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Here’s a riddle for you. What do the cassette tape, electric shavers, neonatal intensive care units, 500 SAP employees, the Walldorf fire department and high-end Dutch furniture design have in common? The answer is that they all came together on stage at the second SAP Design Talk on November 12th.  Maybe that wasn’t much of an answer. So stick with me. I’ll get to each part of the riddle.

The 2nd SAP Design Talk

Philips, with headquarters in the Netherlands, is a diversified technology company. Their global set-up, strong tradition in engineering and focus on design (Philips wins over 100 design awards every year!) uniquely qualify Paul Gardien, VP of Philips Design, to share with SAP some lessons about their success embedding design in a large enterprise and putting people in the center of their product development.

The Cassette Tape

The event moderator opened the talk with a short introduction to Philips, currently celebrating 90 years of design. The company boasts inventions such as the cassette tape, the VCR, and the Compact Disc (he even brought a cassette tape from his childhood on stage to illustrate the device for the digital natives in the crowd). Philips brings innovations in lighting, healthcare, and consumer lifestyle to billions of consumers worldwide. Bet you even have quite a few Philips products at home.

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The SAP Design Talks are co-sponsored by SAP’s Chief Design Officer, Sam Yen, and Christoph Behrendt, Senior Vice President Industry and Application Innovation at SAP, who introduced Paul Gardien. As Vice President of Philips Design and a member of the Philips Design Board, Gardien is responsible for the strategy portfolio and, as head of Design Strategy & Design Innovation, he also manages the Design Innovation Program, new business development and building of new design capabilities.

Gardien began his talk by explaining how the entire company, not just the 500 designers at the company, but the whole company, lives design. Watch the short interview below, recorded earlier on the same day, for some insights into design at Philips:

For the sake of our riddle, however, I’d like to focus on the two concrete examples he gave.

Electric Shavers

Philips motivates engineers, marketing folks, product owners and designers to rigorously and uncompromisingly put users (consumers) in the center of their product development. To illustrate that point, Gardien talked about the latest innovations to the electric shaver. Connected to a grooming app via the Internet of Things, the Smart Shaver app helps with personalized advice to dramatically reduce skin irritation caused by shaving. Are you thinking, big deal? Well, you must not be among the 60% of men who suffer from this condition. But personal grooming aside, how does a company build such a shaver and an app and convince men to try out this new technology?

The product team recruits end users through a targeted online recruiting campaign and rigorously and regularly includes them in the product design and development process to ensure an optimal end-to-end experience (from marketing, to packaging, to using the shaver, to using the app).  The initial phase of the project included, as they often do at Philips, a week-long “hackathon.” All members of the project team are together for this week. The first two days are usually dedicated to understanding the users and the problem, the third day is spent defining how to solve the problem and the last two days are reserved for rapid prototyping. End users are involved in the hackathon itself during the whole week. The results from this kick-start are then iterated and refined by the project team to make sure the final product is feasible, viable and desirable.

Neonatal Intensive Care Units

Moving from the painful but relatively harmless topic of shaving to the highly emotional and life-threatening topic of extremely preterm babies (> 28 weeks of gestation), Gardien talked about one of Philip’s current projects to improve the experience of neonatal intensive care units (NICU). Places that are generally a beeping, peeping, heart-wrenching experience filled with bright lights, jumbles of cables, lots of tubes, hard-working staff, concerned parents and very, very small babies.

Philips has not only set itself the goal of dramatically improving the NICU experience for babies, their parents and hospital staff, but also of improving the long-term health of infants who were in these units. As is their habit, the Philips’ team began by listening to medical staff and parents and observing existing NICUs to understand the needs, pain points and goals of all involved. The team then created an experience flow, a tool used often at Philips for creating people-centered solutions. These huge, printed posters help the team to identify and understand the needs of people and find ways to address those needs. The map is the core artifact that the team returns to again and again. And, as Gardien emphasized, the maps are owned by the entire team, not the design team. With the map in place, the team can then move on to the hackathon and other design methods to bring a people-centered product to customers.

The goal of the NICU designed by Philips is to create a quiet, soothing atmosphere with hidden cables, a reduced number of IV and respiratory tubes and, above all, a place where parents can feed and hold their wee babies with skin-on-skin care, an exceedingly important practice to improve the physical, mental and emotional progress of preterm infants.

500 SAP Employees and the Walldorf Fire Department

Getting back to my riddle. About half-way through the neonatal care example, Paul Gardien and the approximately 500 SAP employees listening to him were interrupted by a booming overhead voice instructing everyone to leave the building immediately through the doors to the outdoor patio which were simultaneously opening by themselves as if by magic. Incredulous, speaker, organizers and audience looked around, shrugged their shoulders and followed the instructions.

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Outside, the setting November sun provided enough warmth for many to linger on in hopes the alarm was a drill and we would promptly be allowed to resume. However, the alarm was not a drill. There was indeed a fire in the kitchen below the stage where a cooking machine had gone wild and started to smoke. It took approximately 30 minutes for the Walldorf fire department to declare the building safe for everyone to reenter. Gardien resumed his presentation with 50 hard core attendees eager to hear about the next generation of neonatal intensive care units.

High-end Dutch Furniture Design

And for the last bit of the puzzle, Paul Gardien closed this surprisingly dramatic talk and joked a bit by thanking SAP for our “thoughtfulness” in placing two Smoke chairs from the Dutch designer Maarten Baas on stage for his talk. To complete the irony, the armchairs are called “Smoke” because the wood is finished with fire and indeed look as if the fire department was a bit late rescuing them.

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This article originally appeared on the SAP User Experience Community, a public platform dedicated to the exchange of ideas and knowledge about design and user experience. Visitors to the site can also keep up to date on what SAP is doing to improve the user experience of its software.

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