By Vicki Matranga, Design Programs Coordinator
At the International Home + Housewares Show in March, the Innovation Theater in the Lakeside Center will present 21 educational programs, every hour beginning Saturday morning and ending Tuesday afternoon. At the Theater, located in Room E350 (near the entry to the Level 3 Lobby), experts in new product development and launch will discuss critical and timely topics in our industry. Over the next weeks, we’ll introduce you to the presenters with a series of interviews. Be sure to mark your calendars for these exciting programs! Check www.housewares.org regularly for updates on the schedule of Show events.
Sunday, March 3 11:30 am –12:20 pm
Everything Communicates: A Holistic Approach to Innovation
Chicago-based gravitytank is an innovation consultancy that helps clients grow their businesses, define new products and services, enter new markets and change their organizations. For clients that span big names in consumer goods and electronics to start-ups and non-profits, gravitytank’s broad perspective joins user insights with strategic analysis. Well-known for its unique methodology for immersing its designers in a client’s environment, gravitytank’s collaborative cross-functional teams identify issues for attention. Varied skills contribute to the design thinking process; the firm even has a professional chef on staff who brings concepts to life by creating edible prototypes of new concepts in the food service and manufacturing industries.
Robert Zolna leads gravitytank’s communication design team, turning complex strategies into compelling stories and brands. Robert’s experience includes 10 years in Japan helping clients such as Starbucks, Microsoft and SunMicrosystems translate their brand messages to new audiences. He holds a master’s degree in human-centered communication design from IIT Institute of Design where he currently teaches Visual Communication. He is a member of the programming committee of AIGA Chicago, the professional association for design.
Jonathan Dien is an industrial designer who helps clients link innovative design solutions with strategy and user research. He has a BFA in Industrial Design from Carnegie Mellon University and has worked on programs with a range of clients including OXO, HP, Tupperware, Converse, LG, Samsung, Unilever and OfficeMax. Jon was the former Midwest District vice president for the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) for which he chaired the annual district conferences in 2007 and 2008.
Jonathan and Robert: What inspires your passion in your work?
The beauty of the work we do is that we get to engage with real people on a daily basis. This relationship gives us a glimpse into the challenges that they face and allows us opportunities to develop meaningful solutions for them.
Why did you choose to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?
Speaking to an audience like this gives us a great opportunity to share and learn about best practices in innovation. Our work crosses over most categories and this show is always a great venue to learn about the trends that influence them.
Tell us what you will be speaking about and how and this topic is important for Show audiences.
Our topic is Everything Communicates. gravitytank takes a holistic approach to how we develop our innovation stories. This work is based on design, research and strategy working together from day one to define and build meaningful experiences for both the end user and our client. “Everything communicates” refers to our process and how we work through understanding the meaningful touchpoints that will deliver on that experience.
This is your first time presenting at our Show. What are you looking forward to most from speaking at the Innovation Theater?
Because this will be our first time presenting at the Innovation Theater, we are looking forward to sharing our stories with a new audience and engaging them in some meaningful discussions about innovation best practices.
How does the Innovation Theater help you spread your message?
Our work is about creating stories and shaping them with people to make them more meaningful. Presenting at this show is a great opportunity for us to do that with a new audience that can help us further understand the opportunities and challenges they face while developing innovations for their consumers. Innovation is very big word that is used to describe a lot of things. Having the ability to discuss the topic with a broader audience keeps it relevant and provides more meaning to the word and practice.
What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products?
The housewares category really blossomed from having passionate people developing better tools and solutions for just about everything. As the category continues to grow, consumers will likely become more challenged to find offerings that communicate more than just better functionality. Offerings will need to tell stories that engage the consumer and align with their values and goals.
What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals face in the housewares market?
With so many things relying on digital technology these days, we are seeing more trends aligning themselves with lower-tech solutions that encourage people to get their hands dirty again. This trend is supported by a “maker” attitude and is really benefiting from people experimenting with new tools and processes. This behavior aligns well with the housewares market because of the nature of the things consumers are doing in the kitchen and with housewares products. People make things in the kitchen every day and love to experiment. This change is an opportunity to speak with new consumers and engage them with different stories about food experiences.
What is the best advice you could give someone trying to get into your area of expertise?
Innovation is a very challenging space because it forces you to work and think differently. We have found that having a curious mind, the ability to make things tangible and empathy for the people you engage with really helps teams create meaningful solutions for people.
Thank you, Jon and Robert. We look forward to hearing your stories about how you discover and shape stories that enhance lives at home and enlighten business development. gravitytank is a respected innovation leader and we’re delighted you will present a peek at your work at our Innovation Theater. We hope to see many story seekers in the audience, Sunday March 3 at 11:30 am.
To learn more about the design thinkers at gravitytank, see www.gravitytank.com