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How Samsung puts the smart in its products

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At the recent IFA Tech Fair in Germany, Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The sleek new gadget underlines the essence of functional and emotional values of the consumer electronics brand that has become a powerhouse in both technology and lifestyle development. 

Yoon C. Lee, Samsung Electronics America's Global Product Innovation Team (PIT) vice-president, was recently in Bangkok and spoke to Life about the company's design philosophy.

Lee said that as smartphone design is limited to a big screen and almost no buttons, the difference between brands is very subtle. It's challenging, he said, to have good design differentiation. Samsung stands out by paying attention and looking into every possibility _ colour, material and finish.

"We also have a [particular] Android operating system. We have our own Android-related apps that are emotionally different from straight Android and those are users' experience and user-interface related functions that link to particular applications. It's an emotionally relevant element to appeal to consumers." Design innovation stands right in the middle of functional and emotional values. Lee stressed that it always has to be both. If it's purely emotional and there is no functional benefit, it's called flirt, kind of attraction or love at first sight but does not last long. If it's too functional it can only apply to a very small group of people who are only interested in execution.

"For us to appeal to a large group of consumers, we have to balance those two functional and emotional requirements. It's very difficult to say that one side is better, but both are equally important." Lee said.

"In developing any new product, Samsung's product innovation team across the world contributes to it in one way or another. They collaborate globally in creating the products. The North American PIT has had conceptual influence of the first wearable products that we created, also on Notes and the S4 that was launched last year.

"It's an accumulation of good ideas, from design, from our engineering department, to outside partners, all play a great role in formulating one product."

According to Lee, there are two types of consumer electronics _ a "need product" and a "want product".

"A need product is like a baby's nappy, you don't need any attractiveness, so function is much more important," he said.

"A want product is something that you have emotional bonding to. That could be a well-designed dress, chair, car or even a phone."

Samsung's aspiration is to become a leader in "emotionally want brand products", said Lee.

The company has continuously moved need category products into the want category. Need category products would be low-end phones, which are a small portion of the company's portfolio.

Samsung is trying to make its products more relevant to different world regions, starting with smart TVs. Their Media Solutions Centre (MSC) looks into solutions, applications and services that go into the products. MSC in Singapore looks into the behaviour of Southeast Asia. For example, the Viki app has introduced Asian content for the region, but is not included in TV sets in the US.

The "smart" tag is still in the early stages, but will develop as the need increases. Pointing to a car's windscreen wiper as an example, Lee said a long time ago, cars had no wipers, but now, it's impossible to think of a car without wipers. It's the same principle with reversing sensors or rearview cameras. Once people get attached to such features they come to expect them. So when buying a new phone for example, they will always look for similar features as their current one, but with upgraded versions.

"Can you think of leaving home without your phone?" Lee asked. "Likewise, everything that you interact with in the future will be connected to you, because you as users will be the centre of interaction." Lee pointed out that the new Samsung LCD fridge manages shopping lists and connects to a smartphone.

"Normally you are in the kitchen, you don't have your phone with you all the time, you just tap the screen and you will be connected. You can make calls and interact with people while cooking. It's all about adding useful functions to different products," he said.

Lee says that smart devices will be mainstream by 2018-2019 and Samsung aims to be an innovation leader.

Samsung’s Gear smartwatch can make phone calls, surf the web and take photos.

The yin and yang concept

Everyone is naturally biased because of their upbringing, culture and society.

To discover consumers' unmet wants, designers have to shed their own bias, said Yoon C. Lee, vice-president of Samsung Electronics America's Global Product Innovation Team (PIT), the team behind Samsung's ground-breaking DualView camera.

Speaking recently at the Creativities Unfold Bangkok 2013 seminar, Lee introduced the "yin and yang insight concept", which balances functional needs and attractiveness.

Explaining the concept, Lee said that while creating a product, the designer has to look at a wide array of things _ developing the idea, starting from observation (of what you see), to framework (what you think), to imperatives (what you imagine) and to solution (what you realise).

"When we have an observation, one person is thinking in a yin way, while the other is looking at things in a yang way. "Biased design" does not mean a bad design, sometimes biased design works for biased users as it addresses a niche segment.

Lee said that yin and yang is not about right or wrong, but about having different approaches to designing a single product.

Many people in the creative community just think about the users, but Lee argues that "it's about you, your context and your users, because you have to know you and your context in order to design something that works for the user".

Samsung product development teams, while designing washers, dryers or even refrigerators, for example, take into consideration how local people understand the product. It has to be more applicable to regional users, and not just be for Korean consumers.

"That's a good way of balancing yin and yang _ concept with functionality," he said. "For example, since Japanese read from right to left, their appliances open from left to right. Those are the things we have to think about when making products for the region."

Samsung’s web-connected LCD fridge.

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