Panasonic develops everything from TVs to radios and razors, but to ensure it’s ahead of the curve on the next wave of products the Japanese company has established a new division that crosses the divide between marketing and design.
Based in London and comprised of 15 people, Flux will “lead creative strategy and storytelling and gather insights from the European design scene”, which will then be fed back to the wider product teams in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Heading up the division is Takehiro Ikeda, who joined the company after a decade at ad agency Seymourpowell as a design strategist.
“Traditionally the in-house product design teams in Japan haven’t really had insight or strategy, because that’s done by the brand and marketing department,” he recently told The Drum.
“But the market is growing more complicated. In the past there was the obvious route of making a TV or fridge bigger, but designers are playing a more important role in business by coming up with new ideas and bringing innovative solutions in the market.”
The Flux department has been designed to fill in that gap, acting as a go-between for its 150 product designers, engineers and the company’s marketers to create products and services that are relevant in this changing market.
“The marketing teams won’t change what they do but as a large organisation we’re getting more insight and strategy from the product design team.”
And from its UK headquarters it will also aim to feed back trends and insight from western consumers to a new Panasonic Design centre in Kyoto, which has seen all the main design divisions of the company consolidated under one roof.
But aside from encouraging better collaboration, Ikeda will also use the Flux division to introduce more diversity and fluidity among the product designers. Often, designers will come into the company to work on a single product line, such as washing machines, and then spend the majority of their career doing the same thing.
“Japanese companies have a ‘secure for life’ mindset ... we don’t have differences in skillsets or cultures so we need to bring more fluidity,” he said.
Flux will be tasked with finding those people from alternative backgrounds to bring into different teams.
“Having this diversity and fluidity is to meet changing needs," Ikeda said. "This is about planning for what the next ‘aspirational’ product is for people and marketing information isn’t enough nowadays. We need product teams to be more human centred and constantly deliver those new innovative solutions.”
It’s only been running for eight weeks but Ikeda said Flux has been accepted “pretty well”, especially by the board, which has been trying for some time to bring design and creative people to the top of the business.
The first, original, new products to come out of Flux and the Panasonic Design Centre will be launched in 2020 and over the next four years Ikeda has planned to double the size of the department.