At lunch a few months ago, one of Fast Company‘s expert bloggers gave me a tip: check out design at Dell, he suggested. I was skeptical. Design at Dell? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
For most of its 25-year history, Dell has been known as a company long on efficiency and cost-savings, and short on design. Dell machines may not have been sexy, but they worked just fine, and you gave you a lot of computing power for the buck. For years, I’ve been toting a little Inspiron with me when I travel; it’s nearly as light as a netbook with all the power of a big, honkin’ desktop. It’s just not, well, too sexy.
But three years ago, after watching their competitive advantage in price erode, and their functional-but-unlovable design emerge as a real roadblock to sales, Dell executives finally got religion on design.
Luckily, they had Ken Musgrave at hand to help with the company’s transformation from one that focused on paring costs and improving supply chain efficiencies to one where design is right up there with marketing, engineering and sales in the corporate hierarchy.
Musgrave is a good man to have in your corner if you’re looking to reinvent your company through design. An award-winning designer himself (with a slew of honors from IDEA, Red Dot, and iF), with two design degrees and an MBA, he’s been the director of Dell’s Experience Design Group for the past eight years. He runs a team of over 100 creative professionals, who make sure that everything from notebooks to servers are designed to deliver superior user experience as well as performance.
And he’s been a tireless advocate for the company’s attempt to make sure its products were sustainably designed and responsibly recycled, launching the Re-Generation sustainable design competition that encouraged design pros and educators to explore the trade-offs and contradictions involved in trying to achieve sustainability.
Ken’s made huge progress in three years, launching the Dell Consumer Personalization Strategy (If I had ordered my laptop today, I could have chosen patterns ranging from dots to plaids to Audubon prints), the 17-inch Dell Precision notebook intended for creative pros, and the Latitude family of notebooks. But his proudest achievement is the Studio Hybrid, the only LEED-certified consumer desktop on the market.
Often, the real test for any designer–particularly in a tech company–is if you can earn the respect of the engineers. On that count, Musgrave has hit a home run. Witness what Steve Belt, vp for business client engineering, told IDSA’s journal, Innovation: “Ken…stands his ground for why a risk may be worth taking and necessary to success. If someone wasn’t there to push back and remind us of why we have to make it work, we’d slide into the comfort zone of safe and predictable decisions. He reminds us that we can’t just claim industrial design is important and then act on it when it’s convenience. We have to give it equal priority and treatment all the time. People…should see design in every Dell product.”
Here are some of Dell’s latest, greatest hits:
The LEED-certified Studio Hybrid.
Infinitely Customizable Inspiron Notebooks
Precisions E6400 Workstations.
Read Ken Musgrave’s Think.Design blog