Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Professor Roberto Verganti, Politecnico di Milano & Copenhagen Business School

I was delighted to welcome Professor Roberto Verganti to the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Aston University on Monday 20th September.  Having been a keen follower of his work it was a pleasure to meet the Professor in person and be able to introduce him to some of the assembled guests who were also keen to hear his thoughts on design and innovation.  Professor Verganti was speaking at the first in our first Visiting Lecture series 'Design Built-In', jointly hosted by BIAD, the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, and Aston University, and supported by The Birmingham Post.

I have posted my notes of his lecture below with some very useful additional insights added from Charles Morgan, as he was also attending. We were delighted to welcome other business guests including representatives from Jaguar, Brintons Carpets and Triumph Motorcycles as well as representatives from other universities, together with our own lecturers and students. My thanks too to our Dean, Prof Chris O'Neil, BIAD and Dr Geoff Tansley Head of Group at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston, Sue Urwin and Christian McLening from Aston.

My blog of this lecture appears on the Birmingham Post Business Blog website at

The Secret of Design Classics that Sell
Prof Verganti is an electronic engineer by training.  He teaches the management of innovation. 

If Italy is good at design – why? 

Famous Alessi Tea Kettle with Bird
designed by architect Michael Graves
 Italy ranks somewhere in the last 6 or 7 for innovation in the EU.  In fact, most Italian design is not by Italian designers, so you could say that Italians are not good at design.  Most innovative companies in Italy launch products which are designed by foreigners – Starck, Graves, etc.  The famous ‘Tea Kettle with bird’ was in fact designed by Michael Graves, an American architect.
If Italy has been good at anything it has been the management of design...Because design can come from everywhere.
Italy has an approach to the management of design which is ‘quite peculiar’.  There is a strong connection with education involved – elementary and high school levels.  Italy is very strong in humanities, but weak in technologies. 
As a science student at school Prof Verganti studied Latin for 5 years and 3 years of Physics. 
People don’t buy products because they need them anymore, they buy them because they love them, e.g. Alessi.
This fact seems to escape the notice of a lot of the Business Schools – that you need to ‘fall in love with a product’ and to make people do this there is a different set of rules.
If people fall in love with a product then the chances are that they will stay in love with it, if not forever then for a long time.
e.g. Tea kettle with bird...How do you create a product like this?
1) What do you do?
2) How do you do this?
What sort of cluster approach?
1) What do you do?
Case Study: Wii
Released in 2006: competitors Playstation and xbox which Wii is outselling 2:1.  However before this Nintendo was losing ground to its competitors and Sony was the leading company.
Why is Nintendo winning?
1)      Not because of technology
Sony and Microsoft invested much more than Nintendo and were doing market analysis.  Teenagers were into ‘virtual reality worlds’ and wanting more and more realism in their experiences.  IBM developed a powerful integrated circuit board to deliver this – so powerful it was like a ‘radiator’!

2)      Nintendo Wii is not outselling the others based on its style which is ‘pedestrian’.
3)      Nintendo Wii – what is different is the experience – this is completely different.  They changed the meaning of that particular virtual reality experience of gaming. The Wii remote control has an ‘accelerometer’, so you play in the real world and as a result when you’re playing games you now socialise better, interacting with a depiction of the real actions on the screen. Wii ‘innovated the experience’ ensuring that it was not isolated in VR.
Creating things that are more meaningful makes more sense to people.  Companies that manage to do this will win sales.  Technology and style do not always have to be the key differentiators for success.
The ‘Etymology of Design’, the word comes from ‘Designare’ which means to make sense of things, to designate meaning. Signalling that something has more meaning, this is ‘radical innovation’.
How can companies innovate the meaning of things?
The product’s ‘meaning’ is the bit that makes people love your product.  Everything we do, see, we always give meaning to things in our lives. 
Services have meaning too.  An example is – Kenyan telecoms business – started a service for money transfer because telecoms businesses are ‘trusted’ in Kenya.  In 3 months from launch of service they had 6m subscriptions for a service that relied on fairly basic SMS technology.
Intuit, a US business producing accounting packages for small businesses,‘Quick Books’ was doing something 27 businesses were already doing, but Intuit sold these books to business people ‘who did not want to do accounting’ differentiating their product through clear meaning.
Their philosophy was to produce products that are ‘designed for delight’
This is an example of radical innovation.
This is what Alessi did in 1991.

A British psychologist, Donald Winnicott,
who highlighted the importance of transitional objects – for example the Teddy Bear, security blanket, objects that help children make the transition from toddlers to a more independent state, put simply a substitute for mum and essential for sleepovers! None of this came from user research.  Alessi was trying to transform the kitchenware into transitional objects linked to affection.  But if you invest in a product with extra meaning people tend to buy two, one for themselves and one for a friend!  Perhaps it’s also why people fall in love with objects and become passionate about other people buying one.
2)      How do you do this – change meaning?
Innovation books tend to look at two themes to do this –
1)      User-centred design
2)      Ideas needed for innovation

“By looking at what users do we learn how to design a better shopping cart.” David Kelly, IDEO

The process starts with users.
Books such as -
The Wisdom of Crowds’ James Surowiecki

Innovation Tournaments’ – Christian Terwiesch and Karl T Ulrick

Some companies make changes to products to suit different users, ie phones for girls, phones for businessmen, but it seems the iPhone suits everyone. Formerly successful companies tend to go into decline because they fail to come up with new products that change meanings (an example quoted was Bang & Olaffson, the electrical goods maker.)

What is the right direction ? 

The views of some Italian radical innovators....

“Market, what market, We do not look at the market.  We make proposals to people” Ernesto Gismondi, Artemide.

“Each object represents a tendency, a proposal and an indication of progress which has a more cultural resonance.” Alberto Alessi.

“We don’t use consumer focus groups.  We got a lot of feedback from developers.”

“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

If you want radical innovation then you have to think about how you can change the meaning of the products/services that people will love.

To change the meaning of a product you need to do more than add technical features. Breakthroughs in technology can help achieve a great design but this is seldom enough for complete success or to give a product a new meaning with the massive sales and interest that follows.

A problem is that there are often many ways of changing the meaning of a product.  Creative designers tend to be rather good at spotting these different meanings.  Some of the uses they put objects to can often seem rather unreal. However there tends to be only one real change of meaning that hits the spot and therefore only one successful winner overall.

A way of changing the meaning of a product as well as creating success is...for designers to become great interpreters of meaning and to make proposals to companies of different changes of meaning but also the understand the need for research.

‘Interpreters’ have the big picture in their sights...

                                Cultural orgs       Anthropologists                                Media
                Artists                                   Marketers                                                           People


Pioneering                                            Firm/interpreter
Technologies                                                                                                     Retail and                                                                                                                                                                            Delivery              
                                Suppliers                                                             Designers
                                                                Firms in other

How can we make a person feel better?
Working with other businesses in different sectors can be surprisingly helpful at times – they may have insights into materials and what they mean for users enabling knowledge transfer.
Usually companies don’t realise that they have ‘Interpreters’ among them.  But they need a big network of interpreters to do radical change to see user-experience from a different perspective.
Alessi works with over 90 designers from all over the world.... Always trying to find the next talent that can take them ahead of the competition again in innovating the meaning.
They will try their proposals first with their colleagues and ask does this make you feel better?  Artemide (Italian lighting manufacturers wanted a light that made people feel better when they came home from work and switched it on. They made hundreds of prototypes and subjected them to ‘in house’ research!  They eventually made one of the most successful lamps in the world.
Famous designers tend to be great interpreters of meaning.  They have the ability to create products we did not think we needed but which become essential to our lives.  Famous designers also tend to get stuck in a rut after one great design or they keep being asked to repeat a previous success (Frank Gehry is constantly being asked to repeat the success of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Richard Sapper has been very successful with Tizio, his famous design for Artemide, which has been re-worked.
You don’t always get something new by hiring the most famous designers around. 
How do you find Interpreters?
Instead of hiring from outside it might prove better to create the research environment for designers to try out their ideas. Good designers are typically pretty radical (tight trousers, pointy shoes, etc!) so they need a circle of differening talents to work with.  The inspiration often comes from designing in either a beautiful natural or stimulating fashionable environment or both (e.g. Lombardy, Florence, Malvern or London!)  A research laboratory is the ideal place where they can try out their ideas on their colleagues and collaborators.  Furthermore they should subject their proposals to as many collaborators in different fields as possible. 
Most radical people succeed when they are in ‘circles’, e.g. The Impressionists’ were shunned by mainstream art at that time so formed their own circle.  In the case of Ettore Sottsass - Ernesto Gismondi funded Ettore’s radical circle and imposed no conditions on their work but gave them the freedom to experiment and produce the products they needed to in order to radically innovate the meaning.
The radical designer who has the vision of the new meaning has to ask his colleagues to perform this practical research.  They then decide whether for them it changes the meaning of the product successfully and whether they fall in love with the new product.
The interaction between a circle of designers who are interpreters of meaning, respected collaborators and their peers who can think outside the box, will make for a great design school that should successfully discover new meaning for old products.
Radical innovators have a profound vision, to have this you need to do research.  Ettore did his research experimenting with product design.   Many artists get fixated on an area and experiment around that theme for ages – e.g. Raffaello and the ‘Virgin and Child’ theme which he took, in turn, from his master, Perugino. 
Below are some of the key differences listed by Prof Verganti as distinguishing Radical Design from incremental design.

Depth research
Robustness of Vision
No. and variety of ideas
Vision of Society
Culturally neutral
Attitude to
Challenging the dominant
Play with the existing

If you’re a designer you have a vision of reality.
Having ideas versus having a Vision – article March 10, 2010, Harvard Business Review:
3)      Clusters

Networks have lifecycles. Things are somewhat static in Milan at present, become a bit stale.
Entrepreneurs have aged and finding it hard to breathe in new life.
Furniture Fair every April and there are always the same names are there.  The trick is to find some new interpreters.
Alberto Alessi has already re-invented his business at least three times.

Lombardy when rated against other Design Clusters was weaker than them on many dimensions, except when it came to the quality of their network.  The best links between busineses were found there.  London was best for design. 

Some of the ‘Distinguishing features between Innovators and Imitators’ include –

% working with
External designers          
Avg number of
Design firms in portfolio               

% designers with degree
In architecture 
% designers with degree
In engineering                  
% designers with degree
In industrial design
% non Italian designers

Most innovative companies have a lot of networks.  They have collaborative strategies in design and knowledge diversity innovation based on long range planning.

Networks for innovation need to be larger to get quality and depth of feedback required to have real insights into products.
Don’t assume people know what they mean – propose a new meaning.
Develop meaningful scenarios working with interpreters.
Identify and attract interpreters from outside your normal network
Move outside of this network to gain different perspectives....New meaning and references – especially with regard to well trodden themes –e.g. sustainability,

Imitators have poor Identity because they do a bit of everything.   Strong companies ahve strong vision and have fewer products.

Professor Verganti has been consulting with a lot of companies and strong brand companies become very conservative.  They don't want to spoil the brand they’ve created or inherited and eventually they die out.  90% of products are in the market-pull category but when he works with businesses he asks them if they are creating their future.  You do need the right designer – no good just having any old designer.  Bit like a dentist we all have one, but do we have the right one for our needs.

Professor Roberto Verganti

Beverley Nielsen
22nd September 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

Charles Morgan, Morgan Motor Company - Independent, Proud to be Different and Full of Passion

“At Morgan Motor Company we’re ‘independent, proud to be different and full of passion.’

These were Charles Morgan’s opening words at his BIAD Visiting Lecture, ‘Aspects of Design’, 23rd June 2010.

Charles Morgan, Morgan Motor Cars
“We produce 800 cars a year, 70% of which are exported.

"We employ about 150 people generating £30m turnover and delivering a profit.  We’re a global brand and we’ve been manufacturing for 101 years.


“You re-design an icon at your peril.  How to start this process is a question we’ve had to ask ourselves.  We started by asking what makes our cars the icons they’ve become?

·   Driving experience – sit in a Morgan and it fits around’s the embodiment of ‘driving by the seat of your pants’.
·   We have a strong family element.  I own shares in the company together with my sister and niece.  We look after past and current employees. The average age of our workforce is 37, they’re loyal and committed, and we appreciate all they do for us.
·   A Morgan ‘forces you to interact in a positive way with your environment’. We produced the first cars in the UK using water-based paints.  Our cars are very light  and economical – you could say Morgan was the only car company which started off with an environmental agenda – ‘Lightweight, Balance, Minimalism.’
·   Customisable cars – we’ve noticed consumers in general are getting more demanding and in turn we encourage our customers to choose the car they want and, for example, to watch their cars being made.
·   Vertical Integration is one of our core strengths – we’re a small company that tries to do as much as possible for itself.  We identify the core skills we need at our factory and have in-house.

Morgan Roadster Sport
  A Century of Speed

"We’re incredibly proud to be the largest car maker still in British hands and this does give us a sense of responsibility. 

"Henry Frederick Stanley (‘HFS’) Morgan, my grandfather and our founder, built his first car, a three wheeler, with help from ‘Mr Stephenson Peach’, then Engineering Master at Malvern and Repton Colleges and grandson of the renowned designer of the "Rocket". 

HFS Morgan patented
first designs
"HFS began manufacturing in 1910 and the first two-seaters were exhibited at the 1911 Olympia Show. Mr Burbridge, the owner of Harrods who liked them so much he put one in the window of his famous store.

"HFS broke the 1100 cc. One-hour Record travelling just short of 60 mph for one hour at Brooklands in 1912 and his sister, Dorothy, was a regular entrant in reliability trials.

"At the end of 1913 the Morgan Runabout had gained a greater number of awards for reliability and speed than any other Cyclecar or Light Car.

Early Morgan Runabout
 "That year the company produced racing cars with a longer chassis and lower seating with o.h.v. J.A.P. engines. One was entered for the French Grand Prix at Amiens winning against strong opposition from continental four-wheelers.

"The first four-seater with family dimensions was designed in 1912 but only produced in 1915.  Marketed after the Great War as a ‘Family Runabout’ it sold in large numbers.

"In 1921 Gwenda Stewart became the fastest female driver on the track at Brooklands, achieving 135.5mph in a lap record driving a 3-wheel Morgan and she went on to win many long distance speed records in Morgan 3-wheelers. 

"The ‘50s and ‘60’s were also strong racing years for Morgan and the Plus 8 was designed in the 1960’s with a Rangerover engine in a car weighing a third of the Rangerover’s weight. 

"I joined the the company in 1985 from ITN where I’d been working as a cameraman overseas with reporters like Sandy Gall in Afghanistan.

Morgan 4/4 Sport
  Three steps to Survival

 ·        We started designing new cars again as well as starting to race and win races again - putting the brand back on the motor map.  Racing is an essential testing ground for us, enabling us to prove new technologies and components in a cost effective way, for example, the suspension on the Morgan racing car is the same as the suspension on the road car.

·        We looked at opportunities for using technology transfer – such as superformed aluminium – a process coming out of aero engineering with the result that the metal needs less primer reducing bodyweight.

·        We introduced smarter components, such as our bonded aluminium chassis launched in 2000 – Morgan was the first to launch this technology and was followed by Jaguar and Aston Martin.

Morgan Eva GT
Current Design Process

Wood and Leather
"Matthew Humphries our Chief Designer is in tune with Morgan’s DNA with a real empathy and understanding of how to build on this to find new design routes for the future. 
"He’s using wood and leather authenticity whilst respecting the natural qualities of these materials and our performance attributes and aspirations.
"We’re looking at door design at present as this has not changed much in automotive terms since 1926 – we want to think about all the different ways you can get into a car with particular reference to the seals around the door.

"Once a concept has been drawn up then it is put onto our CAD (computer aided design) platform.  Following this our design team start milling the prototypes with this being done increasingly using Rapid Prototyping techniques in the future. We then submit car to a ‘critical audience’ – for example we’ll take one out to a show Pebble Beach, California, exposing it to demanding customers exhibiting it alongside the most respected world brands in front of car designers.

Morgan 4 Seater
UK Design

"The UK continues to produce some of the most talented designers in the world from our art & design schools and colleges and they are now providing the direction and impetus behind some of our best known brands for example companies such as:
Rolls Royce Aero Engineering
Jamie Oliver
"There are many examples of luxury UK brands including Jaguar Landrover, Aston Martin and Aga Rangemaster, in the West Midlands.

Morgan Plus 4

Excellence in Design

"I’m blown away by Italian fashion companies and how they’re linking design into manufacturing. 

"However, there are a lot of British designers working for internationally branded companies

Peter Horbury – Volvo Design Director
Martin Smith – renowned for his re-design of the Audi now with Ford
Ian Callum, Jaguar
Moray Callum, Ford
Julian Thomson – Lotus
Marek Reichman – Aston Martin
Gerry McGovern – Land Rover

"We have the best universities in the UK, we have the top R&D departments in Engineering in the world.  5 British universities are in the world’s top 10.

"We have a duty to link talent with British companies to put Britain back on its feet.

"For this to happen I think a certain amount of government support will be required. For example, R&D Tax Credits are very important in encouraging investment in development.

"Collaborations between universities and businesses are essentialwhat better way than through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships where businesses gain a graduate committed to developing a key project in your company and bringing with them the knowledge within their universities to drive growth and success more quickly. 

"We’ve had real experience of this at Morgan having been involved in 4 KTPs with Birmingham City University’s engineering faculty, TEE, for over 10 years, resulting in the new product design and the employment of our Chief Designer, Matt Humphries.

"All this product development needs to be harnessed into products that can actually sell increasing turnover and profitability.

LifeCar prototype - rapturous response
 LIFEcar 2

The Lifecar project has seen the development of  a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle involving a collaboration between Morgan and its partners at QinetiQ, Cranfield and Oxford Universities, BOC and OSCar Automotive and part funded by the DTI (now BIS).  It’s been designed to run optimally at cruising speed making it cheaper and lighter than a conventional fuel cell.  It’s 45% efficient, compared to 30% efficiency for a traditional petrol engine, according to Car Magazine with the only emissions being water, heat and 22kW of electricity.

Power is directed to four electric motors providing drive directly to the wheels with the motors capable of recapturing up to 50% of the energy in comparison with a 10% recapture for current applications. The regenerative braking system provides stopping power equivalent to 0.7g and Charles Morgan claims that the switch at low speeds between the regenerative brakes and conventional hydraulic brakes is seamless.

The Morgan Lifecar can achieve 150mpg on a 250 mile range, reach 85 mph, sprint to 62 mph in under 7 seconds.

Speaking about LIFECar 2 Charles Morgan said, "Following on from the rapturous response that LIFECar received, Morgan decided to take LIFECar from a prototype, to a fully fledged production vehicle.

"There have been some changes to the original brief, making the car more practical, while retaining the revolutionary features that made LIFECar unique. The use of sustainable lightweight materials will ensure that not only is the vehicle fuel efficient with a low carbon output, but that at the end of its very long life, it will be easily recyclable.

Morgan LifeCar 2
"This extreme hybrid with onboard power generation and electric motors at its corners is the result of radical design innovation referencing our core values and design DNA.  It’s beautiful, combining our signature wood laminates and leather features and is performing really well in trials.

"We’ve been working on the Lifecar 2 concept for a year and expect to have it on the road in another two years.  Working with graduate researchers from BCU we’ve been developing the electric motors software and a generator for the new vehicle.   It’s a very focussed small team but with access to a great deal of knowledge in the UK Universities.

Morgan Aero Sport


In 2006 Morgan built a one off car for Prince Eric Sturdza, designed by Matthew Humphries and shown at Geneva the same year.  Following an enthusiastic reception and clear demand, Morgan built 100 cars all of which have been sold.  

"The Aeromax cost £2m in development, and was built on an existing platform.

"Having launched this new model the business sold 100 cars over 2 years generating £9m in revenues and £2m in profits representing a 24% Return on Investment.  It raised the profile of the company and made possible the next part of our planned product development."

Role of Government

Earlier that week Charles spoke with The Birmingham Post and the following thoughts appeared in an interview, 24th June 2010. 

"I am disappointed that small UK companies like ours have been ignored by politicians when it comes to funding.

Morgan Super Sport Junior Pedal Car
"Smaller companies are often more innovative and quicker to bring new inventions to fruition, but have been passed over for support in favour of global manufacturers, such as Jaguar Landrover.

"There are some incredible pockets of innovation in established family businesses and these are often overlooked by governments that are looking for ‘safer’ investment – or what government perceives to be safer, anyway.

"Smaller companies are ideal platforms to bring in innovation without having to put such huge sums of money in. 
"My argument is not to overlook the smaller SME’s that have creative management – you get more bang for your buck and it is safer to try new ideas on a smaller scale."

Charles Morgan’s words were echoed by Ron Dennis, Chairman, McLaren Automotive in a Daily Telegraph article, July 2010 calling for a four point plan to boost British industry. It revolved around education, investment in research and development, greater participation between companies and government and ‘daring to be different’.’
Peter Horbury, Former Designer, Volvo, Design Director, Ford whose design team includes Moray Callum, younger brother of Ian Callum
Martin Smith, Former Designer, Audi and Design Director Ford Europe

Beverley Nielsen
20th September 2010

Morgan Motor Company unveils new three-wheeler car at Geneva show

Birmingham Post article 4th March 2011

Read More
Morgan Motor Company unveils 3-wheel car at Geneva Auto Show
Morgan Motor Company unveils 3-wheel car at the Geneva Auto Show
West Midlands motor firm Morgan has unveiled its new three-wheeler car at the Geneva Auto Show 2011.
Malvern-based Morgan Motor Company said it will sell the car, powered by an 1800cc V-Twin engine from Harley Davidson, for £30,000 in the UK when it goes on sale.
The firm said the new product is a modern take on what is probably the most iconic Morgan of all time, although the new vehicle embraces modern manufacturing technology and is the most environmentally-friendly product in the Morgan line-up.
Morgan Motor Company unveils 3-wheel car at the Geneva Auto Show
Dr Viv Stephens, representing the Niche Vehicle Network, said: “Uniquely, we organised a supplier event at Morgan, when the project was at its initial feasibility stage, attended by 26 specialist automotive companies from the West Midlands region, who convinced Morgan that they could add value to the processes of design, development and manufacturing.
“As a result, 12 of these companies have become partners or suppliers to the project, which will be a great benefit to the region in terms of jobs throughout the supply chain and also at Morgan.
"Niche vehicle design and manufacturing are real strengths in the region and our focus is to promote collaborative working to produce competitive and innovative new products.”
Steve Morris, manufacturing operations director at Morgan, said: “Without the support of the Niche Vehicle Network, the project would not have gone ahead at this time. Ironically, the need to invest in developing new products is crucial during economic downturn, so that they are market-ready as the economy recovers.
“The grant funding and support we have received has been vital in exploiting this opportunity, not just for Morgan but also for the specialist supply chain in the region.”

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