In 2012, Philips launched a new range of irons across Asia, which boasts a ground-breaking design.
While irons typically have to be placed vertically when not in use, so that their heated sole plates do not come in contact with garments, Philips aimed to solve this problem by designing an iron that does not burn fabric when laid flat.
This was a collective effort by Philips’ marketing, engineering and design teams, through developing an optimal temperature technology, in addition to re-evaluating the archetype iron design and removing the iron’s heels necessary for vertical standing.
Low Cheaw Hwei, head of design for Philips ASEAN and Pacific, says: “For too long, many of us have been plagued by the risk of burning our clothes if we left an unattended iron on them. We just wanted to solve this problem and improve the quality of the ironing experience. It was a bold decision and a technical challenge, but we felt it was necessary to reshape people’s deep-rooted habits.”
The dollars and cents
Intense competition and rapid growth in Asian consumer demand has created an urgency to bring innovative products to market quickly. According to IDEO’s Overy, the pace of design-led innovation has picked up in Asia over the last few years.
Human-centred design can also help companies better engage their consumers.
IDEO, for instance, worked with outdoor apparel brand North Face to define the outdoor category in ways that resonate in the China market. IDEO’s work helped North Face grow through new brand communities, digital experiences, and retail.
IDEO used insights generated through this exercise to collaborate with The North Face on designs and prototypes for a new digital platform and an updated store-within-a-store merchandising display.
Embarking on small-scale prototyping is a crucial step in the design thinking process as it lowers risks and costs, Overy says. “We create a cheap version of the idea and rapidly prototype it based on consumers’ responses. If it doesn’t work, we learn, adapt and evolve the idea. We call it failing fast.”
As design thinking is closely associated with creativity, it can be challenging to measure the precise returns on investment, according to Philips’ Low. “It’s more meaningful to adopt a holistic view to evaluate the benefits of the use of creativity in the workplace and in corporate decision making. The benefits can be seen not just through traditional barometers such as market share, customer satisfaction, and brand perception, but also through changes in company culture and consumer attitudes towards the company and the brand.”
“Design thinking is not new – it has now evolved to become one of the most popular approaches to creative problem solving, especially in large organisations,” Low says. “Its effectiveness and impact can’t be isolated. In fact, we can see results in the growth of brands that have effectively incorporated design thinking into their product innovation process.”
Designing for business impact
Design thinking is often used to rethink business strategies, observes Jeffrey Ho, the executive director of DesignSingapore Council, the national agency for design in Singapore.
He highlighted how the management of restaurant chain The Soup Spoon in Singapore attended a workshop on design thinking organised by the Council’s Design Thinking & Innovation Academy in 2012 and later overhauled its The Soup Spoon Union outlet by applying design thinking principles. Through changes such as a new layout and rebranding, sales at this outlet increased by 25 per cent and manpower hours were reduced by 24 per cent.
“In the broadest sense, design encompasses not just the physical appearance, ergonomics, user interface, etc. of a product, but can also be found in service delivery, efficiency and effectiveness,” says Arlindo Silva, associate professor of engineering product development at Singapore University of Technology and Design. “It not only results in better products, but also improves productivity in business processes.”