With the release earlier this year of the sleek, ultrathin Adamo laptop, Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) was looking to do more than just compete with Apple’s MacBook Air in the stylish and thin notebook category. It was looking to signal the era of clunky, utilitarian Dell designs is over.
As vice-president of Dell’s global consumer industrial design organization, Ed Boyd is leading Dell’s new approach to design on the consumer side. Boyd came to Dell from senior design positions with Nike and Sony, and has been working to build a worldwide design organization that now includes 120 people from every industry, including furniture, architecture and industrial designers.
“Michael Dell’s directive two years ago was to build a design staff that can start delivering eight away,” said Boyd, adding distributing the team worldwide is key. “We want to have insight into all of our customer markets.”
While Boyd’s focus is on the consumer side, he said a similar effort is underway on the enterprise side, and both groups share offices and information. And their first goal was to design a brand architecture that will appeal to different sets of consumers.
“We had a fundamental decision to make on the consumer side: build the same product for everyone, or different products for different people,” said Boyd. “When Dell was founded, Michael (Dell) custom-built PCs in his dorm one-by-one. As we built a design organization we want to build different brands for different consumers, with complete customization inside and out.”
If you’re standing at a Best Buy, trying to decide what product to buy, Boyd said the goal is to make it simple. If you spend a lot of time mixing video and music, you should have a Studio laptop. If you do e-mail and chat, an Inspiron. For gamers, it’s Alienware.
And then there’s the new Adamo laptop, which Boyd calls Dell’s luxury brand that deliver mobility like never before. And in what Dell boats is the world’s thinnest laptop, at just 16 mm. thick.
“Our research showed consumers wanted mobility, connectivity, mobile broadband, basic connections, and the ability to change the battery,” said Boyd. “And with ultra-form factors, it’s not just the right technology but its very important that the design be durable and withstand travel. The level of finish is important.
Dell developed a new design process for Adamo that machines the notebook out of a solid bullet of aluminum, which Boyd said yields a product with a very refined finish and builds-in inherent rigidity and strength so when you’re holding it, it feels substantial and solid.
It’s a departure from the assembly-line manufacture process on which Dell has differentiated itself, and built its global success.
“It’s definitely a different manufacturing process,” said Boyd. “Injection molds, pieces assembled around it, parts screwed together. When you get down to this thinness you need materials that can be inherently thinner, and this manufacturing approach enabled us to deliver a product with a quality feel without compromises.”
Dell is also innovating in its other product lines, and Boyd said they’re sharing learnings amongst them. Some of the design learnings have been applied to the new Studio laptops with its leather aluminum finish, and speed and performance learnings from the Alienware line have also made it into the new Studios.
“There’s innovation happening all across the board. Sometimes you may start with innovation in a high-end product like Adamo, and the benefit of that trickles down,” said Boyd. “We learned how to make the keyboard feel really good with Adamo, and those learnings will translate into all of our brands.”
That includes in Dell’s recently-refreshed value line of 10” netbooks, the Dell Mini.
“I love designing value products as much as the high-end stuff,” said Boyd. “It’s more challenging to do, but when you het it right more people can have access to it.”