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Summary:

Mark Rolston has launched a new design group after a two-decade career at design agency giant Frog.

Mark Rolston, a twenty-year veteran with design agency Frog, has left the firm and has launched a new design shop that will be part incubator, part client agency, and part product development group. Called argo design, Rolston is building the firm with former Frog business development exec Mark Gauger.

Moderated by: Stacey Higginbotham — Senior Writer, Gigaom Speakers: Mark Rolston — Chief Creative Officer, frog Anthony P. Uttley — VP and GM, ECC Homes Americas Region, Honeywell

Mark Rolston at Roadmap 2013

With argo, Rolston is looking to create a nimble design group that can develop independent products in house, as well as work on more traditional design projects with customers, he told me in an interview. When it comes to launching products, argo could help raise funds to get those products to market. The group is already working on a cloud-based piece of software, and another product that’s further down the road that will be a physical product, Rolston said.

The structure of argo is reminiscent of other nimble design firms like Fuse Project, which was launched by Yves Behar in 1999. Behar and Fuse were deeply involved in the product creation and original ideation around Jawbone’s headset and Behar became Chief Creative Officer of Jawbone.

Likewise, Rolston plans to run argo more like an incubation group, taking on the risk of building the products (and raising the funding for them), as well as pitching products to potential client partners in new ways. Since he’s just launched the group, he said he isn’t ready to talk about potential clients and partners just yet.

Nest Protect

The role of design in the technology industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. More and more, consumer-focused products now have to be well-designed and personalized to connect with consumers raised on the iPhone and used to always-on connectivity. Computing is moving off of computers and cell phones, moving deeper into the home and onto the body. Design is the key way to make sure a product has the emotional pull and valuable experience it needs to resonate with the customer.

As a result, startups and large companies alike are amassing design talent that can develop software and hardware experiences in house. At the same time, venture capitalists are launching design groups and investing in entrepreneurial designers. We devoted an entire two-day conference to the evolution of design in the tech industry last year called Roadmap (and we’ll be throwing another one later this year).

Because of this evolving landscape, the role of large design agencies and their relationship with tech firms is transforming. Many large groups like Google and Samsung are bringing design talent in house, meaning they’re less willing to spend large amounts on outside design groups. As a result margins are slimming for some of the largest design shops. I’ve heard Frog itself is undergoing some restructuring, while another design firm — Fjord — was acquired by consulting company Accenture last year.

  1. Great to see this happen.

    Mark was such an uninspiring leader and should have exited years ago.

    Any client looking to work with Argo should know that Mark cares more about his cars than his kids, let alone your project.

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    1. I worked for Mark for years. I know him personally, I know his family, and I know of his love for his family. Your comment is inaccurate, hurtful and small. Totally uncalled for and embarrassing. Good day and good luck in your career, jerk.

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      1. Not that Mark & Mark need any support from me, but I worked with Mark Rolston and Mark Gauger while we were were at frog. They are incredibly talented professionals, they have a body of work that speaks volumes about their ability to execute, and they have earned the trust of some of the world’s most successful and innovative business leaders.

        Fredo, dude…bad form…

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  2. ” Design is the key way to make sure a product has the emotional pull and valuable experience it needs to resonate with the customer.”

    Anyone say B.S. ? It’s phrases like this that give industrial design a bad name and brand it “subjective” by the other players in the manufacturing process. If you want to be a star, go to Bollywood. If you care about design be straightforward, clear and concise. “emotional pull…” seriously??

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  3. @dave
    Most design and marketing professionals understand the crucial importance of emotion as a sales driver and, more importantly as an outcome of “straightforward” human-centered design practice. Manufacturers will manufacture whatever you pay them for. If your objective is developing products that people love, you better engage with emotion.. Try googling “experience design” if you want to understand this better.

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    1. Experience design ≠ Product design.

      It has less to do with emotional manipulation than with environmental accommodation.

      “Loving products” is perhaps the first conceptual hurdle to be gotten over with. Designers often love products. Owners mostly use them. It’s the use that captures their imagination.

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  4. I wonder how new a concept this is. It sounds like design in the early days.

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  5. Correct me if I’m wrong but “Experience Design” seems to be but just another one of the myriad fancy terms that are being thrown around in order to sell, create, and delegate ideas and jobs under the guise of novelty when in fact these disciplines already exist. People seem to love the term “cross-disciplinary” because it’s easy and requires less effort than actually diving deep into each and every one of these disciplines. From an academic point of view, it’s pretentious but from a business perspective, it’s an extremely smart social-marketing gimmick. However, I fail to see the real intellectual value. I’m not saying it doesn’t work in the business world – Many people swallow many things and it’s getting worse and worse – or better and better depending on which side of the river you’re located.
    I think I’m going to invent a new design term which encompasses neurology, semiotics, propaganda, game-theory, probability and behavioural psychology.
    That said, I’m open to observations and I may very well have missed the real function of….. XD.

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  6. I can understand this move very well. At Claro Partners we are partnering with the top accelerator network Startupbootcamp.org to create a program focused on Data & Internet of Things. Like this we are continuing to help corporations navigate the disruptive shifts we deeply explore and provide the startups to build better value propositions and experience visions based on our expertise.

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  7. I don’t know either of these guys, but good luck to argo design. The name makes me think of the movie and Alan Arkin saying, “Argo f**k yourself.”

    One question from my end — why was a photo of the Nest Smoke Detector used in this article when neither Frog nor Fuse worked on it? Is it a reference to Google bringing talent in house? That seems quite flimsy and seems a bit opportunistic. Credit goes to Bould Design for that one.

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  8. Good observation! That does seem strange. I kind of wondered what that pic was all about since it doesn’t even focus primarily on the product but the ceiling. Then I just brushed it off as being something unimportant. If I were you I would let the pertinent owners know.

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  9. or maybe the person in the article worked for Bould (?)

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  10. I’m pretty sure it’s because it was considered a well-designed product. Considering it precedes the following quote:

    “The role of design in the technology industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. More and more, consumer-focused products now have to be well-designed and personalized to connect with consumers raised on the iPhone and used to always-on connectivity.”

    I’m pretty sure it’s a direct response to that quote.

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