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Innovate While You’re Winning: How to Stay on Top When You’re a Market Leader

Gordon Hui (Smart Design), Murphy Freelen (Smart Design), Robert Curtis, Ben Rottler (Independant)
Location: Conference Center - Golden Gate Room
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 1 rating)

Although excitement around the Internet of Things is currently at an all-time high, a small group of technology companies have been successfully building connected products for many years. Despite evolving business models and a constantly changing competitive landscape, these market leaders have a proven track record of designing successful products that are at the intersection of hardware and digital experience and generating long-term growth in diverse industries. How do these companies avoid the risk aversion and complacency that have doomed other large corporations and one-hit wonder startups? What adaptations to their design and innovation processes have they made over time?

For innovators at large companies, it is often worth benchmarking smaller companies and startups to learn about new practices. However, the corporate environment creates additional levels of complexity and unique challenges for bringing connected experiences, especially in terms of flexibility, speed, and risk aversion. The few companies that have been able to become market leaders—and stay on top—are worth learning from. This session seeks to highlight the lessons learned and common practices of these successful organizations.

Key takeaways for the audience will include:

  • What are best practices for innovating and enabling risk at a large technology company
  • How have design considerations changed in the Age of Connected Devices
  • What issues for scaling IoT products are especially vexing for Fortune 500s
  • What is the large company’s perspective on connected device startups
  • How do Agile and Lean product development approaches get adapted in a corporate environment
Photo of Gordon Hui

Gordon Hui

Smart Design

As the founder of Smart Design’s Business Design and Strategy practice, Gordon is passionate about projects that explore the intersection of emergent technologies, new services, and breakthrough business models. For over 15 years, he has guided innovation and capability development at some of the world’s most innovative corporations. His thoughts on innovation and technology have appeared in Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and the TEDx circuit.

Photo of Murphy Freelen

Murphy Freelen

Smart Design

Murphy Freelen leads the global digital services practice at Smart Design. As an expert in guiding and growing creative services firms, Murphy provides strategic leadership of the company’s digital design services for our global clients. At Smart, she elegantly and purposefully integrates digital, physical and brand into compelling and unexpected experiences that elevate people’s daily use of technology. Murphy leverages her deep understanding of clients’ desires and design’s capacity for generating business results.

Prior to Smart, Murphy held a variety of roles at frog design including General Manager of frog’s San Francisco studio and Director of Operations/Program Management.

In her wilder days, she worked at SPY magazine, MCA Records and ran a photo studio. Murphy earned her MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and her BA from Stanford University.

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Robert Curtis

Robert’s currently holds the position of Principal Program Manager for a Fortune 100 consumer electronics company. Robert works within the global industrial design group leading the creative definition, design, and design implementation for a variety of products. Working with the group’s designers, the development teams for individual product lines, and the global operations teams Robert is part of bringing new technologies and services to consumers.

Prior to this Robert was the Executive Director of Product Development at frog where he was responsible for global leadership of frog’s product design practice. Robert’s role included managing client relationships and leading creative teams in developing innovative design solutions. In this role he contributed to all aspects of product design consultation; from business development at the beginning of a relationship to seeing product off the assembly line and onto the shelf at the end. Robert joined frog in the Silicon Valley studio as an engineering project manager in ‘02. Soon after he moved to the New York studio to start and manage and grow the product design practice in general. As a member of frog’s Executive Creative Director Team his responsibilities beyond product development to studio and global leadership in all aspects of the business.

While focusing on bringing products to market Robert was involved in many of frog’s most strategic product design focused client relationships over the years including Colgate-Palmolive, Comcast, Disney, Dune Road Design, Hewlett-Packard, IPC, SanDisk, Sky, TouchTunes, Vonage, and Welch Allyn. The common thread in all of these relationships, as a contributing engineer, or a project and relationship leader, was bringing the products to market. Robert has worked closely with manufacturing partners domestically and off shore, on low volume high cost and high volume low cost products alike.

Before joining frog Robert directed product development at Silicon Valley startup 3ware. It’s a right of passage in the Valley to have at least one start up story on one’s resume. Prior to Robert’s arrival 3ware was an electronics and software company focused on bringing high end enterprise level mass storage performance to the PC marketplace. Robert led a virtual product development group to bring 3ware’s technology to a system level. Over a two year period Robert helped bring three system products to market.

Prior to 3ware Robert was at the product design consultancy Palo Alto Design Group (PADG) designing products and managing projects in the computer enclosure and consumer electronics space with a client list including Intel, ADP Computers, NEC, HP, NCD Computers, Palm Computing, Philips, and Zenith Data Systems. Palo Alto Design Group was founded in the early eighties and distinguished itself among all design firms by creating their own products and manufacturing them in Asia, and as a result helped define the Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) and Original Design and Manufacturing (ODM) business model. Also of note, PADG delivered the product design and was the manufacturer of the original Palm product, which could be said to be the predecessor of all smart phones. In 2000 PADG was purchased by Flextronics, at the time the world’s largest contract manufacturer.

Robert began his career designing products with Unisys/Convergent Technologies in Silicon Valley. At the time the products were still manufactured and assembled in the company’s own local factories, giving Robert experience with the complete product life cycle from creation to production to renewal. Robert has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from San Jose State University. It’s interesting to note that at the time Robert was studying at San Jose State, in the heart of Silicon Valley, mechanical engineers were still being taught a curriculum aimed more at aeronautics and automotive than at high tech. Robert attributes his ending up designing high tech consumer products and electronics to his college summer internships at IBM helping produce manufacturing equipment and defining processes for manufacturing computer memory discs.

In his twenty-five plus years of experience Robert has seen many design fads and products come and go, has seen the global influence on how products are produced and marketed, and has had the chance to work with an incredible number of talented designers, engineers, and clients. What keeps him interested is seeing what comes next and helping put it in consumer’s hands.

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Ben Rottler


Ben Honda Rottler most recently led the UX team at UXCA for Samsung Design in San Francisco, while also acting as Product Lead for early stage product concept incubation projects. First bit by the product design bug while at frog design, Ben went on to work on some of the most beloved consumer devices on the face of the planet, including iPod, Flip Video, and webOS devices. Just as UX is evolving into product design, Ben’s work spans creative direction of audio, motion, GUI, interaction models, functional prototypes, and working closely with the industrial design teams and engineering teams to deliver fully realized and vetted next generation product concepts.