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Designing for Innovation & Start-up Success: An Interview with Gregory N. Polletta

September 14, 2016

About Me

Eric Howard is Corporate and Outreach Manager for Northeastern’s Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing. In this role, he works with students, faculty, and business executives on creating and translating knowledge to meet global and societal needs.

Designing for Innovation & Start-up Success: An Interview with Gregory N. Polletta 

The iGNITE Convergence Program created and running since 2007 by Gregory Polletta is the world's first concentrated Innovation, Design, Engineering and Business program, before the Stanford iGNITE program, or Cambridge UK's iGNITE program. Gregory is the 2014 École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées ENPC Paris Tech PhD Engineering & MBA Program's Most Inspirational Professor. Below is a one of a three part interview with Gregory Polletta in preparation for the 2016 Friday Sept 16th – Sunday Sept 18th Northeastern iGNITE Convergence Program at the Northeastern Engineering School sponsored by the Center for High Speed Nano manufacturing and Northeastern Design.

Gregory is one of the past London School of Economics Generate / LSE Entrepreneur of the Year Award competition judges, a successful international designer and founder of iGNITIATE, an innovation strategy and new product development firm as well as the co-founder of the international award winning design brand gregorysung. In the first of three interviews with Professor Polletta talks about some of the hardest lessons learned surrounding design and design thinking as well as embedding the entrepreneurial attitude into design, new product development and new ventures activities. In future interviews Gregory will be discussing: biggest lessons of clients; the most impressive designs and engineering successes; and the three things to do before launching new designs and products.

B) Can you give some examples of where you've had successes and where you've had to learn the hardest lessons?

The best way to ensure design and innovation success and to fully integrate and balance the 3 critical factors of design/design thinking and innovation over time is to keep a very cool head via our ICED model which is part of the iGNITE program for design and new product development. The key of the ICED model is paying particular attention to the time variable and that Commerce or Business is the final step and not the 1st step in bringing a future innovation conceived at a previous future point into the present. The "I" as innovation does not happen over night. More importantly the present where commerce is utilized for future design success, is a moving target from a past deisgn or "innovation" effort.

ICED is Innovation = Commerce + Engineering + Design and articulates paying clear attention to the fact that Design and Design Thinking is the point of the arrow: the farthest point in the future where what is about to come into existence is articulated via future scenarios, R&D and prototyping.

Specifically some of our biggest successes & most difficult lessons learned while implementing our ICED model with clients and partners are:

  3) Innovation = COMMERCE + Engineering + Design: is an even more multifaceted phase of the entire design and innovation process and with this it is even rarer still to make substantial impact but when you are lucky enough to do this. It was a true privilege to be one of the 5 lead designers of the LINK System - a fully integrated child welfare system and the first of it's kind in the United States back in 1996. The LINK System, literally helps to save children's lives however the difficulty was the timing: 2yrs to design, engineer and implement a fully integrated system that was the basis for protectig childeren in all cases of abuse, neglect, adoption, and foster care as well as the interfaces to the financial, managerial and reporting needs of the State of Connecticut was an incredible challenge. Sleeping at the office, working weeks on end, the lesson was timing and planning appropiately. In the end, as I previously said, it was the team that made this possible and a very tight interaction between highly qualified designers, engineers and business skills that each team member had. However the lesson here wa simple: careful planning is the key and managing such intense projects carefully can be the difference between success and stressful success.

  2)  Innovation = Commerce + ENGINEERING + DESIGN: is the next logical step to design innovation and can sometimes take an incredible amount of effort and last minute mind crushing failures before it can be realized. In this case, the REUTPALA design for the World Retail Congress that I presented to Alberto Alessi as a lifetime achievement award is something that I'm quite proud of. The design itself literally took almost 300 days of effort, countless prototypes, and breaking two 3D printers along the way with many failures in terms of how it was even to be manufactured. Working with quite a few international teams and experts in fields such as advanced 3D metal printing, Rhino, Grasshopper and Kangaroo parametric programing, the design ended up being a poetic representation of giving which is the basis for the retail world and at the same time having a very strong underpinning to REUTPALA - a higher form through the expression of design and the 7 leaf lotus motif of REUTPALA. The problem came in manufacturing and we almost weren't able to produce the design. It was literally down to the last minute becuase of the complexity of the design and the budget given. When we finally found manufacturers capable to produce it, if it were not for their kind assistance and help with the engineering, the design would have never made it. Similarly, bringing a fully mass produced REUTPALA design to market and the idea of giving and receiving so it can be placed on tables and given as a gifts is something we are working on now. The engineering hurdles to this are only a function of time, much like the REUTPALA design itself but learning this lesson of delivering it right down to the wire with a very important international client such as the world retail congress was a very hard lesson to learn.  

    1) Innovation = Commerce + Engineering + DESIGN: is probably the most important part for me because it is where things are 1st envisioned. Our PIANOFORTE series  for Roche Bobois Paris brought us a best of Elle Decor and Architectural Digest design awards and made Roche Bobois quite happy with the product's multimillion euro sales success. In 2009 we were also very much in the throws of our success with our Topiade moving Pin facade Design for Louis Vuitton as another example of a very elegant yet highly complex design with many international partners but which ultimately got copied in the Megafon's Megafaces project in 2014. I had sketched out the initial technological underpinnings of this project back when I was working at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley and Cambridge England back in 1998 based on conversations I was having with scientists then about how to represent complex moving geometries in real time based on the work that was going on with Gryicon Balls at Xerox PARC. Fast forward to 2006 in Milan and I was able to take the core technologies and apply them to a real world client, Louis Vuitton and the team and I were able to embed beauty and poetry into a cohesive design via topiary art - a very french art form connected to our client Louis Vuitton. In this case the lesson was a very hard one to learn when many years later from the initial design, in 2014 the Topiade design being very well received internationally had been realized. The cost of building a fully moving pin facade system with 3D scanned images in 2006 was just out of the question as much of the technology didn't exist and we did not have the cash to personally invest in it - what many architects or wealthy individuals do. Unfortunately we didn't keep actively seeking firms or individuals capable of funding  such a project. If we had focused on fund raising for Topiade with a 5yr window as a timeline we could have realized the project and found the investors: what it takes to make great design and innovations happen. As such, when someone with enough moxie did just that, the design was born and ultimately led it to getting a Cannes Golden Lion award with no connection to our original work.

Learn more about The iGNITE Convergence Program at Northeastern Engineering

About Gregory N. Polletta

Catalyst. Engineer. Designer. Gregory's design, engineering, new product development and leadership experience has been with Bankers Trust, Avero Inc., The Xerox PARC Labs, and The American Management Systems Center for Advanced Technology later culminating in the forming of iGNITIATE - - an innovation strategy and new product development firm. iGNITIATE focuses on small to mid-size firms, family run companies, and R&D labs such as Columbia University, Pfizer, MIT, The National Science Foundation, The US Department of Defense, Fujitsu, Japan; L’Oreal, France; Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, Wattens, Austria; and many others.

Gregory is the co-founder of the international, awarding winning design studio, gregorysung having completed projects for Magis, Roche Bobois, e-my, Philips de Pury, Cristina Grajales, Guzzini, ATC, London Design Council, Banana Republic, Dieteker, Ligne Roset, Artemide & many others. 

He earned a MS in Industrial Design from Domus Academy in Milan, a BS in Information Systems in the Management & Engineering for Manufacturing program from the University of Connecticut United States, and a BS with a concentration in Medieval Society from Selwyn College, Cambridge University UK. Professor Polletta has lectured extensively in the US and abroad as a BA/MS/MBA/Ph.D. professor on the topics of Design Innovation, Strategic Management, Entrepreneurship, Industrial Design and New Product Development at: Le Grande Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées ENPC MBA/Ph.D Program, Paris, France; University of Connecticut, Storrs; European School of Economics, Milan & Rome, Italy; Parsons School of Design, Paris; IFM MBA in Luxury Management Paris; Lucerne School of Art and Design, Lucerne Switzerland; The Royal College of Art, London and St. Martins school of Design, London. Gregory is a member of the prestigious American Program Bureau and the London Speakers Bureau and has served as a board member, board of advisor member and investor to nonprofit and for profit firms throughout Europe and the US.

Gregory has served as a board member, board of advisor member and investor to nonprofit and for profit firms throughout Europe and the US and has been a past Designer in Residence at True Start & True Capital Venture Capital focusing on consumer products and retail. Gregory is also a member of the prestigious American Program Bureau and the international London Speakers Bureau and has been a keynote speaker and designer for such events as The World Retail Congress in Paris, The Chairman of the Global Leadership Summit in New York and many other international conferences as well as is a 2015 judge of the HULT Prize .