Invisible Design Thinking From Cisco

Torkel Mellingen


Torkel Mellingen, Vice President of Design for Cisco collaboration products, builds experiences, products and services that help people work better together. He is dedicated to making user experiences that people stop to appreciate, either through a product that delights by its presence or a user interface that simply empowers people.


Most productivity tools are designed for individuals, not teams. Personal technology is designed for people’s relationships with their devices and apps. Team tools need to be designed for people to connect with one another, with technology fading into the background.

The Design Group at Cisco calls this Invisible Design.


We’re using invisible design to eliminate the drudgery and frustration in today’s meetings. In fact, we’re blowing up the idea that a meeting is what happens in a location at a scheduled time. High performance teams need tools that help them engage and build trust together both inside and outside of a meeting room.


It was essential that the designers shared this common design language because The Design Group has had to recruit designers from around the world. The designers come from very different cultural backgrounds, from China and the U.S. to Poland and Norway. Yet the designers talk about the team as community and even family.

Torkel explains how he has achieved this, “What's special about The Design Group is that it has completely taken out the hierarchy.” He has established D-zone, a gathering of all collaboration designers to share best practices. D-Zone creates its own team culture that transcends regional differences.


D.ZONE-- 2017.10

D-Zone and the culture of creativity also helps break the team free from the company’s networking roots. Cisco is a leader in networking and security, but those products do not have to be instantly understandable and loved by individuals working together on a team.

To transform collaboration into ‘consumer-grade’ solutions that inspire, the team has had to be very stubborn about their principles, and to support each other.


D.ZONE-- 2017.10


Torkel and his team worked together to formulate these design principles, so that by helping to define the principles the team members internalized them – they have become second nature.


1. Holistic. Cisco designers consider their suite of collaboration tools as a “service” that addresses the needs of a team, rather than individual products. Designers at Cisco strive to create a unified experience across the user journey, from ideation to feedback to decision-making.

2. Focused. When designing the Spark Board, Cisco designers stripped out unnecessary functions and doubled down on enhancing the most used elements of the collaboration experience. They made it “embarrassingly simple”.

3. Inspired. When we enjoy tools, we are more likely to use them and return to them again and again. Spark Board was specifically designed to help people be more creative together.


Cisco Webex Board

Cisco Webex Board won the Red Dot Best of the Best award for “extraordinary, innovative design.” The team applies three principles. The design was made ‘embarrassingly simple’, looking and acting like an enormous tablet for the wall.


The Board has one button – even small kids know how to use. The design is ‘holistic’, including hardware and software for the Board, as well as connecting to a mobile app. And finally, the Board was designed to ‘inspire’. It has a personality to it, with bright colors that surprise and delight users.

Every designer works with these three core principles as they design, whether they are designing the hardware, like the tactile feel of drawing on the electronic whiteboard with a finger, or designing the Information Architecture to unfold with colorful activity circles.


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