I was just in Austin, Texas, at SXSW. While there, I spoke at Cisco Spark Haus about the Cisco design language – and how magic happens when California meets Norway. I’m often asked about our approach, so I thought I’d share some of my Texas conversation.

The baseline question I get is: What do you do?
My job is to shape user experiences that will delight people and empower teams.

What are important workplace trends affecting design?
The rise of millennials in the workplace, and Gen Z following them, is driving the need to digitally and physically transform workspaces. Companies need to create aspirational workspaces to retain these employees – and provide the right tools for the way they work.

We see millennials democratizing the workplace, moving away from hierarchy and into teams. They also want work to fit their lifestyles, and the technology they use must move between work and home. They really drove the BYOD movement. Gen Z workers have even less patience for technology and demand brands that they identify with on a personal level.

How do these trends impact your designs?
In the past, IT teams made all the technology decisions. Today it’s often employees who start using an application that then becomes the de facto standard for a particular team.

We studied how the best teams work together and created online spaces for them. Each online space has all the tools team members need at their fingertips: messaging, file sharing, white boarding, and conferencing. And they can also access third-party tools can also be accessed from the team space. That is Cisco Spark.

Then we created Cisco Spark Board, the physical representation of a Cisco Spark space in a meeting room or for any area where team members meet physically. Together, Cisco Spark and Cisco Spark Board create a seamless workflow from home to work, and before, during, and after meetings.

Why do you think Cisco Spark Board design is receiving so much attention?
With Cisco Spark Board we have been on a journey to rethink how teams collaborate. We are adamant about creating products that are radically simple and just feel obvious to users.

We live in a world where people are used to understanding the capabilities of their personal devices by the icons on their home screens. So we “appified” the tools in the meeting room with Cisco Spark Board. People can glance at the home screen and take action. Before, they’d have to figure out all the different devices in the meeting rooms and how to get them to work for them.

We took the idea of using knowledge people already have to the physical aspects of the product.

We took the idea of using knowledge people already have to the physical aspects of the product. When you come into the room, you see a device that looks like a very large tablet. This immediately makes people comfortable because it’s familiar. Like using a tablet at home, they can touch the screen to choose an app or use the home button to get back to the home screen. Suddenly, people that used to call IT are leveraging powerful capabilities in the meeting room by themselves. When people see the Cisco Spark Board, they just know what to do. Consider it a team tablet for the wall.

What is unique about the design language within Cisco?
The Cisco Spark Board is a beautiful device inspired by Dieter Rams and the modernist industrial design tradition. You could say that his approach is where the idea of obvious design comes from. If you have a product from Braun at home, Dieter Rams might very well have designed it. Apple product design also has roots in modernism.

At Cisco, we apply modernist ideas but have evolved our own design language. We’re headquartered in California with a large contingent of designers in Norway. Our design blends Scandinavian minimalism with Californian approachability. People in Cisco call it Scandifornian design. I think there might be something to it.

Take the Cisco Spark Board home screen: It has three simple icons for the three activities you can walk up and use. It’s a very focused, minimal user interface. People often describe minimalist design as strict and unemotional, but we’ve created icons to be colorful and playful.

If you open the whiteboard activity, it has only the four drawing colors of a typical conference-room pen set. It isn’t an artist’s tool. It’s a tool for communicating ideas effectively. The interface is minimal, but the drawing colors are brighter than on an analog whiteboard. We think it makes a difference when the ideas you share appear playful and bright. That’s the little magic we put into the details. To me, that’s a good example of Scandifornian.

Learn more about the Cisco Spark Board.





Torkel Mellingen

Vice President

The Design Group