With the Galaxy S 3 and the upcoming S4, Samsung has at least caught up with Apple’s design ethos. You can question whether or not Samsung is now a better designed product or not, but the word from the street is that kids do not find Apple Apple all that cool – set that against the China market where everyone wants an iPad.
Whereas we all now know a lot about Jony Ive, we know comparatively little about Samsung’ designers.
I got a change to put some questions to Samsung Electronics chief mobile designer recently, by email, in order to get a better feel for the company’s design culture.
Not everything in his responses is transparent but bear with it – I think it reveals some of Samsung’s design thinking and direction and how it squares up to Apple in a head-t0-head. If you have specific questions of your own – I am happy t go back and ask.
Dong-hoon Chang is EVP and Head of Design Team, IT & Mobile Communications division, and Head of Design Strategy Team, Corporate Design Center, at Samsung Electronics, and has guided mobile design over the past six years.
Chang is a former professor and was educated at the University of Chicago as well as in Korea. His big idea for Samsung design is to integrate products more into the lifestyle of its customers. The design philosophy is called “Design 3.0″. The slogan: Make it Meaningful.
What does that Design 3.0 mean? According to Chang:
Samsung Electronics’ Design Management Center declared ‘Design 3.0’ in 2011, and has since then been strengthening service design functions to implement ‘Design 3.0’. ‘Design 3.0’ is a third-phase design strategy that is aimed at creating new and meaningful product-service experiential value and lifestyles for users, thereby going beyond exterior style and convenient use.In other words Samsung design is currently focused on the service-level in its products, presumably because it feels fairly confident in its product-level design.
Samsung organizes its design efforts through a corporate design center that reports directly to the CEO, exactly like Apple:
The establishment of the Corporate Design Center in 2001, which would report directly to the CEO, allowed the company to take a more holistic approach to design.These also cater to local design needs. I also asked if design teams compete against each other, as we know Apple’s do:
Today the Design Center is where Samsung’s mid- to long-term design strategies and directions are conceived for the company. As a cross-divisional team, its designers play an important role in leading and aligning the design philosophies of the company’s various business divisions and staying ahead of current product development by analyzing cultural trends to imagine the future of design. The Corporate Design Center also acts as a coordination hub for Samsung’s five Global Design Centers, located strategically around the world in London, San Francisco, Shanghai, Tokyo and Delhi.
Each team performs defined roles and responsibilities, but the teams also engage in open competition for specific projects. There are also small-scale innovative organizations that specialize in such competition. In addition to the Corporate Design Center in Seoul, we have Global Design Centers around the world that each offer distinctive value which serves to challenge and inspire other designers.The teams also receive training in Samsung’s own Design Power Program. What is the Samsung design philosophy? We know for Apple it is about minimalism and excellent user experience.
Samsung’s distinct design philosophy is about making meaningful experiences. Our design is based on minimalism but reflects structural innovation that combines Samsung’s unique style and new technologies. Our recent focus has been to propose a comprehensive user experience that not only delivers a sense of freshness, but also speaks to the question of how to bring value to consumers with designs more closely conceived around their lifestyles. As part of the evolution away from product designs that were more individualistic, we continue to strengthen a distinctive look and design language that speaks across all Samsung products. Continuity of user experience is a particular focus for us today.So it’s about getting away from individual products towards something more unifying and the unifying principle is to remove questions from the users mind when they set out to use a Samsung product. It’s also about recognizing that communications is about sharing. And the “Make it Meaningful” part?
Samsung’s Make it Meaningful design identity is significant because it transforms the process of how we ideate products, how we create those products, and then how we take those products to market. Design works in concert with the company’s engineering, product planning and marking functions. We aim to provide a seamless, convenient experience to consumers across our eco-system of products. So in the GALAXY S4 design, you can clearly see the design language of other Samsung products.The most important part of that response is how he draws attention to the product ideation process. It’s not entirely clear of course. But he seems to be saying that new products have to go beyond feature-level innovation and be driven by a new element of meaning for the user and his/her interaction with others.
Finally what about the future?
We are living in an era in which consumers are being flooded with complicated technologies and data. However the direction we are moving toward is one where personalized services and functions are provided to consumers by ascertaining their individual needs and removing the layer where consumers need to give deep thought to their needs. We are developing means of interaction that are based on a range of more natural methods that go beyond the limitation of current remote control and touch modalities. I can’t go into specifics at this stage, but we are focused on bringing enhancements to the quality of life for consumers.