Digital transformation spurs design collaboration between disparate companies, industries

At CES 2019, there were a few odd design mashups that highlight how multiple industries are collaborating and trying to reinvent products with artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and data science.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Product design and new concepts are increasingly becoming a team sport as industries and technologies -- transportation and the Internet of things, computing and health, and artificial intelligence and every industry and product -- blend together.

At CES 2019, there are a few examples of what I'll call design mashups. These mashups are created by companies with expertise in disparate areas coming together to collaborate. These companies are going for design collaborations to better digitize their businesses.

Panasonic refers to its approach to design with its brand as "comfortable disruption." The general idea is that you can take devices and technologies that are already comfortable -- and even retro -- and update them to reflect modern reality. Panasonic is taking this comfortable disruption approach with its portfolio of products.

Also: CES 2019: The Big Trends for Business 

Exhibit A in this comfortable disruption concept is Procter & Gamble, which outlined how it is integrating technology into everyday products. Yes kids, AI is coming to a toothbrush near you. 

The catch is that the line between evolving concepts and disrupting existing products is delicate. There's also a need for outside collaboration. Here's a look at a few of the design collaborations between companies that on the surface aren't related.

BMW Designworks partners with The North Face on camper concept

At CES 2019, BMW's Designworks unit unveiled a camper concept with The North Face that features new materials to protect people from the elements.

The camper concept, which also has a virtual reality experience, was designed by Designworks to utilize a fabric by The North Face called Futurelight. The material uses "nanospinning" to create breathable waterproof material.

BMW's Designworks said the Futurelight camper was inspired by the 2008 GINA concept car. Futurelight will be available in The North Face's Fall 2019 product line. We'll see if this camper ever goes production, but the collaboration is interesting.

BMW Designworks

Avnet and Not Impossible Labs

At CES, Avnet is demonstrating its design collaboration with Not Impossible Labs, a group that aims to use technology to solve complex problems in lives. With Music: Not Impossible, Avnet is looking to reposition the company. Avnet is traditionally a technology distributor, but is reinventing the company around designing products and collaborating on new markets.

The Avnet and Music: Not Impossible collaboration led to a device that enables the deaf to physically hear music via vibrations sent through wrist and ankle bands and vests.

Kevin Sellers, Avnet's chief marketing officer, said the Not Impossible Labs design collaboration "demonstrates the business transformation that is possible." Avnet and Not Impossible built a sensor system that integrates data and music to deliver feedback.

"Music sends signals to the bands and the vest. The deaf process vibrations differently and they can feel the music," explained Sellers.

The prototype took five years to develop and the most complicated engineering task revolved around wireless connectivity without latency. As for the business model, Sellers said venues could rent out systems to concert goers and artists could pursue programmatic music.

IBM eyes industrial designers for Q System One

IBM at CES 2019 launched the Q System One, a commercial quantum computing system that aims to make the technology more applicable to business problems. To design the IBM Q System One, which is more of a milestone in the evolution of quantum computing than a breakthrough, Big Blue worked with UK industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, and Goppion, a Milan-based manufacturer of high-end museum display cases.

There's a good reason for the design collaboration. IBM brought a replica of Q System One to show off at CES 2019. Simply put, IBM wanted a little bit of a wow factor with CEO Ginni Rometty delivering a keynote.


IBM's Q System One quantum computer


Dell pulls in third parties for Alienware design language

Dell took one year to develop its Alienware Area 51m gaming laptop, which CNET dubbed a big gamble. The company took an approach that started with words describing the Alienware ethos as well as images. From there, Dell developed concepts with sentences and video clips for inspiration.

The company's new Alienware design took 17,000 man hours, a core team in Austin and design consulting firms in Asia and North America. The team comprised of 22 people internally and externally.

Dell's return on investment is that it now has a design language that can carry forward throughout its gaming portfolio.

That detailed design approach carries over to Dell's Latitude 7400 2-in-1 business device. The company focused on volume as well as thinness and now claims the world's smallest commercial 14-inch device.

Much of the engineering time revolved around the battery, which was designed for a 24 hour charge with a 78Whr battery. To fit that battery into a tight space, Dell had to rearchitect everything from the motherboard to where the antennas are placed.

More CES 2019 coverage:

Editorial standards