Motorola Symbol

Design Thinking: Redefining the Business of Retail

  • Awards
  • P460 & P360 IDEA Gold
  • DLL 5010M Laser Barcode Scanner IDEA Gold
  • PPT 4600 IDEA Gold
  • LS 4000 Scanner IDEA Silver
  • PDT 4000 IDEA Silver
  • Capabilities Used
  • Industrial Design

Over the course of a decade, Altitude’s design thinking helped transform Motorola Symbol Technologies, the largest producer of laser barcode scanners, from a $200 million technology company to a $2.5 billion business. We were instrumental in helping the company better understand its customer base, and led the effort in designing products to meet the needs of its target audience.

The “look” of Symbol products has proven exceptionally long lasting — even timeless.

Altitude was instrumental in establishing Symbol Technologies (now Motorola) as the defining brand in our industry. We engaged Altitude in groundbreaking research quantifying the optimum physical parameters for an ergonomic handheld device — the value of which stands the test of time through generations of new products.

- Mitchell Malman, Vice President Engineering, Symbol Technologies Division, Motorola Corporation

Knowledge Meets Creativity

Altitude’s long-term collaboration in design thinking with Symbol began more than two decades ago, with three years of comprehensive research into the customers of both the company and its competitors. Altitude’s research and strategy team traveled across the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia to garner consumer insights. Through extensive one-on-one interviews and observational sessions, we studied use of Symbol and competitor scanners within a variety of settings. We established a deep knowledge base of user-specific environmental conditions, ergonomic circumstances, and visual elements within three business categories: retail, industrial, and mobile.

Even while we were deep in the three-year data-gathering process, we were already generating ideas for products and developing a new approach for the company’s physical design and color palette.  The visual design language met the needs of individual situations, while signature elements linked different scanners together in a highly recognizable product line. The “look” of Symbol products has proven exceptionally long-lasting—even timeless.

We also conceived of, designed, and oversaw the construction of an on-site 2,000 sq ft user-insights lab at Symbol’s headquarters. The lab allowed the team to watch and film volunteers using existing products or conceptual prototypes, inspiring new ideas and refining concepts.  The lab also became a profit center for Symbol, since customers began using it to improve process efficiency. It further doubled as an effective selling environment.

A Fruitful Partnership

Over the years, we have designed more than 60 products for Symbol, including a ring scanner that streamlines inventory and package-sorting for the likes of UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service; a mobile scanner that can be used in both retail and industrial environments; a retail scanner created specifically for the European market that won the prestigious Red Dot and IDEA Gold awards for good design; and the Portable Shopping System, a complete solution to alleviate the most frustrating part of supermarket shopping: the wait at the checkout queue.

In short, the relationship between Altitude and Symbol Technology proved exceptionally fruitful. In 1994, the Board of Directors personally invited Altitude to Symbol’s annual stockholders meeting. In his speech, the CEO acknowledged our role in Symbol’s success, citing Altitude’s informed approach to “world-class industrial design.” Through Altitude design, Symbol products are now ubiquitous in retail.Altitude