Vince Voron, a scheduled speaker at Sibos in Dubai, has more than 20 years of design experience at two of the world’s most iconic brands: Apple and Coca-Cola. He recently took on a job as Vice President of Dolby Labs, leading a marketing team which includes design, brand management, digital/experiential marketing, content, production and the Dolby Theater. Voron has an engineering degree from Pennsylvania State, an MBA from San Jose State and a human ecology degree from the University of Paris. While at Apple he lived in California, Singapore, Ireland and France and was the senior industrial design manager up until 2006. He then joined Coca-Cola as head of design, a position he held until earlier this year. Voron recently spoke to Informilo Editor-in-Chief Jennifer L. Schenker about how design thinking can transform any business — including banks.
Q: Traditional banks are being told they need to be more like Apple. On a practical level how can bureaucratic, staid organizations like traditional banks make such a leap? What specifically can they learn from Apple?
A: It is not really how can a bank be like Apple but how can companies large and small learn from any myriad of industries and how the role of the creative designer should change: how she or he can inspire other folks in the organization. One of the things we did at Apple is we actually spent time working with our designers and building cross-functional capabilities. We taught designers about finance and actually sent the designers out of the design studio into the organization. We had to prove that we could be accountable and we understood how financial decisions were made in order to show the company how they got value from design.
We brought the leaders, the directors into the design studio. It was an interesting experience observing finance leaders coming into the design studio and uncomfortably mixing with colleagues that not only dressed differently but were operating effectively in an environment of loud music and dynamic surroundings. It was equally enlightening to observe senior design leaders maneuvering awkwardly in the boardroom. This has been a key to Apple’s success and it was something that when I moved over to Coke I took very seriously.
At Coca-Cola, over a period of seven years, the design team came to be viewed as business drivers. We talked to people about the value of art and beauty and its ability to increase customer allure and make the product more efficient. We were able to build these metrics into the decision process and convince an unlikely group of individuals to work together and behave in a very different way.
Q How do you plan to apply design thinking at Dolby?
A: One of the reasons I came to Dolby is that it is something so different from Apple and Coca-Cola. Dolby is an engineering-driven company with a global brand; an ingredient brand. We are beginning to use design thinking at Dolby, a type of pinball strategy. It is really about taking an idea, bouncing it to a partner and having them bounce it to someone else. As the idea bounces like a pinball it is growing and has the ability to scale. It is called open innovation. This can be really valuable for an organization but it is scary for the banking industry or any industry because playing pinball risks exposure to new ideas.
Q: Design thinking is a term that is in vogue now. But what exactly does a bank have to incorporate into its business model, its strategy and its management team to truly embrace it?
A: Until recently there had not been much academic research relative to design but an academic dialogue has been opened up with businesses at Stanford and other prominent business schools so today top-notch MBA students take design thinking classes that will include collaborative prototyping and idea generation. The idea is that everyone is a designer — it is not about having a degree in design — it is an approach to problem solving and how you integrate brand, products and services. As large financial institutions begin hiring these young MBAs this thinking will start to be incorporated.
Q: If you were hired by any of the big traditional banks tomorrow what is the first thing you would do?
A: Cut my hair. No, I probably wouldn’t do that. One of the first things I did at Coke when I was hired was to help lead one of the largest R&D innovation projects, helping Coca-Cola Freestyle transform soda fountains in restaurants globally and make this new brand alluring to teens. One of the key things I did was to go around the company and asked all the executives what was the most memorable experience they had with Coke when they were a teenager. They spoke about the Coke Machine — the buttons, the lights — and I realized that interaction with a particular machine was their first retail experience with Coke — the first time they were spending their 50 cents without their parents. I took that back and we spent significantly more than we planned on the design overlay.
If I were going about this for the banking industry I would start by asking what is my big task: to redefine how certain types of data are collected and used, how teams are built, how consumers are engaged? I would sit down with the top leaders and ask them targeted questions about their experience — as a consumer or as an employee — and then try to pull from them an unanticipated solution and take that back to them to show them that they had the answer — they just didn’t realize it. When designers are empowered to go beyond traditional boundaries a lot of amazing things can happen.
Q: What is your advice to bankers?
A: One of first things I would challenge them to do is to emulate my experience at Apple and Coke and reach out into other parts of the organization to really learn about what drives them and makes them successful. If you look at polar opposites within an organization and take the time to understand what they do you can identify an underlying thread that will help them both achieve their goals. One other thing which is really, really important is to try to make other individuals successful on your agenda. It is something that has taken me about 25 years to figure out. Check your own ego — forget about getting credit — take your idea on to the organization and bring your dream to life.