Dell Coins Expression

“You can have it Steve Jobs’ way or you can have it your way,” said Dell’s Ed Boyd, vp of consumer experience design at the world’s No. 2 PC maker.

Apple products may be well known for their design attributes, but Boyd and his team are on a mission to turn Dell’s products into devices renowned for artistic self-expression. Wearing a T-shirt that read Design Will Change the World, Boyd was in New York last week to promote the third, and latest, iteration of Dell’s Design Studio, a customization program that allows customers to personalize purchases online with artwork commissioned from talent around the globe.

The 44-year-old joined Dell a little over two years ago after an 11-year run at Nike. His team’s quest, he said, is to deliver the most personalized products in the world.

“What you’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Boyd. “We’re working on fully customizing the outside [of our products] as well as the way [they] work.”

Design Studio launched in December 2008 when Dell, working with Mother New York, launched what Boyd described as a “U.S.-centric” test. Custom colors and 100 pieces of art from eight artists were available for Inspiron laptops. The quarterly initiative added more images in the spring.

Now, Dell offers the full range of Studio and Inspiron laptops for personalization. There are more than 350 images from which to choose from 25 artists and branding partners, including 100 images exclusive to Dell. The new branding partners include Major League Baseball, (Product) Red and OPI nail polish.

Since the laptops are being custom-built, said Boyd, “we have a much wider array of art available than if we were sitting on a large stock of art and hoping it would sell.”

The importance of customization goes back to the company’s beginnings, he said, when “it was really about getting a product that could do what you wanted it to do.” In updating this idea, Dell realized, he added, that “it’s not just what’s under the hood, but the whole experience.”

The art is applied with Dell technology that imprints the computer with a sub-surface image that penetrates the shell and wraps around the laptop. It’s analogous to the difference between a tattoo and a temporary tattoo, said Paul Malmstrom, cd and partner at Mother, whose design group contributed many of the new patterns.

Mother, which joined Dell’s agency roster in spring 2007 — for the launch of the Inspiron line, the first offered in multiple colors — conducted early research in seven countries and confirmed that customer customization is just as important to the PC market as it is to sports brands like Nike, which offers custom options with Nike ID.

Design Studio changes the offerings every quarter when new ones are added. The images are presented in an online curated catalog, which is now being edited by Gordon Hull, founder of Paris-based art and fashion collective Surface to Air. The theme for this fall’s collection is “Illuminations” and categories include colors, patterns and “classics” (the design studio’s most popular pieces from past limited-edition series). Advertising touting customization will begin next month, said Boyd, including ads from new partners like OPI.

“The brand value [for OPI] is huge,” said Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, evp, artistic director and one of the founders of the North Hollywood, Calif.-based nail polish company. OPI will begin co-branded advertising in fashion magazines next month with the theme, “Match your e-mails to your nails.”

While initial sales numbers are small, Boyd said, the company hopes to see this kind of customization grow across much of its portfolio. The customization program is currently available in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, excluding Brazil, but Boyd said Dell will be able to offer personalization worldwide by next summer. It adds  $85 to the cost of a laptop.

“We’re having a blast,” Boyd said. “We get to go play with all our favorite artists.”

Nielsen Business Media