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Designing Connected Experiences in the Consumer Age: Q&A with HARMAN’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Ralph Santana

Today’s companies see the importance of design as more consumers demand elegance alongside flawless functionality and exceptional user experience. As a company that has created countless ingenious product designs in different markets all over the globe, HARMAN recently launched Huemen, our in-house design agency powered by over 250 highly experiences designers to advance our industry leadership as the architects of experience.

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We recently spoke with Ralph Santana, HARMAN’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, to learn how HARMAN, in collaboration with Huemen, will enhance our longstanding commitment to delivering cutting-edge technology through exceptional design.

Q: As the EVP & Global CMO of HARMAN, the launch of Huemen must be a very exciting moment for you. What are some of the things you’re most excited about Huemen bringing to the market, and what would you like that wider market to know about this new entity?

A: It’s tremendously exciting. As technology becomes increasingly integrated with our cars, homes, and lives in general - our largest customers, including our OEMs and retail partners, are laser-focused on delivering customized innovation with sophisticated design to their clients. However, as technology proliferates, the product or solution still needs to be simple to use. The appearance of the technology is just as important as the functionality; and our designers excel at implementing this critical intersection.

The launch of Huemen gives HARMAN the greater ability to galvanize all of our design resources, including the assets that have made HARMAN the legendary company we are today. With the Huemen design team, we’re centralizing our design resources to a wider market, including our current customers and external third parties who need such capabilities to remain competitive. Since our founding, HARMAN has served as true business partners to our clients. But now with Huemen, we’re able to offer superior design capabilities to an entirely new selection of clients across a variety of industries.

Q: You’ve seen massive growth across several of our brands in your time at HARMAN. What role do you think design plays in the growth of a brand like JBL? How can Huemen apply those same product design principles to a new set of clients across industries?

A: The consumer electronics market, especially for speakers and headphones, is incredibly competitive. Our sound system designers are critical team members as we know firsthand that all revolutionary pieces of technology are judged by their design and functionality. Our products are designed to blend in and stand out at the same time, all while continuing to get sleeker. Just look at our JBL products.

I’m especially proud of our new Citation Series. Have you seen those? They’re beautiful – they’re like sculptures made by the best, most artistic metallurgists. And at the same time, they sound absolutely exquisite, and the voice control technology is reliable and easy to use. I can’t imagine life without voice controlled products at this point, and our designers help develop some of the absolute best in the business.

Our designers are always inquiring, “How does this fit into a consumers life? Does this product add value to my life? Is it easy to use?” Convenience is everything today. For instance, my personal favorite headphone right now is the AKG n200. Why? Well in my opinion, it’s the perfect combination of a beautifully aesthetic and user-friendly product, and of course the acoustics are unbeatable. However, to me, the best part is that the headphones come with a braided cord as opposed to a traditional one. Old school perhaps, but a fantastic solution to an issue that affects many of us – tangled headphone cords. It’s a shining example of how HARMAN’s designers are always focused on the consumer needs and are devoted to finding design-focused solutions to a common issue.

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Q: Of course HARMAN, and now Huemen, not only has incredibly strong design chops and heritage in product/audio design, but we’re also deeply embedded in the automotive world with our OEM partnerships, and in the B2B space as well with our Connected Services divisions. What are some ways that Huemen will draw upon those experiences to provide more technical, UI/UX-focused design solutions to an even wider array of clients?

A: Great question. Let me tap an expert from our user experience department - Mohan Krishnaraj, Vice President and Global Head of User Experience with HARMAN.

Mohan Krishnaraj: Design today is of paramount importance in the age of the connected consumer, and not only in the consumer electronics industry, but also across all major sectors, including automotive, retail and healthcare. With Huemen, HARMAN has the prowess to bridge the digital and physical world through design. Our broad portfolio; from tech, to fashion, hospitality, beauty, amongst others, is all converging for the benefit of our clients.

For instance from an automotive perspective, one could point to the human-machine interfaces (HMI). The HMI of a connected vehicle head unit or digital cockpit may look no different from a consumer electronics device. How the interface is connected to the vehicle, consumer and the OEM ecosystem is far more complex. Our designers specific focus on automotive solutions ensure that our HMIs in the vehicle are contextual, relevant and ultimately enhancing the user experience.

The same applies to B2B corporations and enterprises. As businesses encounter increased competition, they must work harder to create unique, engaging multisensory experiences. To support our customers in this area, HARMAN is developing intelligent AR and VR products that are so incredibly advanced– from smells to the way we dispense heat –we’re able to offer such applications for not only the healthcare industry, but the travel industry as well.

No matter which industry we’re creating meaningful products and solutions for, we’re always focused on humanizing the technology through design. Design being embedded into our DNA doesn’t go unnoticed, either. From voice-controlled assistants to portable audio speakers, our popular JBL, Harman Kardon, and AKG brands have won recognition from the technology industry’s top award programs for experimental design from organizations including Red Dot, iF World Design, amongst others. In 2018 alone, HARMAN earned a record-breaking 53 product design and technology awards.

Q:  Any final messages for the public on the launch of Huemen? What should we keep an eye out for next?

A: I’m looking at this new entity as if HARMAN is launching our very own start-up. However, I want the world to know that Huemen isn’t a typical start-up. All 250+ designers come with the respective knowledge and expertise in UI/UX, industrial, and acoustical design, and so on, which allows HARMAN to produce immersive and personal listening experiences for everyone around the world, whether in the car, at home or work, or on the go.

Huemen’s designers are committed to connecting people to the world around them through experience-based design. To further learn how we’re transforming businesses at the intersection of design and technology, check out http://www.huemendesign.com/ .