Back to Blog

3 Things The Head of Design and Experience at Philips Lighting Focuses On Each Day



Jose Manuel dos Santos

“Innovate or die.” It’s one of many famous quotes attributed to management guru Peter Drucker. 3M, Apple, and many others serve as examples of innovation rescuing companies from the brink of extinction. But innovation shouldn’t just be a lifeline to a failing venture. It should be part of a company’s DNA that inspires and nurtures a culture and environment for creating products, processes, and business models that deliver new value.

Unfortunately, innovation too often gets swallowed by ongoing efforts to maintain existing product value. How do product leaders protect innovation, and why is innovation something that needs protecting? Who is responsible for innovation – if everyone is, no one is. These are some of the challenges we probe in our discussions with innovation leaders.

This week we sat down with José Manuel dos Santos, Head of Design and User Experience at Philips LightingJosé joined Philips during an interesting time in the company’s history as they are currently in the process of splitting from Royal Philips to become a standalone lighting company, which is interesting given Philips started out in lighting 129 years ago. José understandably views this as both a challenge and an opportunity to find out what makes sense for the future of the company as it relates to design and innovation.  As the head of design during this time of transition, a lot of Jose’s day-to-day is filled with three things: 1) understanding where they are going, 2) finding out who is at the helm, and 3) providing design value to the people who are leading Philips forward in this new direction.

Part of providing design value involves demonstrating and making sure the organization understands the role of design. José thinks of this in the context of the The Double Diamond process created by The British Design Council. The diamond maps how design and process converge and diverge to create products.

The Double Diamond

José explains the role of design on both sides of the diamond and in helping to integrate activities throughout the process.

Follow The Dirt on Twitter

Listen to the Show


Podcast Transcript

Richard: If you wouldn’t mind just telling me a little about your day. What’s it like to be you on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis?

José: As you know, we all have stages in our lives, and depending on where you are in your stage as a manager you will have different days. I’ve had a different stages in corporations and I recognize that those days are different depending on that stage of your life. My mom says I’m much better at planting a forest than taking care of the trees. That in a way defines me. I did come here to plant a new forest. When you’re in that stage of your life, you have specific types of days, which are different than if you are taking care of the trees. They’re both important it just has to do more with where you typically like to put your energy.

I joined Philips Lighting about a year and a half ago. The company is going through an interesting process of splitting formally from Royal Philips to becoming a standalone lighting company. Funny enough, a lot of people don’t know that Philips itself started 129 years ago with lighting, but for a number of reasons, which are probably understandable, but Health grew very much and now Health has become what Royal Philips is connected with and understood. And lighting split and became and is becoming a separate entity all the way to the ticker. Like I say, with the CEO and everything. With many of these circumstances, it’s a challenge and an opportunity not only to just replicate what they had before, but to understand what is it that you need to have that makes sense for this company for the future that this company is creating.

This of course includes design and includes everybody else in the company. A lot of my day-to-day is to try to get clarity in terms of direction, to establish bridges with people that are leading the process of going to where we are going, and to identify the opportunities where design can create visibility, clarity, transparency, even thought leadership, design leadership, whatever you want to call it to help the organization move towards that direction.

I make jokes that I work in a seven billion dollar startup, because a lot of that’s what’s happening. You have a lot of seven billion dollar kind of thing, you know structure even levels and bureaucracy and this and legacy and all of these things, which are normal, but then you have a lot of startup issues, almost like where’s this? Oh we don’t have this. What do you mean you don’t have this? Well, we don’t. We used to have it when we were a big company, now we dismantled and we haven’t still put something in place, so it’s like wow, so that’s the start up kind of situation. It creates a few interesting challenges, but my day to day is these three things: 1) understanding where we’re going, 2) finding out who’s at the helm, and 3) providing design value to those people, to ensure that design is also at the helm and that we are doing and adding value to the people that are leading us towards that.

Richard: Got it. Give us a little bit of insight into what that looks like from a technical point of view. Are you a remote manager managing people across a wide range of locations and departments, or do you have most of your people located where you are? What is that cross functional interaction look like for you?

José: I was actually brought to the company to do the work of building the Americas Studio, because for a number of reasons Philips Lighting in America grew a lot in the last 10, 12 years, and a lot of it through mergers and acquisitions and you probably know that there’s no good books about M&A’s. And for a number of reasons which are obvious, Eindhoven has a stable studio, I think we’re about 40 people, Asia also had and has a stable studio, actually two locations. But the Americas didn’t. I was invited to come in, I did a due diligence in the beginning to understand where should we be located and what type of structure was needed, more kind of dispersed, more together, and I decided that it was important and necessary.

I decided that it was important and necessary for the Americas to be all in one place and to gather everybody around, and so I made a suggestion of the location. Right now we’re in Burlington, nearby Boston, which is where I suggested we should be. There’s a number of entities in this building that make it very much the place where design should be, and also I use some people that were already in the building, but invited some people that I found in the locations that I visited from Philips Lighting to come on board and join me in Boston.

Some of the people accepted and did, some people didn’t accept it and left, and some people stayed behind and we have a mission for them and they are helping, but I’ve identified right now for the stage of this project that we need to be under one roof, and so right now we’re building the studio on the first floor, and this is going to be in a lot of ways kind of a traditional studio, where you have product designers, UX designers, UI designers, people researchers, all kinds of people that I also elected that were necessary to grow the Americas market under one roof. And then they have a requirement to spend at least 30% of their time wherever they came from, because I don’t want them to lose what they had, which is many time the connection to either where there’s R&D centers, or manufacturing or even just headquarters.

Richard: In terms of cross functionality, you’ve got the design studio, but do you have other elements of the creation process connected to that, or do you guys silo your engineering, marketing, and all of those different departments?

José: We have a centralized structure, my boss Mr. Pierre-Yves Panis, he responds directly to the Chief Innovation Officer who responds to the CEO, the Chief Innovation Officer has areas under her research, applied research, but also ventures, design, different things that play a part in innovation. We have a group of people in this building, we have an entire floor just of people that are exploring the Internet of Things, and they have a couple of my designers inserted in their team. We have a group of people in this building that are the leaders in the world in terms of lighting bridges, monuments, facades, and buildings, they have a designer inserted in their team. We have people producing luminaires, and they have industrial designers inserted in this. What we did is now they answer to me as their manager, and they are inserted in these different teams. And they work side by side with engineers that are in the R&D center, or researchers or other people that are adding value to the projects and to the pipeline.

Richard: Got it. That kind of interaction, is that happening in person? Are those cross functional teams meeting in person? Or do they use remote tools? Give us an idea of what it’s like to have a day in the life of a designer on your team.

José: Like I said, there’s at least 16 locations in the U.S. and probably let’s say the outdoor folks might relate with three or four of them, the indoor folks might relate with another three or four. Some work is done with the people in this building, some work is done with people a little further away and also we have of course the three studios with the typical strain of our difference in terms of standard time and stuff like that, which is always a challenge, but also provides sometimes opportunities to do related work, etc.

A lot of the work, a lot of the interactions we try to do face-to-face, and the stuff that’s done with people in this building that’s how it works. Sometimes we use internal solutions, which by the way are pretty crappy, which is like Link for business.

Richard: It’s hard to believe it’s 2017 and we’re still struggling.

José: I like Zoom because they’re a lot better, I use Zoom for other things, but it’s still very archaic. We do have these surface, kind of Microsoft Surface things on wheels and we try to interact, we have solutions that are collaborative platforms online in the cloud, so we have a number of tools, but it’s again, a lot of this is almost growing on ourselves questioning what is it that we should have instead of adopting whatever used to be there before, or whatever our colleagues from Royal have or have had.

Richard: Got it. Now I’m going to circle back to one of the things you said, it sounds like quite a primary role for you is getting alignment. What does getting alignment mean? I know very often that means managing up as well as down, but also managing some of your partners as well.

José: Well yes, it is up, left, right, and down. It is very much about managing priorities. As you know this is the discussion that every company engages in, which is to try and understand how to align a strategic direction with everyday work and how to make sure that the different people that are in the organization, which have different perspectives, ways of looking, ways of working, ways of engaging the future, that they have an opportunity to do their job. If everybody was in the trenches, we probably have a very ridiculous war.

In order for some people to be in the trenches, somebody’s got to be in the back planning and creating food and all these different things that are necessary for the people that are in the trenches to be effective. So understanding who’s supposed to be doing what, and making sure that we’re all aligned in the same direction is the tricky part and with global companies there’s top down direction of course, but there’s also with a market like the U.S. there’s also a lot of local direction and also local definition of direction, which has to do with understanding the markets.

And so this is a kind of a hard job and it’s an everyday job. It’s a never ending thing, because it’s not like you get something. You know if it was only easy that okay when you get the AOP discussed, then you put the numbers down everything is clear, no, that’s not how it works. This is a constant management of priorities, managed and defining how to look into the future without necessarily employing crystal balls or doing heavy lifting of things that many times you realize that they’re not really worth the time. So that’s what clarity is, and then of course as designers we can always step in and help everybody gather around a visual, a map, a guide, a peephole into the future, but then you need to make sure you understand what you should be doing, because it’s pretty easy for you to get distracted in doing something, which actually looks good, it’s fantastic and everybody claps at it, but it’s the wrong thing so you got to be sure you’re doing that to the right thing.

Richard: Yeah, and when you get to the point where let’s call it the organizational health around design and user experience has been achieved, what does that look like? What’s happening for that to have been achieved?

José: It’s more about understanding. So we have a big discussion and as you know, I know you because you’ve written profusely about this, which is the whole thing of the maturity of organizations and some people use the Danish ladder, some people use the whatever ladder, but it comes down to the saying, which is different work, and I did some work on DMI on value design, which is the holy grail of course of design discussions. At that point, this was a project that DMI here in Boston sponsored and I worked with some researchers.

Okay, so it does come down to organizations understanding the role of design, not only one what I call the right side of the double diamond, but on the left side of the double diamond, and also understanding how design can help flow and integrate activities, which are left and right side of the double diamond. Because if you don’t pay attention, left side and right side of the double diamond it’s a perfect way for you to get tangled again into this whole sequential approach to innovation, which is really not the way to go forward.

Clarity comes when you’re able to define what you should be doing on the left and on the side of the double diamond. When you understand how those two things connect and when you understand how those two things affect this evolution of the company, of design but of the company in those steps of the ladder. Going from ad hoc innovation to systemic, supported, repetitive, consolidated innovation.

Richard: When you’re trying to align the lead that senior leadership in your organization with that, are you ever expected to give them executive input? Are you ever meeting with the board level and saying this is what we should be doing in order to achieve that next level, that next step up the ladder?

José: I’ve consulted, I’ve informed, I have certain levels of responsibilities that might say José can you help us do this? What would you do? People do listen to my viewpoint. I feel that organizations still at a certain point, they still close themselves with a very strict group of people and define direction from there on. I think that intrinsically becomes the challenge, which is where do you need to be as design when and what type of responsibility or even if you want to be the A in this part of the actuation of RACI, what does that mean for design? I mean a lot of people say, nobody can be accountable for user experience. Okay, true. I’m all for distributed accountability as long as it works. The majority of times we know it doesn’t work. If you want to say that user experience is so important, let’s say as an example that it should be the CEO that has accountability. You know what that means. It means that’s not going to happen.

When you go through that race and you try to understand what does accountability mean, and what are the decisions that are implied with it, what is expected beyond the so called responsibilities that design, marketing, R&D, all of these different people might have, this is when it really becomes tricky. Because I mean it does come down to who are the people that end up meeting in a special room and why do they think that design maybe does not have a seat in there.

Richard: I think in general these conversations tend to be boldly speaking, outlier conversations for the average company, but forward thinking modern companies with maturity around design, I think it’s squarely where it needs to be. In terms of how this might be used one of the things that I’ve got on my mind is where are we headed in terms of design and innovation as AI gets stronger and stronger. That’s something on my mind. I’m thinking about how we’re going to maintain the value of cross functional interactions between human beings, but also leverage all this new technology that’s coming down the pipe relatively quickly right now.

So that could be an angle for the next book or study area. But the itch that needs to be scratched is really around what does innovation mean tomorrow? We know what it means today, but what does it mean tomorrow and I think that’s a tough question.

José: Yeah, and I think the big driver for the evolution of innovation and design within it, is disruption. Any and every industry that’s being disrupted and that probably accounts for a large majority of it will tend to look into innovation and into design as a way to deal with that disruption, and sometimes I wonder if whoever’s playing in the innovation area, and certainly designers, if we are equipped sometimes to really help corporations navigate through that disruption. In a lot of ways, I don’t think designers are different than other people that will prefer to blab about change, and then actually change themselves. And so I kind of wonder sometimes what is it that we should be doing or could be doing or different, because I don’t want to whine because I dropped that chord of whining about design and the power of design a long time ago, but it is very much about what is it that you need to be doing, thinking, saying, planning, visualizing so that you just naturally get engaged into the right conversations and into the right rooms at the right time.

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s always going to be the challenge. It’s always going to be a people challenge, more than a technology challenge, but we do have to consider the fact that as well as navigating the people problems, whether they’re political like managing expectations of executives, or they’re practical managing the cross functional teams, we’re going to have to answer the question what do our jobs look like next year and the year after that and the year after that, because we’re seeing those changes happen. We’re seeing what used to be … Let’s take for example 10 years ago a premium would be paid for somebody who could design a beautiful website. I can get an amazing website for relatively zero dollars. That’s just 10 years. So if Moore’s Law in fact true, that means that in the next five years, we’re going to see stuff that we consider a premium around design being leveled down to close to zero.

It’s an interesting conversation to have. I think people like you and I who are in positions where we can influence the path of design and lead design in the direction that it needs to go should be having these conversations.

José: Yeah, when I joined this company a year and a half ago I knew nothing about lighting and I made sure my boss understood that and he said that he’s still sure of what he was doing, and since then I’ve done some research into lighting design, which was a species that I was kind of unaware and I was surprised, and maybe not that surprised, that your challenges are still very much the same.

I think the whole discussion that’s going on with a lot of us in terms of design is that the tensions that used to be there, like 20, 30 years ago, which is some people saying avoid the term design and some people embracing the term design as an umbrella that can mean so many things, it’s still there and it’s leaving a lot of people without knowing how to navigate that kind of cause. What is the design profession or whatever we want to call it? Tomorrow, it is the interesting thing and for me I’m trying through my work is can I create some sort of guide to help people, other folks, because I mentor quite a lot of students and stuff like that, and of course they ask the questions and the typical questions. Where to go, how to navigate, where do I add value?

In the end, of course they want to do something that they like and they want to be paid for it and all of these practical things, but above all they’re trying to find out what you just said, which is what is this profession going to look like? Like tomorrow, what does it consist of? How do we go from here?

Richard: Very relevant. Cool well thanks again José, great talking to you.

José: Great talking to you. Thanks Richard.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

More posts from this author

Sign up to receive updates from our blog

What we do Expertise

From concept to design, we'll partner with your team to deliver amazing product and website experiences.

Recent Projects Work

See the results of our most recent digital product and website engagements.