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Welcoming Guest Blogger Tom Dair: To Design Smart, Keep It Simple

Smart Design is, well, one of the smartest design shops we know. You may not know the firm by name, but you certainly know its products: OXO Good Grips kitchen tools, Hewlett Packard Photo Printers, Ford's "Smart Gauge" for hybrid vehicles, and the new line of OXO office products are just a few.

But the thing that won my heart about Smart was their design for the most successful Father's Day present I ever gave my husband: the Flip Mini Digital Camcorder. But from the minute, Hank opened the Flip, he was smitten. He loved its size, its ease of use, its look. In short, its intelligent, intuitive design. He wasn't alone. Since its introduction in 2007, the Flip has sold more than 2 million units, and it now holds one fifth of the market. Even Sony is playing catch up.

The Flip was a consumer electronic design even a woman could love, which brings me to the point where I must confess my additional bias. Last January, I moderated a CES panel in Las Vegas with two of Smart's brightest lights, Erica Eden and Agnete Egna, of the company's Femme Den. The topic was one dear to my heart: "Design and Gender: Thinking about Sex and Electronics. The women made a great case for the idea that if designers kept women's needs in mind, they'd likely win even more customers among the Y-chromosome jockeys in the marketplace. Back we go, to the Flip.

Tom Dair Afterwards, a bunch of Smarties and I went out to dinner to celebrate at Red Square, and I had the good fortune of being seated next to the firm's co-founder and president, Tom Dair.

In addition to his role as company president, Tom runs the day-to-day operations of the San Francisco office, and heads up the company's Insights and Strategy discipline. In that role, he's been a tireless advocate of universal design—an effort that anyone who has used OXO's tools can vouch for.

He's also a believer in the importance of creativity in design, an idea that seems like a no-brainer until you've worked in corporate America, where many folks think process is a good substitute for original thinking.

Tom himself is a pretty creative thinker, holding at least 19 patents ("I've lost track," he says modestly), for products as complex as medical devices and as simple as the first toothbrush specifically designed for kids. This week, Tom told us, he wanted to blog about some design-related stories based on his 30 years of experience in the field. He promised to start out with some basic design ideas and principles related to form, materials and typography, and hinted that by the end of the week he might "turn them on their head a bit." Later in the week, he says he'll touch on some loftier topics, including process and strategy. Sounds pretty smart to us.

Here are some of Smart's most recent products.

SmartGauge for Ford Fusion Hybrid
SmartGauge for Ford Fusion Hybrid

OXO Good Grips Kitchen Tools
OXO Good Grips Kitchen Tools