Cisco Buys a Product-Design Firm, Takes Aim at Consumer Electronics

Flip digicam

Cisco–which is best-known for making backbone infrastructure for the Internet–is getting serious about consumer electronics. And today, they announced another big step in that direction, the acquisition of Moto, a somewhat obscure design firm.

Cisco Valet router

Moto, it should be noted, isn’t one of those big hot-shot firms like IDEO or Frog or Smart. But what they do seem to possess is an intimate knowledge of the design process–from drawing something on a sheet of paper to haggling with suppliers to get them to make your stuff correctly, and everything in between.

That might be the most important factor for Cisco, as they try to build upon the runaway success of the Flip cameras, the complete design overhaul at Linksys, and the launch of the Valet line of routers (above). Moreover, they’ve bought a (presumably) functional group that can work together, which is key with something as process oriented and complex as product development. It’s not the first time they’ve done that–Cisco kept Pure Digital’s design team mostly intact when they bought the original maker of the Flip cam in March ’09 for $590 million.

There’s not yet any indication of what sort of products Cisco might eventually tackle with their new team. But in the past, Moto has developed products for Sirius, Intel, Logitech, LiveScrib, and various other startups. And recently, they’ve been working on Android-based e-readers and home energy monitors. That said, what Moto still lacks is a track record of design sexiness–which is sure to become a more pressing need as Cisco tips into more competitive territory. Then again, Cisco is probably hoping to invent a couple new categories to perform alongside Flip, which proved that even in a crowded market, there’s still opportunity if you can look at the market in a fresh way.