The question is, could shifting design into more of a strategic business force within Philips help the company grow profits? Although it is too early to see the influence of Carney's leadership on current Philips products -- it often takes months or years for items to be developed, manufactured, and meet regulatory approvals -- executives at Philips believe he's already had an effect on the organization. "Sean comes to Philips bringing experience that is very relevant for the challenges our businesses face today," says Caroline Clarke, CEO of Philips' Personal Care business group. "His experience and style have enabled him to challenge current thinking and build on long-admired [design] capabilities within Philips."
Clarke adds that Carney "has already made a noticeable impact." Some new products just coming to market, such as the latest Fidelio docking speakers for mobile phones and the ReAura Laser Skin Rejuvenation system, "have his stamp on them in terms of [their] impact on the shelf and desirability," she says.
Carney's C.V. lists the type of international, varied experience that is red meat for a 21st century chief design officer. Besides working at HP during the thriving Mark Hurd years, he's consulted with brands known for their hip aesthetics, such as Finnish glass maker iitala, and worked as Group Director of Design & Business Strategy at appliance maker Electrolux (where, in an intriguing twist, Marzano was named Chief Design Officer in January).
But Carney's latest role, while ripe with opportunity, also bears tremendous pressure, both internally and externally. First, there is Marzano's legacy. During his two-decade tenure, Marzano grew the number of employees within Philips Design more than 300%. He also developed processes of intensive customer research and prototyping. Marzano was practicing what is now called "design thinking" in business circles about a decade and a half ahead of the concept's heyday, as practiced by innovation firms such as IDEO, in the mid- to late-2000s. Marzano was credited for some of Philips' best known hits, such as the Senseo coffee maker, which has sold millions of units.
Carney seems game to carry on Marzano's design philosophies while also adding his own spin. Similar to his predecessor, Carney practices so-called "design thinking" without the buzzword's trendiness in mind. Like Marzano, he's more of a design do-er. At HP, for instance, Carney was asked to re-design the experience of using photo-printing kiosks in retail environments, such as drugstores. Carney and his team not only observed the on-screen graphics that kiosk customers encountered, but also analyzed the jobs of the store employees who would process data from online users. Pleasing the behind-the-scenes photo processing staff, Carney believed, would help make the entire experience of printing photos better.
"They were digital natives at 18-19 years old," Carney said of the store clerks. "They were alienated by the 1980s-style blue-and-white screens they had to use to process the pictures." Carney and his team then worked on a variety of new interfaces that would appeal to everyone involved in printing photos in a store, including store staff that weren't originally a target audience. This example of Carney's approach -- which he describes as helping to guide business executives and engineers toward "alternative paths" to product and service innovation -- illustrates how his way of thinking might fit in well with Philips on the C-suite level.
Carney believes in taking the time to empathize with all people who might be associated with the use of a forthcoming Philips lighting, medical, or consumer product, and not just an end user. With MRI scanners and other healthcare related items, Carney is making sure Philips designers also research how to improve the experiences of hospital administrators and radiologists, in addition to the patient. While patients and caregivers, of course, have top priority in terms of design effectiveness, Carney says that the people who buy equipment for hospitals as well as "the guys on the shop floor" -- the people who do maintenance work on a medical device -- need to be considered, too. And designed for. This, he believes, is how to maintain widespread brand loyalty.