An inside look at Samsung's approach to product design

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LAS VEGAS– At a gathering of designers from Samsung's Korea headquarters, the company made it clear that it will continue to push toward being a lifestyle brand, and one that emphasizes connecting consumers with their personal electronics.

Dubbed Design 3.0, the push toward what we see from Samsung today began in 2011. "'Make it meaningful' goes deeper than a design slogan," explained Dennis Miloseski, head of design studio at Samsung Design America. "Our goal is to bring products to the world that move beyond products and hardware. It's about making them beautiful and intuitive."

This design-centric gathering was less focused on the design of any one specific product—as was the intimate session with the designers of the Series 9 notebook at CES 2012—than it was on examining Samsung's approach to industrial design as a company philosophy across products. What follows are excerpts of some insightful comments from the team of designers (as offered via an interpreter) about how Samsung approaches design, and how some products have evolved to what they are today.

On how the company keeps up with the fast pace of change given the shortened product lifecycles:

"We preempt the change, based on research and development of what the user will want. The production time has halved, but we try to make up for this by intelligently forecasting our needs."

On what's most important when considering a product's design:

"What's important is that we are original and unique. When we differentiate ourselves from the competition, we free ourselves from the design. Design is not just limited to the form and the outside. We focus on the meaning and value of the products, too. This philosophy can be seen in all of our products consistently."

On how design sometimes has to wait for the engineering to catch up:

"We've had cases where design proposals were made, and sometimes they're taken and sometimes they're not. You can now see a lot of narrow bezel TVs. The first slim bezels go back to 2008, but we didn't have the right technology [back then to manufacture them]. By 2010, our engineers could come up with the technology to do a slim bezel. And now, we have the right technology to make the original design [for slim bezels, from 2008]. It was our design that enabled your engineering to develop these products."

On the challenge of developing products for diverse worldwide markets:

"It depends on the product. In the case of smartphones, we have the same model for 90 percent of the Earth. And TVs are also very global."

The Samsung Galaxy S III.

On choosing the build materials for a given product:

"When we talk about technologies and the materials that go into making these kinds of products, there are many we can use. Sometimes it's metal, and sometimes it's not metal. We think about the best material for the product. On the Galaxy SIII we focused on making it more human, and how the surface moves, and so we thought metal may not be the best material to use with this design philosophy; we thought plastic was more warm and would go along with that design philosophy."

On how much resources are devoted to design:

"Design permeates through the entire company. It's much more than you think. It doesn't really cost that much to hire designers or to maintain a design group, but in order to come up with design ideas, it costs a lot of money. When people talk about a design budget, they only talk about the overhead.

"[For example] we introduced a new design for a product—Touch of Color [HDTVs in 2008]. In order for this design to become product, we got our hands on the double injection molding machines all around the world, so we could get an idea of how [the translucent colored surface] would look. This represented one-third of all the profits we made from that product."

A Samsung HDTV that features the "Touch of Color" design motif.

On finding inspiration to innovate on designs that are commoditized:

"When people think about designers, they think about the technological limit or specs; but designers don't necessarily agree. We continuously think about what the customer wants, we study many types of products, from our research, and we are inspired by everything. We don't limit our outlook just to these products. These ideas allow us to improve our products, and to innovate our products—and create a whole new category, as we did with our Galaxy Note—by adding the human element of the pen to it. It's how we can continue to innovate.

"Whenever there are challenges, we have to overcome the challenges, and when we overcome the challenges, we see change."

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.

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