It’s great to see Lenovo’s profits jumping for the most recent fiscal year because it is one of China’s—and the world’s—most innovative companies. Absorbing IBM’s ThinkPad unit proved problematic for Lenovo but it appears to have down what had to be done to move to profitability. It’s US unit went into the black last year. And, of course, Lenovo is one of the top brands in the huge China market. Acer, the Taiwanese-based computer maker, nudged Lenovo out of third place in the global rankings last year in terms of sales, but Lenovo apparently traded market share for profits.
I know the Lenovo Group’s chief designer, Yao Yingjia, have toured its Beijing campus, and know it has some amazingly innovative laptops set for release over the near horizon. Lenovo does detailed ethnographic research, one of the few Chinese companies that understands how important it is to deeply know their customers. A few years back, Yao and his team realized that Chinese families usually had one computer for kids and parents. They put a simple dial on the PC so that the kids could turn to their settings for games and school while parents could turn to their settings for whatever they wanted to do. A simple dial. Think of that.
ZIBA Design out of Portland, Oregon, did some terrific customer research for Lenovo that we ran verbatim in Inside Innovation a few months back. The research won a 2006 gold award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. Check out the personas they came up. Amazing. Lenovo is also moving the look and feel of its laptops away from commodity-type conventional boxes toward more individual, fashion-based objects of art. Why not? We’re carrying screens around with us all the time now.
And there are more surprises to come, Yao tells me.