Carsten Wierwille is the kind of guy who tweets that his autocorrect turns "happiness" into a "happy mess" — and that the early bird gets caught by the bird.
He sees things a bit differently, as he should: he's vice president and general manager at frog, a global product strategy and design firm.
He manages frog's operation in the US, aligning creative passion with client goals. He has more than 15 years of experience in digital design, technology and innovation strategy, and has worked extensively with clients in a variety of industries including automotive, financial services, telecommunications and media.
Can You Say 'Eclectic?'
Before joining frog in 2007, Wierwille worked as managing director at R/GA, a leading digital agency, where he oversaw a broad portfolio of clients including Verizon Wireless, Nokia, Apple and Subaru. Previously, he was vice president of client service at Thinkmap, a New York City-based Internet services and data visualization company backed by Motorola Ventures. And before that, he worked as a management consultant for Accenture in Germany, focusing on the wireless and telecommunications industry.
Wierwille has a master's in political science from the University of Hamburg, Germany, and studied with 2009 Economics Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom at Indiana University.
Sobel: Can you tell us a bit about yourself — where things are now and where you see them going down the road?
Wierwille: My background can be best summarized as “eclectic”. I have always been interested in making the world a better place, which is how ended up in the social sciences. When I studied the development and distribution of public goods and services, I certainly didn’t consider a career in design. However, through luck and serendipity, and after a stint in management consulting, I ended up in the world of design, working in a data visualization start up, a leading digital agency, and finally here at frog.
It's a wonderful time to work in design. Over the last decade, the opportunities for designers have increased dramatically, as more and more businesses have embraced the value of design and user experience. At frog, we have also left our mark in a number of significant social impact programs, from trying to tackle the HIV epidemic in South Africa to increasing the responsiveness for disaster recovery organizations such as FEMA and Unicef. Today, we can see that human centered design has the ability to touch virtually all aspects of the human experience.
Sobel: I'm fascinated about the work you all do at frog. Can you tell us a little about your company's history and purpose?
Wierwille: In the first two decades of our history, frog played a critical part in creating iconic design solutions for consumer electronics, personal computing, and many other categories. From this foundation, we moved further and further into digital design, branding, and user experience. Today, many of our clients are asking us to solve complex and ambiguous problems: Where can we grow? How do we improve the experience of our products and services? How do we stay relevant in a world of digital transformation and ubiquitous connectivity? The perspective of human centered deign has remained a constant but the types of engagement have become dramatically broader and multi faceted.
Sobel: I’m also interested in the story behind the name frog.
Wierwille: There are a number of urban legends as to how the name “frog” came about and what it represents. The wiki claims that frog stands for “Federal Republic of Germany”, a nod to the German origin of our company. Others point to the fact that frog emerged in a part of Germany with a particular vibrant frog population. Historians may still debate this topic many years from now. All we know is that the name has served us well, and that we call each other “frogs” as a badge of honor.
Sobel: A few months ago you were one of the panelists at the annual BRITE conference at Columbia University Business School, where you discussed how the Internet of Things is already here and how we are just starting to understand how it will transform the digital world. Can you elaborate?
Wierwille: The Internet was really created to manage information by and for people. We are anticipating an explosion of “connected things" -- somewhere around 50 billion devices by 2020, according to a Cisco estimate. These connected things may be consumer devices such as fitness wearables or a sensor that tracks the location of a shipping container.
At frog, we are trying to apply our honed ability to create human centered design solutions to the Internet of Things. How do we make the Internet of Things “real” and meaningful for consumers and businesses alike? An example may be Disney “MagicBand”, which dramatically transforms the experience for guests at Disney World. Another example may be General Electric’s “Industrial Internet”, which enhances the value of GE’s industrial solutions. The Internet of Things is not just about mundane infrastructure, as the term may suggest. It is about providing wide-ranging services that connect us with the “things” that matter in our lives.
Sobel: Last year you spoke at the "Human Potential Forum 2013," where you discussed how creativity and innovation are key drivers for success. How does frog help build a culture of creative leaders?
Wierwille: We are helping companies to incorporate design into their product development and innovation processes in two different ways. Clients may engage us directly on new design and innovation initiatives, and we leverage our ability to find unique client insights, and to translate these insights into compelling design. More and more clients are also asking us to “teach them how to fish”. For example, we helped General Electric create their Center of Excellence for User Experience. As part of this initiative, we collaborated with them to standardize their software experiences. frog developed a broad UX framework for General Electric to share knowledge, resources and best practices across the entire company. Enabling internal design and innovation teams has become a larger and larger part of frog’s work.
Sobel: Finally, many of our readers are CIOs, CMOs, and marketing and information managers who are concerned with the optimal use of their organization's digital information. Can you share with us some of your thoughts on this?
Wierwille: IT has always been more focused on structured than unstructured information. Organizations have reached a great level of sophistication when it comes to transactional information and customer data. I think that we are still at the beginning of an evolution to grasp customer behavior before and after a transaction, the type of data that cannot as easily be captured in a conventional database.
One of the digital “frontiers” that we are very interested in at frog is the convergence of digital behavior with physical experiences. For example, can a retail store recognize an online customer as they walk into the store? Emerging technologies such as proximity sensors, wearables and the Internet of Things make this type of convergence possible. However, there are also many questions about the complexity of these connected services, and the implications for consumer privacy and buy in.