Robb Olsen: 92 Years of Human Centered Design and Innovation at Procter and GamblePhoto
Segal Seminar Series

Robb Olsen: 92 Years of Human Centered Design and Innovation at Procter and Gamble

October 6, 2015,4: 00 - 5: 00p.m.

Ford Design Studio (Room 1.230)

2133 Sheridan Road

Evanston, IL, 60208


In 1923, Procter & Gamble first formalized the Human Centered Design discipline within R&D.  Initially called Product Services and now Products Research, this role integrates knowledge across consumer, business and technical domains to create holistic product designs that improve lives, foster loyalty, and drive long term profitable growth.  Arguably as revolutionary at the time of its creation as other P&G innovations of the 1920’s such as Brand Management and Market Research, Products Research continues to play the central role in the creation and evolution of P&G’s portfolio of products, with more than a thousand practitioners globally. 

While numerous parallels can be drawn between Products Research and the discipline of Industrial Design that emerged on similar timing, Products Research was and still is unique in many ways.  For example:

  • To ensure technical rigor, the great majority of Products Researchers are engineers or physical scientists, who then learn their social science and product design skills through mentorship and experience. 
  • PR was initially practiced on low cost, non-durable, chemically based consumer goods vs. devices and this is still the case for many of our brands.  The result is that the technical and aesthetic aspects of a winning design can be very different in their physical and sensory nature.
  • Products Research has focused on building deep consumer understanding capability through a synthesis of principles and techniques from the social and life sciences, innovating hundreds of consumer research methodologies, and all Products Researchers are expected to have robust skills in these research techniques.

Products Research has evolved hugely since its inception, but one thing has remained constant: Delighting the consumer such that her life is improved and she chooses us over all alternatives is the highest measure of achievement.

The rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly on Human Centered Design, something we celebrate as good for the world but a circumstance that presents new challenges as well.  We seek leading-edge, world-class excellence in our human centered design work and capability, hence our natural partnership with Segal and the EDI program.

This talk will cover the following:

  • A brief history of human centered design at Procter & Gamble.
  • The partnership between P&G, Segal and Northwestern.
  • A case study illustrating the convergence of consumer, business and technology to create profitable new consumer experiences through product and business model innovation.


Robb Olsen, P&G