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Introducing Guest Blogger Dan Harden: In a Recession, Creativity Starts with How You Run Your Business

About a year ago, Dan Harden, the president and chief designer of Whipsaw the Silicon Valley industrial design and product development firm, stopped by the Fast Company offices bearing an armload of products that were as eclectic as they were fascinating. A baby bottle shaped like, well, Mom. A crank-up field radio in juicy orange. A shiny little silver box that purported to be a computer but was as sexy as a jewelbox.

Dan Harden headshotMany went on to win Best of Show in various prestigious design competitions, from IDEA to Red Dot to CES to the Medical Design Excellence Awards, and they earned Whipsaw inclusion in our own round-up of the country's top design firms in last year's Masters of Design issue. The idea that these products all came out of the same 25-person shop boggled the mind.

This year, Harden says, the range of design challenges keeping the Whipsaw crew up at night is no less diverse. The company's ion chromatography machine for Dionex is a cutting edge lab tool for identifying unknown materials — think: the toxic soup of particles surrounding the World Trade Center site. It' s now the number one such machine in the world, and the scientists who use it, Harden says, are "giddy" with delight at its ease of use and intuitive design.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's Whipsaw's latest product, a super-cool, super-functional lunch box for a new company (of which Harden is a partner) called Kinsco. The Yubo lunchbox, which will debut at the ABC Show in Las Vegas next week, is designed to transform that nasty ritual of opening your grungy, crumb-stuck container, only to find your banana squashed against your PB&J. Yuck!

Harden's been one of the industry's most prolific and heralded designers in the business, with 150 patents and over 100 design awards in his trophy case. Several of his creations are in the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, the Pasadena Museum of CA Art, and the Cooper Hewitt. Prior to founding Whipsaw in 1999, Harden was president of frogdesign. Early in his career, he workd with design master George Nelson.

As with other design shops, Harden acknowledges his team has had to work twice as hard for the same revenues this year. But he's not complaining. "You have to be just as creative in how you run your business as in how you design," he says. A survivor's creed if ever I heard one.

Here are some of Whipsaw's Greatest Hits:

The Pano Logic Pano Device

Pano Logic Pano

The Eton Emergency Field Radio

Eton Emergency Field Radio

The Adiri Baby Bottle

Adiri Baby Bottle

A Concept Camcorder for Pioneer

A Concept Camcorder for Pioneer

Read Dan Harden's Whipping Post blog