How Belkin's Oliver Seil is approaching industrial design, work in the new normal

We caught up with Oliver Seil, vice president of design at Belkin, talks about designer skillsets as the company preps for the new normal of work.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Oliver Seil, vice president of design at Belkin, has been thinking about the future of the office (at home or away) a lot. After all, it is his job as a designer. We caught up with Seil to talk industrial design, skill sets, offices and the importance of USB-C to save clutter among other things.

Oliver Seil

Here are some key takeaways from our chat about how Belkin is approaching work and design.

What's it take to be a designer? Seil said:

It's almost impossible to define in one way for everybody because there are so many different avenues of being a good designer. But the key insights you have to have is a sense of empathy and a keen sense of curiosity about how people think and how to empathize with a situation so that you can solve problems. You need to love to solve problems, so a good industrial designer is somebody who really keenly listens and pays attention to other people's needs. A healthy sense of artistic creativity is definitely necessary, but those are the foundational elements you have to have.

The future of the office is kinda remote. Seil said:

What's been so astonishing is how easily most people have been able to adapt to not being in the office. It really is a lucky circumstance because if this had happened a few years past, we wouldn't have had the same ability to do video conferencing; we wouldn't have had the possibility to put 10 people on a screen at the same time. We lacked some of the foundational technology that we have, so we're actually quite fortunate that that's available to most people at a price point that is affordable.

We find that productivity is really, really high from home. That has to do with the basic idea that you have a bit more freedom how to design your day. Some people start earlier, they end later, they have some more flexibility during the day.

We would be foolish not to take some of this newfound learning about productivity at home into the future. I think it's clear that you can be very productive at home and you need to be in the office maybe only part of the time.

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What you miss from working from home?

We've done quite a bit of introspection and research into what people are looking for in the office: Why are they coming to the office? Why is going to the office an attractive idea? We find that while some folks can exist pretty much all the time working from home and it's not a big problem, we find that the design team really suffers to some degree from the lack of the serendipitous collaboration and also plan for collaboration. Designers need to be communicators. Designers need to be collaborators. Designers need to work with one another and the feedback loop of working with another person is an incredibly joyful and productive exchange, so the idea that as a designer, you need to be very hands-on, so coming back to the office for us is vital to collaborate and to really push each other forward in our thinking about what we are working on.

Equipping the home office and remote office will be different. He said:

The home office is now a multiple of many compared to the size and reach of the headquarters offices, so now, instead of having one large office building for a headquarter, now you have hundreds and hundreds of mini offices. They all need to be equipped according to the user's needs, so we're finding that dock products are incredibly important because you want to avoid the amount of cables you have and the multitude of power adapters.

We're putting bundles of products together that can help people. We are finding ways to articulate the value proposition of products that relates more easily work from home in a more compact space, and be more ergonomic, all of those things matter.

But generally, desk space is precious. We care about how things look. We don't want them to be ugly. We want them to be approachable and easy to use and we want to make you feel smart when you use them. All those things apply, whether this is a business product that sits on your office desk, in an office building, or in-home.

USB-C matters. Seil said:

For years and years, we've touted the values of USB-C, and it takes years and years to ramp up to really fully become something that people are comfortable with, but we've now really seen it take hold everywhere. The idea that you can truly replace multiple different types of connectivity solutions with one type of cable and plug, it's slowly but surely here, it's making its way into every office.

Docking products, thanks to the fact that Thunderbolt has also now adopted the C connector, there are technologies that have converged that really allowing allow people to invest in a docking solution that's small, compact and allows all your peripherals to be connected without much of a need for having a multitude of other cables.

Planning ahead means betting on technology not future devices. Seil explained:

As a technology company, what we have accepted as one of our realities is we have to be really knowledgeable about future technologies and that's a bit separate maybe from future devices. The devices would incorporate new technologies and we often really have no clue what's happening until we hear it like everybody else does. The way we deal with that is we invest heavily in just being knowledgeable about all future technologies. We have teams of experts who could speak knowledgeably and be part of the industrial forums and the technology forums where these things are developed.

We couldn't make this work if we were just waiting for devices to show up. That just wouldn't work, right? We were part of the creation of USB-C technology so we knew how to do it from the very beginning.

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