Last summer, South Korean electronics giant LG moved in at London’s Covent Garden, with Prince Andrew on site to wish it well. Product designer Luke Miles took the helm at the new design centre, and eight months on, he seems very much at home on the fifth floor of the Southampton Street offices. There are views over a sunny London from the open-plan space – although some areas are out of bounds to intrusive members of the press, such as the quietly humming, top secret epicentre of LG Europe’s creativity, secluded behind an internal wall.
‘I love it,’ says Miles, who has worked at Nokia and Virgin Atlantic. At LG he runs a team of seven multinational designers, with more recruitment to follow.
‘We have a wonderful working environment in an open and vibrant space which is ideal for the team,’ he says. ‘It promotes a communal team ethic and way of working.’ But it’s not just the interior serenity that tickles Miles. ‘LG is one of the most exciting brands to work with. It has a vitality about it, and it’s great to have a company that takes design so seriously and also has the technical expertise to deliver those products,’ he adds.
Miles finds the breadth of the LG Electronics portfolio exciting. ‘You’re able to see how consumers’ experiences, whether they’re interactive or visual, are connected across a wide range of products, from refrigerators to mobile phones. That change of scale is great. It gives you a different sense of how you convey that brand and different values through different product types,’ he says.
Predictably, he is tight-lipped about what he’s currently working on. All he can say is that the team is involved with the entire product portfolio, and a new product from the studio is expected ‘to be on the market over the next year’.
‘Our remit is to understand clearly what makes European consumers tick, and we collaborate with the Seoul and European headquarters office to translate that into products for the European market,’ he adds. ‘We do lots of roadmap work and there’s a bit of future-gazing, too.’
The bar is certainly set high for team London. ‘Design-wise, we’re charging to the highest point that we can. In the mobile arena, we achieved the global number three spot in the final quarter of 2008, and when you have a broad portfolio you have to take the whole thing with you. That’s the plan.’
Miles has no doubt that the new London setting is ideal for such a plan. ‘In the UK there is world-class creative thinking that is highly evolved and cross-discipline. We have a creative “why not” gene that stimulates innovation. And there’s a great amount of entrepreneurship in London, especially in the design community.’ The team works with other departments in Seoul, as well as London consultancies and research agencies on an ad hoc basis. ‘The purpose is to drag out as much real-time insight as possible,’ explains Miles.
Recent product launches demonstrate LG’s approach of balancing a human, desirable side of a product with well engineered content. The brand is collaborating with sound guru Mark Levinson to tune its home entertainment sound systems, for example, underlining the idea of ‘good value, but premium quality’. The 3G Touch Watch phone, meanwhile, which was presented at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, is a taste of things to come and, with its portability and style, a good example of LG’s insight-led approach.
‘It’s hit the mark in terms of how people can and want to interact with their device,’ says Miles. ‘It’s one of those products which opens up new opportunities, and it’s great that a huge brand like LG has developed something to that level.’
Interactive and experiential aspects will continue to play an increasingly important part in consumer electronics, he adds. LG’s BD370, for example, is the first Blu-Ray player to incorporate YouTube streaming and BD Live technology to connect and interact online. ‘The experiential element is growing, and broadcasting is becoming not just a corporate game but also quite personal, which is fascinating,’ explains Miles.
And even though subtle cultural differences will always exist, requiring specialised understanding of what drives consumers in different markets, the universal is equally important. As Miles says, ‘People are people, and sharing content, for example, is explosive and global – and that’s what makes so much of the work we produce so exciting.’