Even with a formalised innovation process in place, which has a clear role for Global Consumer Design throughout, the team's Vice President Chuck Jones argues that 'the magic is never in the process.' Rather, he emphasises the importance of change management, and being able to constantly iterate the design and innovation process to adapt to changing conditions and contexts
However, Jones does trumpet the impact of the current process, which has delivered clear benefits, both in financial and time-saving terms. 'As we sit here in 2007, the design process, which was implemented in around 2000, has delivered an innovation pipeline with a value of slightly over US$ 5 billion and so clearly, just from a pure shareholder value perspective, this initiative has done tremendously good things for the organisation,' says Jones. Global Consumer Design is consequently being looked at to drive Whirlpool’s overall brand architecture.
Jones says that one of his key responsibilities is to ensure that his designers have 'the tools to do battle' in discussions with the wider organisation. In practice, these tools include effective metrics linking aesthetics, perceived quality and usability to sales and service costs.
Every designer also undergoes continuous professional development during their career at Whirlpool. This development programme is divided into two parts. The first concentrates on aligning the designer’s development with the current and future needs of the company. The second is about ensuring their growth meets their personal objectives. Jones says that ensuring his designers have a 'robust part B' is a key to ensuring their ongoing satisfaction.
Periodic 'town hall meetings' involving the entire design function worldwide, linked by video conference, are used to ensure that the whole design organisation retains a good understanding of its overall performance and focus. Members of Whirlpool’s senior management staff are encouraged to speak at these town hall meetings, reinforcing the link between design and top line business drivers.
At the project level, a range of activities are used to help designers gain a strong understanding of the customer needs their products must fulfil. Examples of such activities are spending time with service engineers carrying out on-site repairs and responding to service calls, or spending two weeks working in Ikea stores (which sell a lot of Whirlpool products) to understand the retail environment.
Whirlpool’s design teams can draw on the experience of the company’s extensive central R&D capabilities. For example, says Jones, Global Consumer Design works with two other departments on the development, selection and application of new materials:
'The Advanced Materials group does basic research on new materials that might have great properties for our products.'
'In GCD, we look three to five years out at the types of colour schemes and finishes the market is going to require to create a consistent palette that gives all the brands what they need without requiring too many different material combinations.'
'Then the Materials Engineering group takes our requirements and the cool new materials coming from Advanced Materials and works out how we can get them to work reliably in real conditions and how you can get them through all our factories with their different production processes and capabilities.'
With thanks to Whirlpool
For the purposes of the design process study, we spoke to Chuck Jones, Vice President of Whirlpool’s Global Consumer Design unit. Based in the Benton Harbour headquarters, Jones leads a team of designers, usability and human factors experts and guides their input into Whirlpool’s overall innovation and product development process.
To find out more about Whirlpool, visit www.whirlpoolcorp.com