When he first joined Dell two years ago, Ed Boyd was seen as ‘the sneaker guy’. The vice-president of design consumer products had been global category creative director at Nike, so people could be forgiven for seeing him as the trendy new ‘lifestyle’ kid on the block. ‘Actually, at Nike I wasn’t designing sneakers, but doing tech stuff,’ laughs Boyd.
Having previously worked for Sony, Boyd came from a technology background, but joined Nike to help set up a new consumer business bringing technology into sports equipment to deliver experiences. He was, for example, creative director for the Nike Plus partnership between the sportswear giant and Apple, a product designed to motivate and enrich runners’ experiences.
Having spent more than ten happy years at Nike, Boyd didn’t jump at the chance to join Dell. But he realised it was an opportunity to get involved in what was effectively a start-up/turnaround business. Founder Michael Dell had rejoined the company as chief executive with the goal of building a ‘really relevant consumer business’ and his passion convinced Boyd. ‘He was very compelled to build a world-class design organisation,’ he says.
Dell had also hired Ron Garriques from Motorola, who was equally passionate about design, believing that it was going to be one of the big differentiators for Dell, and Boyd was happy to help build a more holistic business to deliver experiences, not just hardware.
This involved hiring talent at breakneck speed. ‘Five years ago Dell had a handful of designers; today we have around 140,’ says Boyd. ‘We’ve opened offices all over the world and hired designers from the best companies, as well as working with external consultancies. The work is really starting to show.’
The company won five design awards in 2006, followed by eight in 2007 and 48 in 2008. ‘I never measure success rate on awards,’ Boyd is quick to say, ‘but the design community is really supportive of the investment, which helped us recruit. Most of the designers are here to turn [the business] around and create products that people love.’
Boyd’s main task was to tackle Dell’s consumer portfolio and brands such as the Inspiron or the multimedia-centred XPS. ‘We had brands that I’d heard of, but I didn’t understand what they stood for,’ says Boyd. Following extensive research, his team created new sub-brand portfolios to reach different consumer groups.
The recently acquired Alienware is known for ‘being the fastest horse in the market’, harnessing the latest and greatest processors, says Boyd, who felt Dell needed to bring a higher level of perceived value to the brand. The new range has a sliced aluminium skin, compared to earlier versions which were ‘more plasticky and gimmicky’, says Boyd. ‘The products are beautifully executed, the design is more fresh and modern, and a little less alien-like.’
Inspiron, which Boyd admits was not very inspirational or sexy, is meanwhile being repositioned to bring style, acceptability and simplicity. It’s the Adamo that Boyd seems particularly proud of. The first product designed in-house, the laptop is aimed at the premium market and is sintered out of a solid block of metal to produce an ultra-slim, yet substantial-feeling laptop.
Dell is about to release a new generation of Adamo, with teaser images promising an even sleeker and thinner product. When the first generation was revealed, comparisons with Apple’s MacBook Air were inevitable, but Boyd doesn’t waste much time on those. ‘I don’t think it’s a winning strategy to aspire to be the same as one of your competitors,’ he says – the Adamo design was conceived well before the Air release.
Boyd also points to Dell’s history and its two core ideas of customisation and shipping directly to the customer. ‘As a consumer, at Apple all you can do is have it Steve Jobs’ way, and that’s the way it is,’ he adds. ‘Steve’s a brilliant guy, but at Dell you have it your own way.’
Recent customisation options have included different colours for the Dell Inspiron Mini. The Design Studio concept, which launched in the UK earlier this year, meanwhile, allows customers to choose from more than 200 different artworks from emerging or established artists, with more added every month.
Despite the design leaps Dell has made, Boyd acknowledges there is much to be achieved. ‘It’s like we’re on a 12-step programme and we’re currently on step two or three,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making great strides.’