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Eleven lessons: managing design in eleven global brands

LEGO was among eleven companies who have shared their design processes

How do leading companies manage design in their businesses? Our in-depth study of the design processes used in eleven global brands gives real insights into the way design operates in these firms, and delivers usable lessons for all designers and managers



Delivering competitive advantage through design

Design plays a fundamental role in the success of many of the world’s leading companies. But how do those firms ensure that they are getting the best return on their investment in design?

To find out, we spent time with eleven of the world’s top design teams.

A qualitative study of the modern design process

For our most in-depth study ever, Design Council researchers visited the design departments of eleven companies, all world-leaders in their fields and all with a public commitment to the use of design to improve their brand strength and product and service offerings.

The study looked at the way design is used in these firms, how designers work with staff from other disciplines and how the design process is managed to deliver consistently successful results. How is design managed across complex, global, product and brand portfolios, we wanted to know. So we asked leading design teams how they select and organise their designers, and when they bring designers into the product or service development process. We also wanted to find out what skills today’s designers need in order to succeed.

From this in-depth examination we aimed to draw out some of the key features that define the state-of-the-art in modern design practice, as well as the unique approaches that set some firms apart.

The full study includes eleven case studies looking in detail at the processes used at each participating company. These can be accessed using the links below.

Eleven world-leading companies

Alessi Anna G corkscrewAlessi, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of designer kitchen and tableware, puts design at the very heart of its business and has developed sophisticated processes for finding, commissioning and developing new designs from a worldwide network of talented designers and architects.

BSkyB Sky BoxA pioneer in the delivery of multi-channel television in the UK, BSkyB has recognised the potential to use design as a market differentiator. While continuing to evolve its product offering, it has focused on developing in-house design management capability while building a strong relationship with an external design consultancy for the execution of product designs.

BT Home HubCommunications service provider BT is one of the UK’s best known companies. A diverse and rapidly evolving organisation, it makes extensive use of design in many aspects of its business, closely integrating it with the BT brand. The company has developed tools and processes to manage an extensive roster of external design suppliers and help them communicate the brand.

LEGO bricksDanish company LEGO, the world’s sixth largest toy maker, has transformed the processes of its design function in recent years. These changes have streamlined product development and the processes developed by the in-house design function are now being used as a method to improve innovation across the entire business.

Microsoft Office Mac Pro 2004Microsoft, the world’s leading supplier of operating system software, has completed a significant evolution in its attitudes to design. Having once been a technologically-driven organisation, Microsoft now uses design thinking to focus on developing products that answer users’ needs. With management support, this focus on user-experience is also influencing Microsoft’s organisational structure and culture.

Sony PlayStation 3Electronics, games and entertainment giant Sony has used design since the 1960s to differentiate its products and maximise the usefulness of its advanced technologies. Sony Design Group across the world employs around 250 designers and has developed a set of core design values against which the company judges the success of all its products.

Starbucks logoFrom its beginnings as a single coffee shop in Seattle 35 years ago, Starbucks is now a global brand which uses design to aid the delivery of a distinctive service experience to its customers. The Starbucks Global Creative team has developed a strategy that allows it to balance regularly changing design themes with a consistent set of brand values.

Virgin Atlantic AirwaysVirgin Atlantic Airways, founded in 1984 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, has innovation as a core brand value and uses design as a key competitive differentiator. The in-house design team manages many aspects of design for the airline, including service concepts as well as interiors, uniforms and airport lounge architecture, and works with a number of agencies worldwide.

Whirlpool microwavesWhirlpool Corporation is a leading manufacturer of major home appliances. The Global Consumer Design unit at Whirlpool has a staff of over 150 people and has developed expertise and processes that help the company respond to the demand for increasingly sophisticated and complex appliances and develop individual products under different brand umbrellas worldwide.

Xerox DocuColorXerox was founded in 1906 and has been developing pioneering office automation technologies since it introduced the first photocopier in1949. The design function at Xerox plays an increasingly important role in the organisation, and has recently been implementing a significant programme to broaden the breadth and scope of design input into new and existing product development.

Yahoo! logoFounded in 1994, Yahoo! has grown from a pioneering search engine to become one of the most popular portals on the Internet. An organisation that uses technology to focus on customer needs, Yahoo! operates a highly customer-centric design process, with user research instrumental in the development of new products and the evolution of existing ones.

Find out how they do it

You can use the links below to access key parts of the report content and learn how the companies in the study are tackling the challenges that you face today. Click to explore the content:

In more depth
Read about the methodology we used in the course of this study, or find out more about the way design processes are defined and measured by downloading a PDF (464KB) version of our detailed Desk Research Report


How to bridge the distance between business strategy and design.

Site Link

Download PDFs:

Designing a Physical Environment new
   Ivey & Sanders 2006
Design Research in 2006 new
   Sanders 2006
Design Serving People
   Sanders 2006
Scaffolds for Building Everyday Creativity
   Sanders 2006
Contextmapping: Experiences from Practice
   Sleeswijk Visser, Stappers, van der Lugt and Sanders 2005
Information, Inspiration and Co-creation
   Sanders 2005
Ethnography and the Empowerment of Everyday People
   Sanders 2004
Generative Tools for Context Mapping: Tuning the Tools
   Stappers and Sanders 2003
Ethnography in NPD Research
   Sanders 2002
From User-centered to Participatory Design Approaches
   Sanders 2002
Scaffolds for Experiencing in the New Design Space
   Sanders 2002
Virtuosos of the Experience Domain
   Sanders 2001
Collective Creativity
   Sanders 2001
Harnessing People’s Creativity: Ideation and
Expression through Visual Communication

   Sanders and William 2001
A New Design Space
   Sanders 2001
Generative Tools for CoDesigning
   Sanders 2000
Postdesign and Participatory Culture
   Sanders 1999
Converging Perspectives:
Product Development Research for the 1990s

   Sanders 1992

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Original Article: from Adaptivepath Blog

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2007 at 10:36 am by Alexa.


Challenged by an open letter that diabetes patient Amy Tenderich wrote to Steve Jobs, the American experience design consultancy Adaptive Path developed Charmr, an experience design concept to project how insulin pumps and glucose meters might work five years from now.

As reported in CNet News, Charmr is “a prototype for a sleeker, more functional blood glucose monitor and an insulin pump that users can apply directly to their bodies as an adhesive.”

“They researched extensively, interviewing diabetics and consulting with Tenderich, a valuable source of information and a link to the diabetes community.

While the Charmr vaguely resembles an iPod Nano, it has an appeal of its own. The device allows users to monitor the trends of their blood sugar levels, as well as administer insulin via a sweat-proof patch. Not to mention, the device allows for wear on the wrists, or as a keychain or necklace–all of which let the device simply appear to be another mysterious gadget, as opposed to a complex medical apparatus. Furthermore, the Charmr will triple as a USB drive that allows users to view daily trends and patterns of their condition, and other special features.”

The displays on leading insulin pumps today are the size of PDA screens and use a number of hard keys for navigation. Was it even realistic to create an adequate, easy-to-understand interface using a 2 x .75 inch touch-screen half the size of my Nokia N73’s screen?


Dan Saffer and I began the interaction design process by examining the options and screen content in existing devices. Identifying what our participants actually used, we sought out the “essence” of the insulin pump.

The “Ah-ha!” moment for me was recognizing that the interface that most type 1 diabetics today are interacting with is nothing more than a simple syringe.


All there is to this “interface” is:

  1. A way to select the amount of insulin you need (either by dialing it in or by withdrawing the appropriate amount from a vial), and
  2. A way to deliver the insulin (which provides clear feedback that it’s working: seeing the insulin disappearing into your body and the feeling of pressing the plunger makes you feel in control).

The rest of the details are dealt with in the mind.

As one of the barriers to adopting pumps today is perceived complexity, our goal became to create an interface that is no more intimidating than dialing in your insulin needs on a pen. Additionally, the device needed to provide just enough “smarts” to take away true mental burdens (like calculating your insulin dosage using your carb-insulin ratio), while keeping the user in control.

With these principles guiding us, we delved into the interaction design details: What features should the Charmr have? What feature will be used the most (dosing)? Which buttons would be soft (most of them) and which hard buttons we would need (a back button)? What is the minimum button size for a hand-held touch-screen device (many kiosks use 16mm square, whereas the iPhone uses considerably smaller, 9mm square buttons)? Which information should be shown on which screens to support particular tasks?


We also spent a bit of time discussing what kind of imagery would make the best ambient display of status (the mood ring screen). Amy Tenderich told us that one of diabetics’ greatest struggles is with guilt. They look at the numbers and feel guilty all the time. Thus, the ambient display needs to visually represent your status without assigning “moral value” to high or low blood sugar — the way a thermometer might show blue or red; neither is inherently bad.

We considered virtual pets, lava lamps, color abstracts, weather, and simply a personal/family photos theme (because it’s family or a particular goal that often motivates people), and finally concluded that the device should offer multiple themes and allow the user to choose what motivates them.


Finally, I developed a skin for the interaction design, striving to make it compelling and modern, while avoiding both “medical device blue” and the iPhone look and feel. The user could customize both the themes and the skins to their tastes, and perhaps even download more skins and themes online.


With the screen designs as well as a rudimentary industrial design concept completed, we put together an Experience Blueprint (4mb pdf), then it was time to tell the story of the product.

Lecture Notes: Site LINK

L1: Usability (PDF)

L2: User-Centered Design (PDF)
L3: UI Software Architecture (PDF)

L4: Human Capabilities (PDF)
L5: Output Models (PDF)

L6: Conceptual Models and Metaphors (PDF)
L7: Input Models (PDF)

L8: Design Principles (PDF)
L9: Paper Prototyping (PDF)

L10: Constraints and Layout (PDF)

L11: Graphic Design (PDF)
L12: Computer Prototyping (PDF)

Quiz 1

L13: Toolkits (PDF)
L14: Heuristic Evaluation (PDF)

L15: User Testing (PDF)
L16: Experiment Design (PDF)

L17: Experiment Analysis (PDF)
L18: Research Topics: Predictive Evaluation

L19: Research Topics: Information Visualization
Quiz 2

L20: Research Topics: Pen-based UI
L21: Research Topics: Weird Modalities

L22: Research Topics: Zooming and Transparent UI
Demonstration Day

The online social network field is broad, and any literature review can only focus on a selection of articles. The present article highlights recent research in the field and focuses on centrality, linkage strength, identity, trust, activity and benefits. By no means is this review comprehensive, but it should give practitioners some useful concepts to consider as they design social network based web applications.


An interesting article pointing out the theoretical concepts to leverage social networks. Article from Shiv Singh from Avenue|Razorfish.


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