“Customer insights are the true enabler for crafting valuable experiences,” says Doug Beaudet, vice president of Global Experience Design at Honeywell, at the 22nd SAP Design Talk. Doug is a veteran in the industrial design space, having lead UX for Kodak, Whirlpool and now leading Honeywell User Experience. Back in 2012 Honeywell didn’t have a design department and yet, had stated its intentions to be the “Apple” of the industrial space. Doug was given the global responsibility to set up a corporate-wide design thinking practice and established a dozen design studios across Honeywell’s major development centers to fuel that vision. And there began the transformation of an engineering-led culture, learning to embrace the magical powers of design. What impact does design have on Honeywell’s business and products now, after five years of the journey? That’s the story Doug told at SAP Design Talk in Bangalore.

Honeywell’s roots go back to 1906 when the company made thermostats for coal furnaces, regulating heating and cooling. Americans might recognize Honeywell’s legendary T-86 thermostat, designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1953. That product raised it’s own status of previous products that were a mechanical ugly necessity, to a charming timeless product, treasured in many homes even today. Honeywell went on to be a world leader in many other industrial products including aerospace, defense, worker and environmental safety. It’s possible that the fire alarm in your building is made by Honeywell. The parcel delivery company is carrying a Honeywell scanning device. Or the next aircraft you fly has several of Honeywell products – flight decks, autonomous navigation system, inflight entertainment and jet engines, none of which would ever be consciously recognized as coming from the same company that is controlling the comfort in your home.

“While everyone was focusing on the design and user experience of consumer products, no one focused on experience for industrial products,” began Doug in his talk. Honeywell’s customer, say for example, a pilot, has an iPhone in his pocket, drives a BMW and lives in a home filled with smart devices. Why should he be subjected to an arduous experience with mechanical controls and manuals when he steps into the cockpit? Doug has a point.

One success story where Doug and his team used the magical wand of design is Honeywell’s AirTouch air purifier. Customer research in China clearly found that what the Chinese market needed were not better thermostats to regulate temperature. They desperately needed clean air to breathe. People living in cities like Shanghai and Beijing are the worst victims of air pollution. In 2013, there were already plenty of air purifiers. So what differentiation could Honeywell bring?

A detailed customer empathy exercise gave Doug’s team several insights into the problems people faced with existing air purifiers. Insight one, people struggled to get replacements for the filters they need to change every other month. They had to run down to hardware stores. Insight two, replacing a filter was not an easy-to-do thing. Insight three, a young Chinese couple living in Shanghai is worried about the air quality of their parent’s home in Beijing. Insight four, people don’t really know if the air purifier really does function well or not.

AirTouch tells you the air quality upfront on its surface. The filters are available at the click of a button on Amazon.com or JD.com (the Chinese Amazon equivalent). Replacing a filter is no problem – snap out the old; snap in the new. The device comes with an app you can download from the Google or Apple store to monitor from anywhere, Beijing or Shanghai. And to top it off, the app reminds you and helps you procure a replacement filter at the click of another button.

The cynic in me wanted to confirm that the Airtouch is actually a business success and logged on to Amazon to check reviews. And the reviews were great!

“I love my air purifier. I even take them on vacations,” a reviewer from Asia.
“I moved to Hawaii and my whole family was having a hard time adjusting to the volcanic smog. The purifier has erased all symptoms completely in 2 days!” says another reviewer from the United States.

“We sell all the air purifiers we make and the demand for them is fantastic,” adds Doug. Isn’t good design good business? Hell, yes! People do notice the little details that elevate a product from being just good to great.

“The technology of the filter mechanism is something we already had in our petrochemical products and we just reused it,” adds Doug. How many times do organizations cross-pollinate ideas across departments or industries? And here is someone with proof that cross-pollinating ideas and infusing design practice into engineering is making products succeed in the market.

As the SAP Design Talk ending credits played in the background, a loud round of applause filled the room.  The applause, we know, was for a thought-provoking talk by Doug, for the arduous shift Honeywell is making to delight its customers, and of course, for passionate people coming together and celebrating the role design plays in our lives.

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