An HRB article I wrote with Kyungmook Kim, entitled “How Samsung Became A Design Powerhouse”, stirred up rather strong reactions from some of the readers. I feel that it is important respond to those criticism. Below is the reply that I posted on the HBR site.
The purpose of the article we wrote for HBR was to show how — and why — Samsung Electronics made a difficult and remarkably successful transition, in a short span of time, from a low-cost OEM maker to a consumer-focused company with design-centered thinking at its core. The details of this transition, including how Samsung built design expertise in-house and how designers overcame resistance from engineers, are relevant for any emerging-market company or engineering-centric company seeking to find its way out of the low-margin world of the commodities supplier.
True, both my coauthor, Kyungmook Kim, and I have connections with Samsung, but it was our connections that gave us an inside view of the transition. Over the past three years, we talked to former and current designers, managers, and executives at Samsung, as well as some of its suppliers, and heard about Samsung’s struggles to make design the driving force of innovation. Design in this context is far more than just a product’s look and feel; it is a human-centered mind-set. Far from being a puff piece, the article chronicles those struggles and shows that as software comes to dominate consumer products, further serious challenges lie ahead for Samsung.
Our HBR article isn’t intended to compare Apple and Samsung. Instead it’s aimed at showing how an emerging-market company with little initial design knowledge can become truly design-centric and thereby compete with developed-market design powerhouses like Apple.