “same but better” is only a knee-jerk reaction and is likely temporary. When people know a better way, it’s hard to go back. And this is where a “fast follower” design strategy has its biggest Achilles’ heel. Trying to be better than the best does not always work, especially when it is not very clear what makes the company the best.

Anyways, (going back to the patent battle) while I still believe the money is better spent on R&D, the times are changing. It is getting harder to stay ahead, and you can see the strain on Apple when Tim Cook mentioned in the recent AllThingsD interview “…it is important [that] Apple not be the developer for the world. We just want other people to invent their own stuff.” I agree with his last point. There are many smart people at Samsung, and some of their designs are pretty good. But one can sometimes wonder why they don’t create their own radical breakthrough innovations? I’m sure they can well afford it.

Apple is one of the few companies who have successfully outsourced almost all their products and components, and still manage to stay ahead of their competitors. If you consider the amount of Samsung components that go into Apple products, and that many enterprising employees of manufacturing companies in China are leaking Apple parts for money, it is truly very tough to keep customers surprised and stay ahead of the competition. When was the last time you were truly surprised with a new Apple product offering?

Just to elaborate on my previous point a little more, sources close to me have indicated that many 3rd party iPhone cover manufacturers have long confirmed the iPhone 5’s dimensions and have been spewing out tons of cases in the months leading up to the launch of the iPhone 5.

So what will happen next? I’m honestly not too sure and would love to hear your thoughts. Whatever it is, the consumer electronics world is so tightly integrated these days that it will be interesting to see how things pan out in the coming months.

Photo Via: Mashable.

People loved Sparrow, a clean and simple Gmail client for the Mac and iOS. But nobody knew by how much until they sold-out. The internet was just a buzz with unhappy people, myself included. Even their own investors were unhappy.

We won’t go into a debate on whether you are or not an entrepreneur if you’re looking for an exit strategy by selling to the highest bidder. But when Sparrow sent an email to me two weeks ago announcing they were acqui/hired (for a rumored amount of $25 Million) by Google, I realized that this is an excellent case study of what to do (or not to do) if you are running a small business looking to create an innovative solution for your customers.

1) Focused product
Sparrow is a simple and outstanding email client for Gmail. It is also one of my favorite Mac Apps, and possibly my most frequently used. What’s great about this App is that it focuses on one thing, email. And the App performed exceedingly well. I’m glad that the developers did not include other so-called “value-add” features such as reading RSS feeds or creating multiple folders etc.

Small business owners would soon discover that if they can maintain a strong focus in their business, products and service solutions, they can be very successful. Focus allows for clarity, and clarity is important for doing something well.

2) A product that fulfilled a need
Before Sparrow came along, we struggled with other email clients. Now that we know better, we demand better. The old saying is true, people don’t know what they don’t know. Sparrow succeeded in making other email clients look and “feel ancient“.

Customers don’t care about you, or your business, or your product range. They care about how you can solve their problems. If your solution is not solving a need, it is not likely going to make a long lasting impact in anyone’s lives. People talk a lot about branding and brand loyalty, but many forget the brand has to be useful first and cool bananas second.

3) It was not perfect, but they kept on improving it.
When Sparrow first was launched is sucked. It was so buggy I occasionally went back to Gmail because the App would not work right. But the team kept on improving it, so much so I was looking forward to the updates. Sometimes Sparrow team members were so excited that they “…would spill the beans about a new app feature on Twitter or Tumblr because they were so excited about it.

I’ve seen, all too often, small businesses getting what I call “launch burn-out”. They spent so much time and energy on getting a product or service to market that once it goes out they either go on to something else or retire (or sleep!). Product or service launches should be seen as a marathon starting line, and not the finishing line. The real work begins when it launches.

4) Kept close to their customers

The sparrow team was very close to their customers, they listen to feedback (they did mine!), they got people to pick their next logo, and the even got their most loyal and fanatical customers to beta test their upgrades.

Small businesses have no reason not to get close to their customers, especially with today’s Social Media applications and Internet technology. I’m still surprised to see so many small businesses hiding behind distributors or retailers and not taking steps to better engage their customers. If you don’t do so, how can you understand what your ultimate end user needs or wants? And if you don’t know what, how can you make the right business decisions or improve your offering?

5) Don’t be Evil. Ok?
All things considered, Sparrow had a lot going for them. They were making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and their customers loved them.

Unfortunately since the sellout, their customers are now just angry for being left on the lurch. More so when many, including myself, found out that the developers were flogging the iOS versions for $0.99 (RRP $2.99) and the Mac version for $4.99. They did this from 19th June to the 13th of July. 7 days before the 20th July announcement of the Google purchase, and also that they will not be supporting the product (except critical bugs) in the near future.

Many people could not help wonder if they were taken for a ride, and all that goodwill they built up was destroyed. Small business need to realize goodwill is tough to build, but can by destroyed in one felled swoop.

6) Are you an entrepreneur or a business man?
I know we said we would not debate this, and we won’t. However small business need to decide if they are building something for the long term, or are they looking to get rich quick and get out. Great products and services need time to build and gestate.

Because of the nature and complexity of Design Thinking and Design Driven Innovation activities, it is naturally a long-term investment and commitment. So really, only the small businesses that are looking to build something awesome for their customer need apply.

7) People believe in why you do what you do.
The real reason why people are upset was that many believed in what the Sparrow Developers, Dom Leca and Dinh Viet Hoa, believed in. They wanted to create best possible email app they could and turned it into something they would want to use.

Because of this, I would add “betrayed” to the list of emotions many people are feeling. If you don’t believe me, read the comments in all the articles I’ve linked to above.

Humans are strange creatures. When people are emotionally attached to something, it becomes hard to give up. Just look at Apple. Small businesses that want to beat the big organizations (that people feel nothing for) should consider this: Share with your customers why you get out of bed each morning to do what you do. The customers you want will walk the journey with you.

Click on the image for a larger view.

I’ve written before about how excited I am about the merger between Microsoft and Nokia. More so when the folks from Fleishman-Hillard kindly invited me to an exclusive pre-launch as well as “seeding” me with a device so that I may rip it to shreds! But seriously, I like to thank the team from Fleishman and from Nokia for this opportunity.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is their flagship and should epitomize all the goodness of the strategic alliance between Nokia and Microsoft. Does it? Read on to find out.

Generally the Metro operating system is not too bad. The overall UX design is what I had expected, which it is essentially a large notification screen with direct access my information. Not only that, I do like the new squared tiled GUI. Swiping is snappy and the touch screen is responsive. The screen resolution and color is awesome. I also like the screen size when compared to the Samsung Note, which I find too big.

I like the industrial design of the phone. It feels solid, though not as solid as the iPhone. The SIM card tray is a little wobbly, but that could just be a tolerance issue on my unit. I do miss the curved glass available on the Lumia 800. It does make the phone more finished as well as sliding off the face better. I smell an engineering or budgeting compromise here? The phone casing is also painted in a shiny gloss color, which unfortunately turns the device into a large bar of soap. It has pretty much slid off everything I put it on, so I now need a case…

One of the key “promises” of the Metro UI design is the ability to get to the information fast, and then out again(see above). One of the key hubs for this feature is the “People Hub”. It basically consolidates all your social networks such as Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live (who uses this anymore?) and email into one place. It is great in theory, but in reality it is a fish market! I can’t tell which message is from which network, and how I can respond to it. Having to slide through the different screens gets a little confusing. One of the problems is that the Metro OS uses font sizes to differentiate headings and different parts of the text paragraph. It makes for a unique GUI, but when you are scrolling through large amounts of data, it becomes a mishmash of words.

I think there is a lot that can be improved, for example the use of Twitter or Facebook icons to see which message is from where. If Microsoft can somehow organize each stream, and also allow me to see it all consolidated in one place, this feature would be a killer!

In reality, the thoughts that I’ve shared above are things I can accept and have managed to get around it. But I do have one big complaint and it can be a huge turn off when using this phone.

We have the makings of a brilliant UI/UX, but it’s all totally messed up by the inclusion of all kinds of software “droppings” on it. I’m not sure if this is a Microsoft thing, but it’s like buying a typical Windows PC, it comes with all these little bits of software “droppings” I don’t really use/need. In the Metro OS they have, for example, include a phone welcome App and some Tango VoIP phone App.

However what is really annoying is that you have a double of almost every standard App! You have the following Apps with similar functions: Nokia Music / Zune, Nokia Maps / Maps, Nokia Market Place / App Highlights, and Nokia Drive / Maps etc. I know some of these Apps may do slightly different things, but logic and sanity should prevail. Things like Nokia Drive and Maps should really be the same App as people expect it to be.

With that, it is quite clear to me that there is a huge business agenda between Nokia and Microsoft with both wanting their value add services on the device. The alliance seems to be some kind of 50/50 partnership mash-up where the person that loses out in the end is the user.

Both companies need to look at this device from the point of view of the customer, identify the benefits they provide, and determine what roles each organization will play. Otherwise they risk killing off a great interface at its infancy.

Before I sign off, I like to say that I won’t go to much into the Apps in this article as I’m still “getting into” the phone but suffice to say I’m currently not as productive as I am on my iPhone. As they say, the survival of any phone platform has to do with the range of Apps available. Microsoft has to decide if they want to create a new market, or convert existing users who already have a long relationship with Apple. If it is the latter, Microsoft will have to convince developers such as Instagram, Path or Instapaper to come on over to Metro OS.

When Tim Brown said that ”design is getting big again”, he meant that Design is moving (or has moved, in my humble opinion) from a form giving exercise and into the boardroom where is have become a much bigger strategic activity.

I agree. Design is fast becoming a more strategic and holistic consideration in many organizations evident with its application through out many levels of the entire business.

If we use Everett Roger’s theory of “Diffusion of Innovations” to help explain the rate of take up of new ideas, we can see that Design (Thinking) has moved into the “early majority” phase. Many organizations have realized and recognized the power of design through the success of early adopters like P&G and Apple. I believe Design has crossed what Jeffry Moore calls the ”chasm”.

Click for a bigger image. Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

With every success there are sacrifices. Through my day-to-day activities in Design Strategy and Design Thinking, I’m starting the sense that the tonality of design is changing a great deal.

The type of Design that lives in the boardroom has taken on a very serious tone. It’s all about results, budgets, trade-offs (or not) and getting stuff done. Design activities such as User Centered Design and Services Experiences have become a by-product of this commercial and strategic approach to design.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with being commercially minded in Design. In fact at Design Sojourn, we pride ourselves in taking a very commercial and pragmatic approach towards our client’s projects.

However it is this change in Design’s tonality that worries me. This soul of design seems to be slowly and surely slipping away. So how do we fix this?

Here is part of the answer. If you ask any wide-eyed designer entering design school why they getting into design, the most common answer would probably be a variation of “making people’s live better”.

Unfortunately Design in the boardroom seems to forget that it is all about the people in the first place. How can this be? Is Design not about the people? Are humans not central in User Centered Design and Design Driven Innovation?

Yes they are.

But humans are often now seen as just a means to an end, an end goal that is under-pinned by a commercial consideration. It’s looking more and more about giving people what they want, regardless if it’s good for them or not. The engine of consumerism just goes on and on.

We mentioned earlier that half of the solution is about making people’s lives better. The second half should then be about focusing your design work on making people happy.

When put you combine making lives better with making people happy, it all starts to make sense. Suddenly, the edge gets taken off those tough commercial design decisions. There is now a greater meaning in why you are designing this product or service in the first place. I think this is a much better approach than just focusing on giving people what they want or did not know they wanted.

So I like of offer all you dear readers this industrial design manifesto for 2012 that asks you to put the soul back into design. I hope you will join me, and together we can make the world a better place. If you find this manifesto meaningful, please share it and tell all your friends. Thank you!

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

You will get monthly News & Announcements. New Work & Theme Releases. Freebies & much more.