Digital and Physical: A Design Fusion

Last week, in Altitude’s webinar “Digital and Physical: A Design Fusion?” experts from Stanley Black & Decker, AT&T and UnitedHealth Group spoke about their experiences merging digital and physical worlds.

The panelists:

Stanley Black & Decker – Dave Braverman, Senior Digital Product Manager

AT&T – Gary Hasty, Director of Strategy and Innovation, Hospitality

UnitedHealth Group – Caitlyn Geissler, Director of Product Strategy for Fusion

Where Digital and Physical Meet – From the Panelists in Varying Industries 

Caitlyn, from UnitedHealth Group, gave an example of nurses who are overwhelmed with many physical tasks. Aiding them in their physical tasks are digital tablets, which provide them an opportunity to record data right at a patient’s bedside. The tablet needs to support the physical parts of the job so digital and physical aspects work seamlessly, thus providing nurses with more time to be at the bedside of a patient instead of in front of a computer logging data.

One way in which Stanley Black & Decker merges digital and physical is with robotic vacuums.  Dave comments that a key goal for their company was to shift the consumer’s outlook on the experience of vacuuming – moving it from mundane choir to something exciting. Stanley Black & Decker worked on incorporating phones and including the whole family into the vacuuming experience. The gamification of the vacuuming experience along with the inclusion of the whole family helped to shift the consumer perspective of vacuuming. For Stanley Black & Decker, the result was better brand recognition and customer acquisition.

Gary, from AT&T, adds self-service phone purchasing to the list of innovative ideas. He highlights that the customer can pick out a phone, customize it, and get ready to activate online. Then they will go to the store to pick it up. The stores will then only become a distribution channel. This idea transitions some of the physical elements of the store to digital elements and creates a smooth transition between the digital and physical experience of phone purchasing.

The “User Experience” – Its Evolution Over the Past 10 Years

Today, focusing on the consumer’s experience is the key to success.  Over the past 10 years, design thinking and human-centered design have become household terms. The awareness of the “user experience” has increased. More product developers are thinking this way. Caitlyn noted, within UnitedHealth Group, that there has been a broader acceptance of design thinking and this acceptance has generated a lot more buy-in to innovation and to focus on the user experience.

How do you think your industry, is tailored to the fusion of digital and physical?

As this fusion progresses, companies have to progress with it. Gary notes that AT&T has had to change dramatically to keep up with evolving technology. For a company that made its start in the telegraph, progress has been vital to both the longevity of the company as well as its success. For AT&T, this progress has meant saying good-bye to the telegraph and making waves in spaces such as IoT and digital technologies.

Dave also notes that Stanley, Black & Decker has had to redefine each of their many business units to include digital experiences with their physical products. And this merger has benefited both the consumer as well as the company. In merging digital technology into some of their core product lines, they are provided new insights into consumer usage.

While Dave and Gary highlight how much their companies are transitioning to include digital experiences, Caitlyn notes that healthcare will always have to be somewhat in the physical space, however, “consumers are the ones with a lot of power for how they maintain their wellness.” UnitedHealth Group is exploring the digital experience through virtual doctors that people in rural areas or places with limited access can easily connect to.

Advantages and Challenges in this “Fusion”

Stanley Black & Decker is a conglomerate of many brands. With this comes advantages and challenges. Dave notes that the company is able to look at a consumer, see what their ultimate job is, and then leverage different products from across those brands. However, to have an experience across multiple tools, likely a digital one, the brands will have to cross. Bringing together brands who previously operated separately is one of the challenges they face.

Knowing What the Consumers Actually Want

All of our panelists are in agreement that the best way to know what their consumers want is to speak with them. Caitlyn from UnitedHealth calls it getting to “street level.” The innovators and problem solvers need to get out of their offices and into the environment where the end consumers are. All three companies use ethnography, field research, and user observation to help ensure employees understand the end consumer experience. This allows them to experience their challenges firsthand as well and find potential opportunities for solutions.

Top Takeaways

At the close of the hangout, our panelists were asked to recap the top things they would like our listeners to remember. These included:

Dave from Stanley Black & Decker:

“Always challenge whether the technology is driving the product or the user need is at the core of what you’re trying to do. Often the technology can solve the problem but should that problem even be solved from the eyes of the consumer.”

Anything that is physical and digital is ONE product. That needs to be viewed as ONE product and not as a separate digital and then a separate physical product. Because if one component does not work, the consumer views it as the PRODUCT not working, not one component.

Caitlin from Fusion at UnitedHealth Group:

“Think of things as experiments…break it down into small experiments. What is the first thing you need to know? Think of it as a hypothesis. Turning assumptions into facts helps you tune things and iterate in a progressive way. Learn and keep tuning as you work towards your hypothesis.”

Gary from AT&T:

“Don’t insist the digital world replace the physical world. We need both.

When looking at taking things from a physical to a digital process keep asking “Why?”. You don’t need all the processes that are in the physical world moved into the digital world so this is an opportunity to change processes as makes sense.”

And remember, the consumer is at the hub. Observe consumers in their environment so you can truly address their needs and not develop for technology sake.

To learn more about the fusion of physical and digital products and the excellent insights our panelists shared, please listen to the recorded hangout “Physical and Digital: A Design Fusion?” And feel free to reach out with any questions.


Gretchen Hoffman

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing