I remember the first time I met a team of designers from Samsung. It was at an annual Industrial Designers Excellence Awards dinner (before they changed “Industrial” to “International”). I remember five middle aged men wearing identical boxy black suits with white shirts and dark ties. Their haircuts were the same too. Samsung began to spend billions on design and for years, boxy-suited design guys would show up.
Then, one year, the middle-aged guys brought two young men who didn’t wear boxy-suits. They had spiky hair, brightly colored ties and tight, European suits on. Ah, things were changing. This was mid to late 90s.
I can think of no other Asia company that has spent more on design than Samsung and the company has risen high into the ranks of design award winners. But until very recently, Samsung’s design has nearly always been derivative. Samsung uses a Fast-Follower approach to both design and business. It rarely leads and uses vast amounts of research to follow trends in the market. Apple, of course, is much of that market, so Samsung follows Apple very closely. This has made Samsung hugely profitable and hugely huge in size. But it has not made the company a leader.
The New York Times article is a good summary of the design/business culture of Samsung.
Not leading has not bothered Samsung much. I consulted for them years ago on a panel in NYC. Of course, the panel of mostly US designers told the Samsung people they should be more creative, more innovative and lead. But the Samsung design and marketing people didn’t think it was that necessary. They were making products that others could use as platforms to create apps and services to engage people. They could build the aura. And that would be sufficient.
Maybe Samsung is right. Last year I was in a movie theatre, being forced to see ads (which I hate unless the ads are really entertaining–just like everyone else, right?). There was this ad for a Samsung Galaxy phone that showed two people taping their cells together to exchange videos. Hmmm… Very cool. I think there was one about a daughter sharing a tape with her dad. Then there was a racy one between a wife and her husband.
Talk about engagement. It beckoned, it grabbed you and kept you in a relationship. It made you want more. It was personal and intimate. It was aura.
So Samsung is beginning to get aura. That’s very exciting indeed.