5 Questions with Todd Wood, SVP Design at Research In Motion

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Have you ever wondered who is behind those awesome BlackBerry® devices, software and services you know and love? Well, wonder no more – here at the Inside BlackBerry Blog, we want to start introducing you to some of the truly awesome minds behind our products. We’ve managed to grab some time with Todd Wood, SVP Design at RIM to ask him a few questions about his work, inspiration and the future of design.

1. Can you take us through the typical design process of a BlackBerry device?

We refer to the design process as 3Ds – Definition, Development and Delivery.

Definition is about understanding what the customer’s needs and wants are, as well as the technical parameters, and what the business goals of the project are. We call this information-gathering, though it’s really about gaining insight.

In development, we start to gather and map ideas. We edit them and develop them to become concepts, whether they are sketches or models. It’s a creative, iterative process – editing and changing until you get to a point where you’ve answered the objectives.

Once you think you’re where you want to be, often there’s further testing. I like to remind the team that this whole process is actually “research in motion.” We test our final designs with the very people who inspired them: the customers, the business people, and the technology people. Then, we work on delivering and manufacturing – all the things that go along with launching a product.

2. During the design process, do you look at major trends in the smartphone industry outside of RIM?

Yes, we’re certainly aware of what’s going on. One of the big trends we’re seeing is this desire for larger displays, but usually you need something that fits in your hand or in your pocket. Screens can be enormous, but the consumer always makes a choice about what fits their lifestyle.

Another important trend is thinness. But what’s interesting is that consumers take a pragmatic and balanced approach to this. They know that with bigger screens and more capability, battery size is also important. There is such a thing as too thin.

The last big trend is choice in the market for BlackBerry devices. A lot of our customers really love and can’t live without their keyboards. In our BlackBerry® 7 OS portfolio, there is a choice of QWERTY, an all-touch or a slider-hybrid. Our approach is a portfolio of choice – we don’t see it as a one-size-fits-all market.

3. What research do you undertake before designing the latest BlackBerry smartphone?

We do many types of research when we’re in the design phase for a new device. This can be as complicated as huge consumer panels across multiple markets, or as simple as getting two people together in a room and showing them a bunch of models. It gets interesting when the two people forget you’re in the room and they start talking, keeping each other honest and having a good discussion. We learn a lot not just by what they say, but by what they do with the models. They start acting out – putting one of the models in their pocket, holding it up to their ear, imagining owning the device. That’s often the one they prefer.

4. What are other industries that you might draw inspiration from?

That’s a good question. It’s really about inspiration – we have a very diverse team so we get a lot of inspiration from many different sources. Personally, I enjoy following the furniture design industry. I often go to the Milan Furniture Fair in April. It’s a design week where manufacturers show their products in partnership with designers from around the world. The furniture industry is very connected to the fashion industry in Italy. So you get a sense of trend, what is contemporary, what the hot colour is, etc.

But at the same time, fashion can be fickle – we don’t chase fashion, but it is interesting how furniture resonates with fashion and moves at a similar tempo to the smartphone industry. They’re renewing products on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. That is meaningful and relevant to us.

A big trend that we’re seeing is that things are not really seasonal anymore, and designs are often very global – a lot of influences from around the world. It is this “one world” concept that’s quite interesting. People are realizing they are all connected; it’s full circle because of products and services like BlackBerry.

5. How important is design to today’s smartphone consumer?

For consumers, design is super important. In recent customer feedback, we see that the importance of design and appearance is right up there with the fundamentals of mobile Internet access. It’s then followed by the importance of the display and the keyboard decision.

What’s interesting about design is that it’s something people decide on really quickly – whether they like it or not, partly from the appearance and then by how it feels when they touch or hold it. Does it feel like it looks? Is there integrity there? For BlackBerry devices, we pay a lot of attention to build quality and finish– our goal is always to make them functional and beautiful. People recognize and value this a lot.

Bonus Question:
6. Where do you see the smartphone design industry in 5 years?

It’s difficult to be speculative, but from a design point of view – design isn’t just about appearance; the definition of design has become much more holistic, more universal. We often speak about design as an experience.

For us at RIM, we have been investing in design over the years, so we have a great multidisciplinary design team in the studio practicing Experience Design. It makes us a world-class organization. In the next five years, we will continue to grow the team and the capability. Others will try to emulate this model, but in the end I think, like most industries, it will become pretty clear that there are top tier brands. And our goal is to remain in that top tier.

Have a question you’d like to see us ask in a future interview with BlackBerry insiders and experts? Let us know in the comments.

About Donny Halliwell

I'm the Editor-in-Chief for the Inside BlackBerry blogs. There's no disputing, #TeamBlackBerry is awesome. I'm pumped to have the opportunity to talk with you and bring you the latest and greatest from Inside BlackBerry every day. In my spare time, I can be found helping entrepreneurs and startup companies grow their business. I spend the rest, obsessing over the auto industry, or enjoying music. Follow me on Twitter or Google+

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