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Exclusive FUSE Interview: Barry C. Collin, CEO, Collin Group, Inc.

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Inspiration is really important to us at FUSE. That is why
we sat down with one of our amazing speakers, Barry Collin, CEO of Collin
Group, Inc., to hear what inspires him. He also shared with us his favorite design,
what he thinks is biggest design trend of 2015, and his take on how design and
brand strategy has evolved over the years, and what's in store for the future.  
This year, FUSE connects
brand and design leaders to what matters ' and each other. In the age of
unprecedented collaboration, it is more important than ever for brand
strategists and designers to work hand in hand to bring brands to life
strategically, visually, emotionally and culturally. FUSE is the only event
that unites all the players across industries, disciplines and the world. 
IIR: What is your
Barry: Like many
designers, nature is often my muse. As an industrial designer, physiology particularly
fascinates and inspires me.  Virtually
nothing in nature lacks a practical purpose. Look throughout the animal
kingdom. Even extraordinarily beautiful ornamentation (colors, stripes, plumes
and even noise-makers) that seem only there to please the senses, actually
function to motivate or prevent critical actions or behaviors. Very little is
Physiology is remarkably efficient; virtually everything
that consumes energy has a purpose and uses the minimum required to operate.
Everything is optimized as possible. At micro or macro scales, living things
provide inspiration for strength, aesthetics, form, function, structure, conservation,
mechanics, utility, reliability, and constant refinement.  Inspiration is there -- inside and around us.
You just need to look.
IIR:  What is the best design you've seen this year?
Barry: The past
year has seen some amazing designs from both expected and unexpected sources. But
I'm going to reach higher here -- literally. The best design -- though
certainly a work in progress -- I've seen in the past year is SpaceX's Falcon 9
-- a rocket that can bring a payload into space with the goal of re-usable
boosters and other components that normally are dropped and discarded into the
The design is an amazing mix of balanced simplicity and complexity.
The effort put into reducing the eco2 (economic and ecological) impact of
something that otherwise isn't really environmentally friendly is truly
admirable.  There's much for them yet to
do, but experimentation and failure is the way towards success. And sometimes design
is, well, rocket science!
IIR: Why is it
important for brand strategists and designers to work collectively?
Barry: Too often
people view that partnership incorrectly as an art vs. commerce battle. 
 Collaboration between brand strategists and
designers is absolutely required. Our joint mission is solely focused on best
serving customers. Solving their problems, enabling them to accomplish things,
making life better in specific and often diffuse ways. Differentiating your
company, brand and products from every competing influence requires
synchronization, understanding, mutual respect, and a balance of confined chaos
and structure. That's why I love the FUSE conferences. They're a rare
opportunity for us all to get together to learn, innovate and connect.
IIR: What do you
think is the biggest design trend of 2015?
Barry: There used
to be "real world," physical design, and then there was software/UX
design. With the rapid takeoff of the Internet of Things and the Industrial
Internet, more products this year will require both physical and digital
design.  Some physical things will have
smarts built-in, and others will be tied to smartphone or other mobile
experiences. And some bleeding edge tech -- like the new virtual reality gear
from Oculus and Microsoft -- will get beyond toys and games and begin providing
real value. The best design shops and departments will develop both design capabilities,
regardless of what types of products they currently make. Or at least, find the
design partners who can help them integrate the physical and digital worlds.
IIR: What are
ways a design can emotionally connect with its audience?
Barry: Design
should make everything personal -- no matter how utilitarian the product or
project is.
My research and work is on personal processes. Every
activity we engage in -- commuting, changing diapers, eating at a restaurant,
consuming entertainment, are all personal processes.  All such processes are or can be emotionally
connecting experiences. Sometimes adding to the emotional connection directly
is the key. Other times it's simply getting out of the way in the best manner
to facilitate the process and let the emotions arise naturally.
Clear examples of adding to the emotional connection range
from a restaurant or other venue that customers attach a particular set of
memories to. Or a product such as a wedding ring, crib, a special gift, or even
premium chocolate or champagne.  Sometimes
it's just listening to "our song" while sharing earbuds. Emotional
connections cover pleasure, pride, memories, desire and the whole gamut of
human feelings. I've found that supporting emotions, not manipulating them, is
the long-term answer to success. And, design and brand can both facilitate
IIR: How has
design changed in the last 5 years?
Barry: Design has
traditionally been tied to sales, marketing, advertising (including packaging),
and product functionality. Over the past five years, beauty as an intrinsic
component of an offering -- no matter how basic or utilitarian the product is --
has become more prevalent. Not cute or novel, but truly blending with functionality,
both high and low end, consumer and industrial.
As an example, even hospital equipment has become, in many
ways, beautiful. The "industrial aesthetic" is alive and growing in
perceived value (in this case, recovery is shown to improve when you don't feel
like you're in a harsh lab environment).  Over the past five years, at home and at work,
design is increasingly seen as a quantifiable, competitive advantage. In essence,
beautiful design is more important than ever. Not putting in design effort can
leave your product seeming at best bland, and at worst undesirable.
IIR: Knowing how
consumers will react can be an art and sometimes involves clairvoyance. How
have you developed this skill?
Barry: Across all
business functions we're moving further away from "gut instinct" and
towards research. We're integrating both design thinking exploration with big
data analysis, and it works. Leveraging data science, I find patterns in
behavior, acceptance, usage, aspiration and interest that help me make better
decisions in design. As a designer it can take some real effort and getting used
to "numerical empathy."
I don't find the melding of traditional with data limiting. Instead
I find it liberating to get some insight into customers that you can't get
through personal observation. You can create hypotheses, test them against the
data, and experiment with models -- even before you prototype. I'd rather work
with lots of data models before I even fire up a 3D printer to make a physical
model. Remember, ask questions about interpreting the data, and consider it
potentially powerful insight, not specific directives.  The bottom line is, the more we can reduce the
requirement for clairvoyance, the better chances we have of quickly creating
the right recipe for success.
IIR: Gamification
is shaping our interactions with everyday experiences, from education to
retail. How has gamification affected you?
Barry: In those
instances when I do something that makes my wife especially happy, I always
joke, "do I get extra points for that?" While I'm (sort of) joking
here, gamification can incentivize almost anything. I use gamification to drive
innovation and creativity with my teams and to engage current and potential
customers. When there's a million things people would rather do than yet
another to-do, gamification -- if done right -- can pull focus onto what needs
to be done. Gamification takes understanding your customers; how they process
and use what you offer.  In a noisy world
where everything competes for time and attention, gamification can motivate
people to engage and participate. Consider it motivation, not gaming the
IIR: Brands want
their products to be special -- to mean something important -- to their
customers. How do you make your product special?
Barry: Products,
brands and companies become important and special to customers when their offer
becomes truly integrated into their personal processes, as we discussed
earlier. In essence, things become important or special when they either directly
do something essential for customers, or facilitate customers in doing
something essential. One of the most critical tasks is to understand what your
customer considers essential. Again, in our noisy world, what's important is
contextual. Your car may be absolutely important one moment, your smart phone
another, and a beautiful piece of jewelry another. And sometimes, it's simply a
great dining experience.
It's a very specific process, and is the core of what I'll
cover at FUSE 2015's onsite interactive workshop "Become
Essential: Integrate Your Brand and Products Into Customers' Lives, Not Just
In the workshop, brand strategists and designers will learn
how to help ensure their products and brands become essential to their customer's
lives. The attendees will receive tools and practice in the specific approaches
to becoming essential to their customers.
IIR: We live in
an always-on "now," where the priorities of this moment seem to be
everything. What does this emphasis on immediacy mean to marketing and design?
Barry: Everything
is competing for your current and prospective customers' money and attention --
from competitors you know to cross-industry entries, startups, apps, games,
social media post, "news" articles, texts, endless emails and to-do's
at home and work. When there is so much action and distraction, getting and
keeping customer and prospect attention is almost impossible.
Again, everything today is based on context -- what time it
is, where you are, what you want to accomplish, and so on. One of the great
things about mobile and other emerging technologies is the ability to serve
your customers at the right time and place. The key in dealing with our noisy,
always on, in the moment world is to understand it, embrace it and leverage the
tech tools we now have.  The key: You don't
need to be in every moment -- just in the right ones.
IIR: How have you
used Design Thinking to solve a problem?
Barry: Design
thinking is vital to my work. It's been incorporated into virtually every
product, service, business plan and major problem solving project on which I've
worked over my career. One of the best things about design thinking is it's focused
on buyers' needs and wants, rather than simply what your products do.
But an issue we need to address in 2015 is the rise of demanding
unsafe speeds in the process. I often see design thinking's initial stages
rushed, or even glossed over. When that happens, the process can lead you
astray. Preventing those kinds of disasters requires some educating management
by the designer. It's imperative management understands that the rewards of properly-paced
design thinking can lead to the right answers -- creatively, technically, and
IIR: Each brand
is a story and must be approached as a narrative. What makes a successful brand
Barry: Think of
narratives as short movies. They are visual, have a beginning, middle, and
(hopefully) instead of an end, a future. Like movies they can and should
combine drama, comedy, suspense, thrills, heartwarming, heart breaking, and
most of all, redemption. Depth of story creates mythology, even legend, and if
maintained can last indefinitely. Great narratives become integral to your
products, brand and company. Apple, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and the garage
they started out in are as inseparable from today's iPhones and MacBook Airs as
they were from the Apple II. Your narrative must paint your story as relatable,
inspirational, and if appropriate, aspirational. It should motivate connection
and action with customers, in context with the parts of their lives your story
In 2015, I'm noticing a growing number of startups that think
cute or twee makes great stories -- but those are soon forgotten. Bland stories
yield bland narrative. And in our instant click-to-the-next-story world, you
can't afford that. A successful story and its narrative can be internalized by 
customers, and becomes part of their own, personal story. Few things are more
powerful than that.
IIR: How does
your brand connect with the "Connected Generation" (aka Millennials)?
Barry: As my work
is mobile- and connected-first, I work with Millennials all the time. And for
the most part, they're no different than how I was when I was starting out. In
fact, looking at me back then, I was a bit of a trouble maker. Breaking rules,
breaking things, frustrated when the "old guard" didn't understand
how technology could make something better. Never happy with the status quo.
Quit my very first job after college with a Fortune 100 company because of a
constant "we don't do things that way here" attitude.
I could be arrogant, teeth gnashing when confronted with slow
movement, annoyed with convention. I wanted to use technology to change the
world. Sometimes hipster, often nerdy. Moved to Silicon Valley right before the
boom and bust because I felt design and tech were the future.  But really, I don't connect with people based
on certain birth years any more than by astrological signs based on certain birth
days. We need to move beyond the perceived homogeneity of Millennials -- it's neither
fair nor accurate. My personal brand is Millennial. And Boomer, X'r and
whomever comes next. It's simply individuals, all sharing some commonalties and
unique in others. It's design thinking: find what matters, and make that happen
for any age and for any person.
Attend my workshop at FUSE 2015 and see what I mean.
Want to hear more
from Barry? Join him on his workshop 'Become Essential: Integrate Your Brand
and Products Into Customers' Lives, Not Just Lifestyles' at FUSE 2015 April
13-15 in Chicago. To learn more or to register for the event, click here: http://bit.ly/1D0qS8E

About the Author:
Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and
print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing,
and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR's blogs
including Next Big DesignCustomers 1stDigital Impact, STEAM Accelerator and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business
, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,.
She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where
she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She
can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc.

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