From sewer robots to respirators to machine tools to agricultural equipment, innovative companies understand that if they don’t embrace user-based design as a means to profit, others will. We are seeing a renaissance in how the industrial frontier is envisioned. As with the first Raymond Loewy-designed Sears Coldspot refrigerator, which in 1935 transformed the refrigerator from a utility machine that stayed on the back porch into a lifestyle device that became an interior feature of every home, the industrial frontier is being transformed into a lifestyle environment where people spend the significant part of their day. Good design is often found and highlighted in the consumer world. But design to create fantasy—yes, even fantasy—has a place in every world where humans interact with their environment, including the world of B-to-B.
When Eric Close took over RedZone, it had a reputation for invention but not for pragmatic innovation. Close could have gone completely the other way to become a component supplier of robotic core technology for other companies. Close realized this was not a sustainable option, instead seeking an opportunity to develop and manufacture a core product with a long-term strategic plan. Close sees the potential of RedZone as a company to branch out and find new applications for its unique robotic design capability.
In Hong Kong, companies are forming a new strategy supported by local government and industry. They have described it as moving from supplier to designer to strategist. Many companies in Hong Kong have been service companies for large global corporations or have found a niche in low-end consumer markets. They realize their future lies in moving from a mind-set of supplier to product designer and producer and, eventually, to industry strategist, setting the future of product development. Hong Kong wants to become the gateway to the Pearl River Delta on the mainland and to help existing and emerging Chinese companies make this same strategic shift.
Suppliers are primarily cost-driven and directed heavily by external companies that purchase their products and services. Original product designers and manufacturers move to develop their own products that, although they often meet current demand, may not be trend-setting. Japanese and Korean companies went through the phase of product design and producer, but now they are at the strategist level. Toyota used to make cheap cars that undersold U. S. and European competition; now it leads the world as a strategic design – driven company that is arguably the most successful car company in the world. In Korea, Lucky Gold Star used to be a supplier making inexpensive components for the computer industry. It then broke out to design and manufacture its own computers, but still it competed by price. It became an industry strategist when it shifted to LG and started to produce world-class electronic equipment. Samsung and Hyundai followed the same path. If your company is built around a supplier mind-set, you must start the process of shifting from supplier to product designer and manufacturer on the way to industry strategist. If you don’t want to fight the low-margin battle to be the lowest-cost provider, you simply have no other choice.