The Questions | John Edson, IDSA | LUNAR

John Edson, IDSA, the San Francisco-based President of IDSA Patron LUNAR, is primarily responsible for building new programs for clients with the right innovation processes led by the right creative team to make a real difference for clients. His experience includes managing the birth of successful products for Philips, Motorola, InFocus and a number of startups.

In this Q&A, he talks process and shares some insights on the LUNAR way of doing business:

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Read all about designs success stories in the IDSA Catalyst Design Case Studies.

How do you translate the design process and its value for any audience that is unfamiliar with design?

For the uninitiated, we focus on the results of design. We frame the outcomes of design in terms and experiences that they understand—the stories that focus on the results. For example, businesses want their products and services to be gobbled up by their markets. They want their offerings to stand out from the competition. And they want to know that they can solve all of their technical challenges—whether they are cost targets, sustainability requirements or lead times. At its best, design creates advantages in all these areas.

Take the work that we’ve been doing for HP.  For the past 17 years, we’ve helped them design the global consumer market’s most successful PCs. Stand out graphics for the notebook group helps them create demand and market variety—moving PCs from electronic commodities to personal expressions. Generating and translating consumer insights into designs that enable and delight led to HP’s TouchSmart line of all-in-one computers—the first desktop computers with touch screen controls. And lower manufacturing costs and reduced carbon footprint is part of the achievements of HP’s highly-rated MediaSmart servers.

But let’s face it: as the audience for design continues to grow, companies are coming to us for the results they know that design can bring. With increasing frequency we are being asked to teach what we know about design to others. Among a number of ongoing educational activities, we are involved at Stanford University—both in the and in the ground-breaking biodesign program. We are also running workshops to put people into direct contact with the design process. And more and more, companies are seeking our know-how to help them create their own competitive design capability.

Is there a single guiding principle you use to manage your design team?

Since the early days of LUNAR, we have seen design as much more than a “make it pretty” exercise. We have always strived to create results that make differences emotionally with people. To do this, we ask and solve these questions: How can we connect so intimately to the dreams of customers that they fall in love with of our designs? How can we express a company’s brand beautifully, engagingly and even provocatively? And how can we solve technical challenges cleverly, ingeniously and with sophistication?

Of course, there’s another intentional meaning to the phrase “make a difference.” We have been working hard to learn what it means to live up to our commitment for societal and environmental stewardship. Our LUNAR Elements team has been active in developing sustainable design practices, not just for us, but for the design community at large. Design’s creativity has a key role to play, to work our way through the complex challenges and resource limitations that everyone faces today.

What is the most valuable lesson pertaining to sustainability that you’ve learned during the last 12 months?

Actions speak louder than words.

LUNAR has been working at sustainability with increased energy for about five years. In 2008, we formalized our thinking as LUNAR Elements, an internal team that is catalyzing the conversation, working with others in this area like AutoDesk, Designers Accord, Sustainable Minds and clients.

In the beginning, the focus was on raising awareness among designers and sharing tools they needed to make sense of how their decisions impacted sustainability. The challenge today is balancing our continual desire to make dramatic changes over against the reality of what companies can pull off.

But the cool thing is that in the last 12 months we’ve seen more companies pushing through the barrier required to make a differentiated commitment to sustainability. One of LUNAR’s clients is Green Toys whose business model is built on sustainability. They make classic toys that aren’t toxic and are manufactured in the USA from post consumer recycled materials (milk jugs). It’s been a trick to get the processing right, but in the end, these are fantastic products, engineered for efficiency and lower costs—a big win for any manufacturer. They are a bright spot for sustainable design, showing the way even during the economic meltdown.

What emerging design trend are you most excited about?

Design itself. This is an amazing time to be a designer. We are living in a renaissance of design.  Design’s creative approach is becoming widely valued and used to connect technology and business to customers, in ways that are beautiful, compelling and ingenious….in ways that make important differences and create results for business. 

What factors are most important to you when hiring a new designer to join your team?

We’re all familiar with the classic T-shaped person. That’s a successful model for consulting of any kind. McKinsey developed this idea that they needed people with depth in a specialty and also the ability to act like a generalist, gluing together a variety of specialties. But we’re also looking for I-shaped people. There’s enormous value in people who can generate and lead a clear point of view. Generalists are important for gluing capabilities together, but in the end, we’re not merely producing glue. We’re creating both strategies and design results that stand out.

After you’ve secured a new client, what is the most important thing you do to maintain their business?

Do amazing work.

Speaking of amazing, LUNAR has sustained an impressive tradition of sharing the team’s thoughts and experiences via the firm’s blog: