Vice President for Strategy and Innovation, Continuum
As Vice President for Strategy and Innovation at Design Continuum, Inc., Harry West has been in your business, your house and maybe even in your car. “We help companies see the unseen and envision whole new opportunities for growth” says West. “But to see something, you have to be able to not see something else.”
West holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and a Masters in Engineering from Cambridge. But don’t be fooled – Harry West is not just an academic. He knows business and has helped some of the biggest brands in the world uncover entirely new markets and achieve new levels of profitability.
Picked up a Swiffer lately? Seen the slick dashboard interface on a BMW? Or how about locked something up with one of those titanium Master Locks? Have you gazed out one of Anderson Window’s 200 Series designs or basked in the pulsating flow of Moen’s Revolution shower head? West and Design Continuum have an impressive record on conceiving innovations and delivering them to market.
STUDYING HUMAN BEHAVIOR TO DESIGN BETTER PRODUCTS
What’s the secret to great design? “If you understand people's values better, you can create better products and services for them. That's the future of design,” says West.
Much of his work and the driving principle of Design Continuum centers on the emotional and behavioral aspects of consumers. What are they really doing in the shower? Where do they go to solve common household challenges? What is the most stressful part of driving? Questions like these are deceptively simple but are the key to the innovation process.
“Design shouldn’t be just about making things work better and look better,” says West. He advocates a highly non-traditional approach, explaining that “instead of the usual starting point of deficiency analysis in a particular product, his firm gives priority to understanding the emotions that drive buying decisions.”
Intense observation is a common starting point for West and his teams. “Opportunity — we are always looking for opportunity,” says West. “Often, consumers don’t even know what they need. They are always quick to point out what’s wrong with something. It’s our job to not only find the solution but also give the customer an experience that will speak to his or her values.”
Similar to an anthropologist on location, West will watch consumers closely to discover unmet needs or identify unique opportunities. Working with Procter & Gamble find new ways to clean floors, he made simple observations such as that vacuums were often set aside for the good ole dust pan and broom and that most of the dirt on a sponge mop is on the outside of the mop. Simple, but this was the genesis of the Swiffer concept – a product line that now generates $500 million annually.
West frequently presents on the practice of innovation and talks about the importance of inspired collaboration and adaptive processes. “Combining people with diverse backgrounds and interests is our daily practice,” says West. “Our approach fuels innovation and challenges our teams to find unexpected solutions.”
To West, human behavior is the critical factor in successful design and time and again he has come up a winner, literally. “It takes a chain of people in different roles to create and realize the future of the business,” says West. He and the firm have received multiple awards for their work, which incidentally knows no geographic boundaries. Design Continuum operates in three continents, keeping West and the other innovators very busy indeed.
Next time you get a pass to the National Park System, pump up a Reebok sneaker, use an OXO kitchen gadget or sit back and listen to your Cambridge SoundWorks speakers, take a good look around. West may be watching, crafting the next innovation.