Lee joined Samsung in 2015 from London-based design firm Tangerine, his first stop in the design world. The company also famously produced Apple (AAPL, -0.09%) design mastermind Jony Ive.
Samsung was then reeling, battling smartphone rivals Apple (AAPL, -0.09%) in a costly lawsuit and seeing off competition from Chinese upstarts Xiaomi (XIAOMI, +0.00%), and Huawei (HUAWEI, +0.00%). The South Korean tech and electronics giant’s last quarter profits dropped 37% in 2014, while reviews found its flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone a lackluster reboot of the S4.
Lee has since overseen a reinvention of Samsung’s design identity by helping “move the brand of Samsung” from being a technology-driven company to being “a user-and life-style centric brand.” The company is also stepping up to competitors Apple and Google in the next major tech battlegrounds: smart home appliances like the Frame TV, a new television that’s “designed as a beautiful object, whether turned on or off,” Lee said, after Samsung learned that most consumers spend four hours per day watching TV — meaning 20 hours per day, the television was turned off. “We realized that the TV needs to be branded into the home environment,” Lee said, by allowing users to customize their “off” display with famous pieces of art, or family photos.
Another product, Family Hub, promises to “change the pattern with the kitchen environment,” often the heart of a family home. With a smart refridgerator at its core, Family Hub aims “to combine different products in the home environment” with an interactive screen that will help simplify domestic tasks, Lee said.
Lee also oversaw the reimagining of Samsung’s Galaxy Note smartphone series, adding real metal and glass to improve the feel of phones while also boosting cutting-edge hardware, like a revamped high-speed camera and facial and iris recognition software. The New Galaxy Note also incorporates pioneering features, like a writing stylus that aids rapid communication between teams, Lee said.
Samsung also presented a slew of new digital Smart apps at CES 2018 that connect users in their cars to all of their SmartThings-enabled home appliances via a “digital cockpit,” Lee said. Users can turn on lights, or turn up their heating before even entering the house.
In fact, combining new digital opportunities with the experience of driving a traditional car is “one of the biggest challenges” facing designers today, Lee said. That’s where seamlessness comes in again. Focusing on user experience helps Samsung’s global design teams “coordinate” their efforts in markets across the world and create “products in the home environment to work together,” Lee said.