Amazing Stories | Amazing People - Hallgrim Sagen - Norway

Adventures in
Industrial Design

When Cisco acquired Tandberg in 2010, we knew we were getting a video conferencing leader with products that nicely complemented our existing collaboration portfolio. But some of the good things that Cisco received by acquiring Tandberg may have gone more unnoticed at the time, including a small, unassuming team of designers in Norway that quietly joined the Cisco family.

It didn't take long before we realized what we had. Shortly after joining the company, the team in Oslo was asked to join forces with other designers to redesign and streamline the entire Cisco collaboration portfolio. The resulting designs are an unqualified success, garnering eight Red Dot Awards—like Oscars for product design—in 2014 and 2015.

Hallgrim Sagen led the industrial design of the award-winning products. He was Tandberg's first industrial designer, and is now a director of User Experience and Industrial Design for Collaboration Solutions at Cisco.

Hallgrim with some of the Red Dot Award-winning designs.

"It's easy designing one product well. It's quite another matter to design a portfolio of products all with the same identity and intuitive usability," says Hallgrim, who lives and works in Oslo.

Hallgrim's team was clearly up to the challenge. The products were recognized for their light aesthetics, arresting audio and video impact, all grounded in a consistent, easy-to-use and compelling experience—referred to as "humanizing technology"—according to Cisco Vice President and Hallgrim's manager Snorre Kjesbu.

"[The Red Dot] recognition is a rewarding validation for the no-compromise, design-led approach we undertook when developing our newest video solutions," wrote Kjesbu in a blog post last year.

Hallgrim continues to refine and improve Cisco products, leading a global team of about 40 designers in Cisco's Collaboration Endpoints Technology Group. Hallgrim believes in the power of cross-functional teams, guided by a strong design culture, to create user experiences that set Cisco collaboration solutions apart.

“It’s easy designing one product well. It’s quite another matter to design a portfolio of products all with the same identity and intuitive usability.”
- Hallgrim Sagen

"We truly excel with world-class industrial design," Hallgrim says. "But there is still a big untapped potential for Cisco to get more out of design. We're at our best when everything we do starts with a thorough understanding of the user. What are we trying to solve for that person?"

Hallgrim believes the benefits of good design go beyond how something looks or feels. "Even more than a product attribute, design is a way of thinking and a facilitation process for setting direction, visualizing and validating ideas, and coordinating projects. We're always seeking business value through user value," he says. "In technology, where problems are complex and the mantra is agile, design methodology is becoming pervasive."

Hallgrim has been an ardent student of design ever since he could remember. "I grew up with parents who complemented each other in personality," he recalls. "My mother was an arts-and-crafts teacher and my father was a practical person, very mechanically minded. He would be the guy repairing the motorcycle and the appliances."

His mother taught him aesthetics and his father the nuts and bolts of things. These mixed influences have served Hallgrim well.

“We’re at our best when everything we do starts with a thorough understanding of the user. What are we trying to solve for that person?”
- Hallgrim Sagen

Hallgrim's keen sense of design exploration is matched by a love of exploration and adventure in his own life. He spent three years studying in a French high school, then a year on the Russian border in the Norwegian Army.

He was then part of the first class of industrial designers to graduate from the prestigious Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, before joining a promising startup called Tandberg.

Hallgrim works with colleagues in Oslo on the next generation of Cisco collaboration solutions.

"Video conferencing was just getting launched," Hallgrim remembers. "My timing was perfect."

Mike Jones, a design director at Designit, a pan-European design firm that often collaborates with Cisco, can attest to Hallgrim's ability to drive the collaboration necessary to ensure success. "Hallgrim has the rare talent of being able to bridge the design world and executive world. He understands good design and knows how to convert that into sound business logic, even if it means extra work," says Jones.

That penchant for going the extra mile even spills over into Hallgrim's personal life. A long-time skier, Hallgrim truly has a Norwegian's love of the outdoors. Recently he's taken up cross-country skiing. This year Hallgrim bested, among others, Norway's crown prince to "earn the badge" in the annual Birkebeinerrennet, a grueling 54-kilometer-long cross-country race across the mountains between the cities of Rena and Lillehammer.

Hallgrim enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And when they're asleep and the work is over for the day, he loves to take a solitary ski trek through the moonlit forests outside of Oslo.

"It gives me a lot of time to think," he reflects. "I start off with insurmountable challenges, but I come home with some of my best ideas."

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