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Does Motorola Really Do Great Design?

Why Global Execs Think Microsoft Is Innovative. |


| Why Global Managers Think GE Is Innovative.

May 07, 2007

Does Motorola Really Do Great Design?

Bruce Nussbaum

Carl Icahn, who is constantly called "the corporate raider turned shareholder activist" is battling Motorola CEO Ed Zander to get a seat on the board of directors and use the company's cash to buy back stock--including his own Motorola stock. Zander and Motorola are vulnerable to this squeeze because of the sharp decline in the profits derived from the great selling Razr cellphone. Motorola has been cutting its price all year, especially in emerging markets, and is losing market share to rivals Nokia and Samsung. All this before Apple launches its iPhone.

What does this have to do with design? After all, the ultra-slm Razr is a design marvel, attracting millions of people around the world to its fashionable, stylish colors and light, thin form. It took quite a lot of engineering and plain old industrial design to create the Razr.

But the Razr turns out to be bad design, really bad design, because it has an awful user-interface. I personally know nearly a dozen people who truly hate their Razrs, including a number of top designers. People have a very hard time with just the basic features, such as phone numbers, texting, sending photos, even hearing well. There are lots of consumer complaints. The truth is, despite its terrific outside, the Razr runs on an old, homeground operating system

that Motorola is only now updating.

So the Razr, in the end, reflects old-fashioned design--form over function. The resulting poor consumer experiences for a huge number of people may make it harder for Motorola than it anticipates to recoup in the marketplace. In a competitive environment where people can easily buy Nokia or Samsung phones, and now Apple iPhones, memories of bad expiences with the Razr may make them very reluctant to try another Motorola cell.

This is all very strange to me. Motorola is one of the very best design-driven companies in the world and I've seen its very sophisticated design analytics. Motorola knows how to do anthropology to understand consumers in China, India, the US, Europe, Latin America. It knows how to translate that data into terrific design that delivers great consumer experiences.

I can only guess that with the Razr, Motorola went with an old, uncompetitive operating system to save money. Did it really think consumers wouldn't notice? I dunno.

One thing is for sure, top global execs did not notice. And this may tell you something about the understanding or misunderstanding of design by senior managers of companies. Despite its serious problems with the kind of design that counts with consumers, global managers voted Motorola the 26th Most Innovative Company in the World. Think about that.

Here are their reasons:

"Develop innovative technologies that keep the world connected.


They seem to find consumer needs quickly and are able to capitalize on them. There problem is that once a need is found they tend to hang on that idea too long.

six sigma

sexy cellphone

razor phone

Regained strong position with good products after years of mismanagement

Rediscovered innovation for cellphones

new product intros

Customer value considerations in products


the RAZR has an amazing design

Experience with products and customer

Their phones are always changing with cool styles and features.

Great phones. They need to work to not fall behind.

new, leading edge products

Trying to bring solutions to crowded market

Innovative, long lasting telephones - Everyone is carrying a RAZR these days.

They have a way with producing products that appeal to the masses.

Their cell phones are constantly changing. They are keeping ahead with style and features.

Great product designs

The thin cell phone technology (RAZR) has made the phones light weight, great looking, and fun to use.

range/model&LF;style married to functionality

Consistent reputation for business excellence, process efficiencies, and product designs.

They are also trend setters in the quality arena.

great phone designs

best cell phone products

More features on cell phones

Focused on distribution through cell.

A leading company in product development

Every thing for everyone.Quite unique."

If these managers out there are reading this blog, consider this: design is more than style, more than a fashion statement. It is isn't easy to use and can't deliver on what is promised, your product/service will ultimately annoy the heck out of your consumers. And you will pay. The Icahns of the world will make you pay.

09:18 PM


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Bruce - you're a smart guy. Please don't fall into the trap that _everyone_ is falling into... using apostrophes gratuitously.

Yes, I'm off-topic. But please. It's "The Icahns of the world will make you pay." "The Smiths." "The Joneses." etc.

Posted by: anon. at May 7, 2007 10:53 PM


Your post reminded me of an article I read in the May 07 FastCompany. It's by Linda Tischler, quoted is Walter Herbst of Herbst LaZar Bell Inc.

"I don't care if a product makes MoMA," says Herst. "The definition of innovation is commercial success. It's not just about creativity."

Posted by: Gavin Baker at May 8, 2007 03:49 PM

The RAZR, like many of Moto's products, is great hardware with mediocre or worse software. I had to call support to use a basic function like multiple numbers in the phone book! They've been talking about Linux and Java for years but where are the products? I hate to admit it but Nokia's got a decent linux handheld for sale (Moto could do much better). Zander had an opportunity to preach to the faithful yesterday and he bored us instead. His grasp of technology is not strong yet he criticized Icahn for not being technologically apt. Icahn made a passionate and compelling plea for responsibility. Denying Icahn a seat on the board shows a lack of self confidence.

Posted by: anon at May 8, 2007 05:45 PM

Having been a long-time consultant and a one-time employee of Motorola, there are a few dimensions of its history and culture that continue to affect it today. Motorola has an impressive history of innovation. They reinvented themselves many times. They were a leader in Six Sigma two decades ago. Due to a myopic, arrogant and too-powerful leader in the 80's, they missed the switch to digital and the consumerization of the cell phone industry. Moreover, their fabled "warring tribes" left a dysfunctional scar on the organization -- they have a very hard time aligning behind initiatives. Not unlike other leading consumer electronics comanies, they have struggled to evolve and/or outright reinvent how they develop software. They continue to be hampered by legacy beliefs, code, and process.

Make no mistake -- Motorola has the best and the brightest throughout the organization. It is truly unfortunate this great American company struggles so much to succeed.

Posted by: Chris Conley at May 9, 2007 02:11 AM

motorola's central innovation strategy must be derived from the central experience the brand offers. with the razr and the pebble, motorola made people feel identified.

they changed at several levels to build the razr and it was always going to be a rocky road. a transition to a culture of innovation (yin yan business model) from a corporate culture where ideas are commodities (iridium)was always going to affect profits, investor sentiment, and the brand equity.

zander needs to re-read his kelly and launch their new big idea sooner rather than later to keep the wolf (the icahn variety) from the door.

Posted by: martin at May 11, 2007 03:48 PM

I's all about the game of Monopoly, about blue ocean ...about control


Posted by: Emeus at May 13, 2007 08:11 PM

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