I have been a fan of the furniture design and manufacturing company Herman Miller since my college days at OCA (now OCAD), where I studied Industrial Design. Rebecca used to call on Herman Miller when she managed the marketing for engineered plastics at Geon Vinyl (they were one of her customers). She was always coming home with glowing reports of her visits there and just how progressive she found the people.

With this background, you can appreciate how thrilled Rebecca and I were to be invited to visit the headquarters of Herman Miller May 31/June 1.

Organized jointly by Herman Miller and their distributor, Prestige Business Interiors of Waterloo, on Thursday the 31st, we joined 12 other local design, facility and community oriented folks at 6:30 am for a 6 hour chartered bus ride to Holland, Michigan and Herman Miller’s Design Centre.

On arrival, the first order of business was café lattes all around at the company’s coffee bar (as good as you’ll get anywhere). Then we were given a brief tour. We stood around the kitchen area during a visit with the President of the company. Then, we had an orientation in a living-room-like setting. This was followed by lunch in their meeting room, a delicious meal prepared in their own kitchens. The overall impression throughout the afternoon was that you were very welcome and special guests in someone’s home.

We toured the office area next and experienced a very open and casual working environment with lots of natural light from windows and numerous skylights. Little meeting areas and nooks are found everywhere. The coffee/lunch bar stands in the middle of the office with no walls around it; this creates lots of occasions to interact and run into people.

The last tour of the day was to the furniture design lab where we experienced a glimpse into the future of office environments. As the head of design, development and research explained, since people are now able to work virtually anywhere, successful office environments of the future will need to be more inviting and enjoyable; that’s the focus of Herman Miller’s designers. I was particularly impressed at the designers’ efforts to create furniture that minimizes environmental impact in manufacture and at end-of-life recycling. For example, I’m not allowed to tell you how many dollars they have spent to create a comfortable yet environmentally friendly chair back- just one component! We could happily retire on the money they have spent on just the effort to make this back more easily recyclable.

Our evening was spent being wined and dined at Herman Miller’s own spectacular Marigold Lodge that will accommodate 30+ people in sumptuous comfort, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. No complaints here.

What are your marketing communications challenges? If you can describe them in under 140 characters, you have the chance to win a free 2-hour session with our team of marketing experts to solve even the toughest of marketing obstacles.

Tweet us your marketing challenge at @MachFaasXan by Wednesday, May 23, and you will have your company entered to win. We will tweet the winner on Thursday, May 23, at noon and arrange a time and place for the session.

We look forward to reading the submissions and meeting with the winner. Best of luck!

Three things you missed if you didn’t attend our Design Thinking Workshop last week!

On September 22, we welcomed a dozen eager innovators, working in community or business development from both profit and not-for-profit organizations across KW Region, to our offices for our first Design Thinking Basics Workshop of the fall season.

We kicked off the day with the Marshmallow Challenge, a hands-on design challenge, which illustrates how we all make assumptions when approaching situations or problems, and reinforces the importance of truly understanding the issue at hand. Something interesting to note: the highest marshmallow challenge recorded was 48”…check out the marshmallow structure built in our session.

Next, we dove into the core principles and process of Design Thinking, which introduced the importance of using Design Thinking tools like Empathy Maps to identify with target customers, as well as Process Mapping, which allow you to take a problem and break it down into smaller, easily digestible pieces.

The highlight of the day, according to attendee feedback, came in the second half, when the group selected a real life business problem to solve using the Design Thinking techniques they’d already learned. We encouraged group brainstorming using a technique called the Abstraction Ladder, which pulls apart a problem for clarity and effective problem solving.

From the ideas generated, the group selected two ideas for prototyping. Using Lego, storyboards and sketches to bring their ideas to life, the prototypes were presented and further refined based on feedback from the entire group.

Overall, the workshop was a success! One attendee commented that, “Going through the [Design Thinking] process was exciting and empowering!” While another said, “I came in not knowing what to expect and came out with a highly useful set of tools.”

Thanks to everyone who attended!

Who knew that a casual lunch with an old friend could lead to some of the most rewarding work of my career and an exciting new consulting gig for the Business Design team at Machteld Faas Xander (MFX)?

This is a story about a big, somewhat traditional organization who were struggling to make innovation a part of every employee’s job. Another well meaning, but ineffective idea generation contest was definitely not the answer. Luckily for us, we quickly discovered that the company had the right leadership team and work climate in place to make the necessary shifts required. To come to this realization, we used our Creative Climate Assessment, which employees filled out online in just a few minutes. Clients like how fast the survey takes to complete, and how fast they can get the results and identify quick changes to energize their team. The assessment identified the aspects of the organization that are supporting creativity and innovation today, those that are hindering it and the top priorities to better enable creativity and innovation.

We’ve also been working with a cross-disciplinary project team made up of 14 adventurous employees from the company. The intent of the work is to develop innovative products or solutions to address unmet customer needs. This project kicked off with a full-day Design Thinking workshop led by MFX. Unlike most training programs with content that is quickly forgotten we ensure the principles and practices we share become part of life within organizations by working on a real business challenge over a period of 6-12 months.

As part of this project, research was required to identify unmet customer needs. MFX traveled across Canada to conduct research with the company’s top customers. We utilized a unique mapping process, which revealed 35 opportunities to improve the lives and businesses of our client’s customers.

The next step of this project will involve prioritizing the list of opportunities, brainstorming, prototyping and testing possible solutions.

The key success factors of our work with this organization included:

1. Understand the working climate to build on the good stuff and minimize the barriers.
2. Establish a project team who learn and apply key principles and techniques on a real business challenge.
3. Utilize advanced design research techniques to unpack what customers are trying to achieve to identify ways to help them do them better, faster, cheaper etc.