Dell Does Design--And Gets Beat Up.

Bruce Nussbaum

Dell's director of industrial design, Ken Musgrave, gave me (and probably 1,000 other people in the innovation/design media) a show-and-tell recently, offering up new design directions for Dell computers. It was an interesting demo--first because a couple of the designs were pretty good and one doesn't ordinarily associate Dell with design and second, because Dell has clearly decided that it needs to compete on more than price and service.

But can this elephant learn to dance? Dell is trying to make the moves. It's advertising now focuses on customer experience and emotion rather than speed and price. The ads play to Dell's strength of customization. The "Purely You" tag to the ads reflect Dell's ability to build just about anything you want. So that's good.

However, as Jeff Jarvis points out in BuzzMachine, Dell's foray into the blogging world isn't so good. The Dell blog is doing more outputting than inputting, it's talking to people as opposed to listening and getting into an ongoing conversation. And what is that conversation? It's all about deteriorating Dell service. That's what Dell should be talking about.

To Dell's credit, it's blog today acknowledges Jarvis' criticism and promises to do better. That's evidence of learning, iteration and desire to change. Which brings us back to Dell's move into design. From what I've seen, it isn't earth-shattering but it is competent. And if Dell can begin to exercise the kind of focus and energy in design and product innovation that it has brought to supply chain innovation, it can start to remake itself. Hey, IBM, P&G, Starwood, Kodak and others have done it. Dell has a shot.

Okay, it does have to change it's luck as well. That exploding Dell computer in Japan probably marks Dell's low for the PR cycle.