Philips Hue: Growing a gamechanger


    June 29, 2020


    Signify’s George Yianni on reinventing lighting for the home with Philips Hue


    It’s an underappreciated fact that most of mankind’s great leaps forward in innovation – not least, the light bulb itself – came about not with a single Eureka moment, but through collaboration, iteration, and a fair amount of tinkering.

    I’m speaking with George Yianni, Head of Technology for Philips Hue, about the origins of the world’s leading smart lighting system for the home.

    When Apple agreed to sell Hue lights bulbs in their stores, we knew this was something really different”

    “The first moment when we thought ‘wow, this could be big’, was when Apple agreed to sell Hue lights bulbs in their stores. At that point, we knew this was something really different. We were looking not just at a lighting product, but at an industry-defining paradigm shift for how we approach the way we interact with light in our homes.”

    But like so many of its predecessors, Philips Hue didn’t start with a fully formed idea. In April 2020 Hue was ranked number 21 on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 greatest designs of modern times. But to get to that point we need to understand where it came from. And for that, we need to skip back a decade.

    “I was working in the pre-development department, designing remote controls for Philips LivingColors lamps,” recalls George. “The iPhone had just come out, and I decided that, rather than building physical prototypes of the new remote control concepts, we would mock them up on an iPhone so that we could do user testing, try them out, and make small tweaks, without having to go through a hardware cycle. And that was actually the trigger. We found we had created a better way to control lights.”

    The concept that became Hue could easily have stopped there. But the idea landed on fertile soil, thanks to the company’s innovation culture.

    “I made a rough prototype of the first app-controlled lighting system. And it really was rough – we had computers in suitcases with loose circuit boards hanging around! We showed our prototype to the leadership at a company innovation day, and on that basis, we created our internal venture.”

    App controlled lighting system

    Feedback from real consumers

    The early versions started out as a control system for existing LivingColors lamps, but it soon became clear that Hue could be a standalone product. To get it right for launch, the team needed to find out what customers really needed, and where Hue could fit into real people’s homes and lives.

    We were testing continuously and feeding that back into the product development as we went, so that we could get it exactly right, based on feedback from real consumers"

    “We built a hundred Hue kits and put them in people's homes around the world. We asked those people to keep a diary and we interviewed them about what they liked about smart lighting and how they used it. We did this market research with really rough products in the field, while in parallel, we were working on the development of the real product. So that we could get feedback early enough in the process. That was how we were able to build a product that had been validated with consumers up front. We were testing continuously and feeding that back into the product development as we went, even late in the process, so that we could get it exactly right, based on feedback from real consumers.”

    Innovation culture

    I ask George what Signify does right in fostering innovation, and what other companies can learn.

    “Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, has a really deep innovation culture, and a huge history and legacy. When we were first working on Hue, we were doing something new with software, but we had access to world-class expertise in a lot of different fields. And within an open innovation culture, we were able to pull those bits of knowledge together to create a new proposition.

    “Another thing we have is this ‘intrapreneurship’ process, or internal corporate venturing. Within this framework, when someone has an idea that people can see the potential of, it can be separated just enough from the business so that you’re not locked into previous decisions – you can really try something new and be innovative. But as part of a bigger organization, there’s enough funding, and access to expertise, to make this happen in a fast scalable, reliable way.”

    voice control

    Continuous innovation

    George adds that this commitment to innovation didn’t end when the first products came to market.

    “We roll out software updates with new functionality almost every week, and we have maintained a direct link with our consumers. That feedback loop is incredibly powerful. If we launch a product, and we see that people miss a certain bit of functionality or they'd like the user interface to work differently, we can bring that straight back into the product. That responsiveness really drives engagement of the consumers that use Hue. That’s the nice thing about the continuous innovation culture of the product, and the consumer intimacy.”

    As a development area for Hue, the application of light to improve movies, music entertainment and gaming are exciting for George. But he adds that it’s the day-to-day moments that are really special.

    “What gives me the most excitement is hearing how people integrate Hue as a natural part of their day. People wake up each morning with Hue lights. Or maybe they have this specific setting that they always turn on when they sit down to dinner. The lighting creates the environment they now associate with having dinner with the family. And if you took that away, that important family moment wouldn’t be the same, it would be a lesser experience. I think that's the magic, right? It just becomes an integral part of how we live our lives. That's when you know you have something that isn’t just a product, but really a mindset shift.

    Lighting is the only product that's in every single room of your house and that you use and interact with every single day"

    ''Lighting is the only product that's in every single room of your house and that you use and interact with every single day. The potential for it to be integrated in everything you do in your home is astonishing. There's so much scope for doing things better with the right lighting. It's enormous.”

    Technology optimist

    “Technological advances in every industry have an enormous ability to improve how we live and how we work, and that excites me. The reason I like working in the technology field is not just to build cool things or solve difficult problems, but also to create something that has an impact on the world. And I think that with Hue, we've done that. We've changed how people interact with lighting and we help them live better, healthier, happier lives. And that's the role technology should have – it should help make people's lives better.”

    About the author:

    Annie MacFarlane

    Annie MacFarlane

    For further information, please contact:

    Signify Global Integrated Communications
    Neil Pattie
    Tel: + 31 6 15 08 48 17

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals, consumers and the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2023, we had sales of EUR 6.7 billion, approximately 32,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for seven consecutive years and have achieved the EcoVadis Platinum rating for four consecutive years, placing Signify in the top one percent of companies assessed. News from Signify can be found in the Newsroom, on X, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors is located on the Investor Relations page.

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