The year 2006 was a big year for headphones. It’s when the Beats brand debuted, took over every pair of ears in professional sports, and exploded into a $3 billion lifestyle-led technology company. You know what Logitech released that same year? This game controller loaded with fans so your hands would get less sweaty.
It’s one of many opportunities that Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell admits the company missed out on.
Logitech is one of the world’s largest hardware companies. It sells more computer mice than any other company in the world, which earn a vast majority of the company’s $2 billion in yearly revenue. But Darrell–who hailed from Whirlpool, Procter & Gamble, and GE–didn’t come to Logitech in 2012 to figure out how to sell more mice.
“We were one of the quintessential examples of a PC-related company, and our profits were dropping,” he tells Co.Design. “I came because I wanted to create an amazing company, and a design company. That’s fundamentally what I’m up to.”
In the last two years, Darrell has made a lot of big changes to the business plan. He took the company’s $100 million+ R&D budget, 85% of which had been dedicated to mice, and spread it around to three new product categories where he thought they could compete: Bluetooth speakers, teleconferencing systems, and tablet accessories.
Mice would be left with just a quarter of Logitech’s budget in a decision which provided an almost immediate payoff: Those other three categories would create $400 million in new business for Logitech by the end of 2014 thanks to standouts like the UE Boom. And the company would go on the upswing for the first time since 2011.
But this spreadsheet math overlooks Logitech’s bigger play: the quest to become what Darrell unabashedly calls “a design company.” In less veiled terms, it wants to be the type of company responsible for the next Beats-like craze. To lead the charge, Darrell recruited Alastair Curtis, the former Chief Designer at Nokia, to become Logitech’s first Chief Design Officer in its two-decade history.
“We had a long courtship. He and I got along really well,” Darrel says. “He’s come in here and done more than I thought was possible in a very short period of time.”
Curtis, who is now approaching two years with the company himself, recognized what he calls a rare opportunity. Logitech was a stereotypical engineering company. A quarter of its staff was engineers, and all of its products were being designed out of house.
Under Curtis’s design lead, the Logitech offices have embraced the open floor plans and collaboration championed by design firms. He’s also been staffing up, hiring roughly two dozen designers who specialize in industrial design, UX, and branding. The goal? To begin designing Logitech’s products in-house, while managing the external design studios with more guidance.
“The next 12 months is the most transformational for us as a design team,” Curits says. “Because let’s face it, on day one we couldn’t flip the switch and go to an internal model.”
Within two years, Curtis wants a majority of Logitech’s products to be developed internally, but he’ll still be relying on partners like Nonobject and mnml to keep their designs fresh, and, as he puts it, “challenge internal vision.”
“I know that’s not the Apple or the Nike model, but Apple developed it over 20 years. Nike over X number of years as well,” Curtis says. “We might get there 10 or 15 years from now, but certainly, in the immediate years we’ll be leveraging strong [partners].”
In the meantime, Bracken and Curtis are working together to answer a seemingly simple question: What makes a Logitech device a Logitech device? They hope to answer that by forming their own grounding principles which will comprise Logitech’s design DNA, and publishing their own, internal rendition of the Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Design. Then, of course, the duo promises to release a lot of enticing products that we’ve yet to see.
“My hope is that a year from now people won’t recognize the company,” Curtis says. “In a good way.”