OCTO: Fusing A Systems Approach With Design Thinking To Drive Innovation And Growth

By Amit Chowdhry • May 30, 2024

OCTO is a company that drives innovation and speed to market for technology-driven B2B companies in healthcare, medical technology, industrial technology, and manufacturing technology. Pulse 2.0 interviewed OCTO founder and CEO Justin Sirotin to learn more about the company.

Justin Sirotin’s Background

Justin Sirotin

What is Sirotin’s background? Sirotin said:

“I’m an entrepreneur, design strategist, product development, and innovation expert with over 25 years in the game. Throughout my career, I’ve dedicated myself to building successful products, services, brand experiences, and businesses for both multinational corporations and startups alike.”

“My diverse experiences have endowed me with a unique perspective on driving innovation with design, regardless of company size or industry vertical. Working with esteemed clients such as Bose, Google, Hexagon, and Johnson & Johnson has provided me with invaluable insights into how creative teams drive growth and innovation within organizations. Before founding OCTO, I served as the General Manager for Item New Product Development (now Ximedica), a medical technology product development and manufacturing firm headquartered in Providence, RI.”

“Now at OCTO, I’m supporting growth and innovation for corporations such as Hexagon, whose industrial technologies are used to manufacture 90% of aircraft, 75% of smartphones, and 95% of every automobile produced worldwide. For over 15 years, our global team of strategists, designers, and technologists has used design as a proactive strategic tool to discover and solve challenges for clients. By integrating design into the operating systems of businesses, OCTO helps these companies innovate and lead rather than respond. The results enable technology-driven companies to drive innovation with industry-changing products, services, and brand experiences.”

“Additionally, I’ve been privileged to share my knowledge as an adjunct faculty member at RISD in the Industrial Design Department since 2008. My passion for entrepreneurship and design has ultimately fueled – and continues to fuel – my commitment to sharing insights and fostering innovation wherever I go.”

Formation Of OCTO

How or why did you decide to open up OCTO? Sirotin shared:

“OCTO was an outcome of several aligned events. I had left my previous position as the GM of a division at a large consulting design group and started a D2C furniture company. My startup was capital-limited and growing slowly, so my initial intent was to take on clients to support my fledgling business. My team started to grow, and I quickly realized that we had an opportunity to build a new kind of agency.”

“Our impact on our clients went far beyond the ‘thing’ we were asked to design. We started to think more deeply about the growth needs of our clients and began to apply our core creative skills to help address significant challenges within our clients’ businesses. In 2012, we were approached to build out our first complete brand within a larger organization. I was hooked. We started with a single product, and through thoughtful research and creative strategy, we built a well-rounded product line that rapidly accelerated growth for the category.”

“From there forward, OCTO has been tackling the challenges of supporting the growth needs of our clients by developing and applying strategy toward revenue and value generation.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Sirotin’s favorite memory from working on product design? Sirotin reflected:

“One that comes to mind is when we were asked to research a straightforward question about how users engaged with a piece of manufacturing control equipment. The ask seemed straightforward, but after a handful of site visits, we quickly realized the opportunity for our client to make seemingly incremental changes could lead to a transformation in the market.”

“We were asked to present our findings to a room of technologists, engineers, and sales teams, who were all very skeptical of what we were investigating. They had a lifetime of experience and a deep understanding of the technology. As I walked them through the findings, one of the engineers stood up and said, “We have put decades into these solutions – How did you find all of this information so quickly?” I responded as gently as I could, ‘We just asked your customer to show us what they do.’”

“From that single body of research, we developed solutions that generated nine figures of revenue. This highlighted the power to drive change that comes through thoughtful observation and the combined value of the clients’ deep knowledge with our breadth and creative skills.”

Interesting Design Projects

Can you tell us about some of the interesting design projects you’ve worked on? Sirotin replied:

“Absolutely, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in several fascinating projects that have both pushed boundaries and delivered meaningful solutions. One standout project was our collaboration with Utilidata, which is redefining the smart grid from the edge. We were given the challenge of revamping their engineering-led legacy solutions to unlock new avenues for growth. By combining our clients’ technical expertise with our customer-driven insights, we helped the company identify and capitalize on new opportunities, ultimately repositioning its product offerings to align with a fresh corporate growth strategy.”

“Overall, our involvement encompassed a comprehensive range of services and deliverables, including future drivers and trends research, scenario development, alignment and culture building, go-to-market strategies, and product design and testing. Through meticulous workshop design and facilitation, we crafted compelling narratives and brand identities that resonated with stakeholders and customers alike, further laying the groundwork for a successful market launch.”

“Another very noteworthy endeavor was our collaboration with Hexagon on their Digital Control Center (DCC) project. Through a rigorous global research effort, we reimagined the user experience of Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs), introducing intuitive software interfaces and refined Human Machine Interactions (HMI) that revolutionized usability and functionality. This reimagined system not only enhanced operational efficiency but also paved the way for a new ecosystem of connected solutions, empowering operators to make more informed decisions in real-time.”

“Our partnership with Hexagon exemplifies our ability to meaningfully engage with industry giants, thanks to our deep understanding of their market landscape, business dynamics, and product intricacies. Over the years, we’ve executed over 100 projects spanning the spectrum from early-stage development to in-depth product innovation, generating significant revenue and delivering tangible value.”

“Also, for Hexagon, our collaboration extended beyond product development to strategic storytelling at their cornerstone annual event, HxGN Live. By leveraging our narrative-building capabilities, we crafted engaging experiences that educated, inspired, and ultimately motivated internal stakeholders and key customers about the future of Hexagon’s offerings.”

“Though I’m only spotlighting a couple of projects here, they really do help demonstrate our commitment at OCTO to driving innovation and delivering impactful solutions that transcend conventional boundaries. Whether it’s reimagining legacy systems or shaping the future of industrial automation, our team is dedicated to pushing the envelope and creating lasting value for all of our clients and partners alike.”

Biggest Challenges

What are the biggest challenges manufacturing technology faces when it comes to design? Sirotin acknowledged:

“The primary challenge is the foreign nature of design as an aspect of the ecosystem of manufacturing technology customers. The industry has historically been and still is driven by engineering and technology, so the relationship to design tends to be transactional.”

“Our experience within the manufacturing technology sector has demonstrated that combining deep technical capabilities with human-centered design solutions creates exponential value. The ability to reduce friction within processes, connect specific skill sets within manufacturing, and develop solutions with repeatable outcomes increases when designers and engineers collaborate at the earliest stages of development.”

“When design teams are applied across the value chain, starting with business design and moving into software, hardware, and processes, opportunities for step-change improvements emerge rapidly.”

Designing For Startups Compared To Larger Companies

Can you highlight some of the differences between working on design and innovation projects for manufacturing startups vs. larger global manufacturing companies? Sirotin answered:

“There are definitely distinct differences between working on design and innovation projects for manufacturing startups versus larger global manufacturing companies. When collaborating with manufacturing startups, there’s often a palpable sense of agility and urgency. Startups typically operate in dynamic environments where resources are limited, and time is of the essence. As a result, the design and innovation process tends to be more iterative and experimental, with a greater emphasis on rapid prototyping and validation. Creativity thrives in this environment, as there’s often more freedom to explore unconventional ideas and take calculated risks. Moreover, the close-knit nature of startup teams fosters collaboration and cross-functional innovation, enabling rapid decision-making and course corrections.”

“Conversely, working with larger global manufacturing companies brings its own set of challenges and opportunities as well. These companies typically have established processes, hierarchies, and stakeholder dynamics that can impact the design and innovation process. While there may be greater resources and access to expertise, navigating internal bureaucracies and aligning diverse stakeholder interests can sometimes slow down decision-making and implementation. However, the scale of these companies often afford opportunities for tackling complex, multi-disciplinary projects that have far-reaching impacts. The stability and longevity of larger companies overall provide a conducive environment for long-term strategic planning and investment in cutting-edge technologies.”

“While startups offer the thrill of rapid experimentation and innovation, larger global manufacturing companies provide the resources and infrastructure necessary for tackling ambitious, long-term projects. Both present their unique challenges and rewards. As a design strategist and entrepreneur, my team and I have had the privilege of navigating and thriving in both environments.”

Design Importance Evolution

How have you seen the importance of design evolve over time in the manufacturing or industrial sectors? Sirotin noted:

“When we first got into this category, the relationships were transactional. We would simply hear from teams that said, “We need to update the look and feel of our hardware.” Over time, we’ve established credibility within the market that enables us to contribute throughout the value stack for our clients. Today, we are a part of the strategic development of new technologies, new markets, and new solutions. We leverage our skill set to bring the customer, user, and beneficiary of the latest technology into the process at the earliest stages of the process. Our business has enabled startups to raise hundreds of millions of dollars and corporations to generate revenue in the hundreds of millions, all through changing the lens of the development process.”

Differentiation From The Competition

As a design and innovation partner, what differentiates OCTO from other service companies in the space? Sirotin affirmed:

“At OCTO, we pride ourselves on our ability to deliver transformative outcomes that go beyond conventional design and innovation services. What mainly sets us apart in the industrial technologies sector is our decade-long immersion in the field. During this time, we’ve not only pioneered strategic directions to open new markets but also developed high-margin products and services that expand existing business opportunities. Our deep-seated understanding of our clients’ customers gives us a distinct advantage in connecting complex technical solutions to real-world needs. This domain expertise enables us to swiftly align with market demands, offering an outsider’s perspective that catalyzes value generation for our clients.”

“Central to our ethos is the belief that our collaborations should actively demonstrate our clients’ commitment to addressing complex business challenges. Every project we undertake represents a tangible step towards achieving better outcomes, enhancing client engagement, and driving overall business value.”

“We also firmly believe that design should be seamlessly integrated into the operating system of every business, from global organizations to discrete teams. By adopting a problem-finding and problem-solving mindset, we empower our clients to innovate and lead rather than merely respond to market demands. Moreover, our systems approach enables us to think holistically about our clients’ businesses, understanding the intricate relationships between finance, marketing, R&D, and sales. This perspective allows us to constantly adjust our problem-solving lens, thus ensuring that we address challenges with precision and effectiveness.”

“I guess, in essence, OCTO represents more than just a design and innovation shop; we are catalysts for meaningful change, helping companies drive business growth and success through our unwavering commitment to excellence and strategic foresight.”

Use Of AI In Design Processes

How do you think tools like AI and new technologies will change the design process? Sirotin concluded:

“The emergence of AI and other cutting-edge technologies is poised to revolutionize the landscape of design in many ways. These tools will augment designers’ capabilities and fundamentally alter the design process itself.”

“One significant transformation lies in the realm of generative design, where AI algorithms are leveraged to explore vast design spaces and generate optimal solutions based on predefined parameters. This approach accelerates the iterative design process and simultaneously uncovers innovative solutions that may have eluded human designers. By harnessing the power of AI, industrial designers can explore countless design variations and quickly converge on the most efficient and effective solutions.”

“Moreover, AI-powered analytics and predictive modeling enable designers to gain deeper insights into user preferences, market trends, and performance metrics. By analyzing vast amounts of data, designers can make more informed decisions throughout the design lifecycle, resulting in products and experiences that are better aligned with user needs and market demands.”

“AI, however, isn’t the only game-changing technology in our market. Advancements in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are reshaping the way designers conceptualize and communicate their ideas. These immersive technologies enable designers to visualize and interact with virtual prototypes in real time, facilitating collaborative design reviews and enabling stakeholders to provide feedback early in the design process. This not only streamlines the design iteration process but also enhances communication and alignment among cross-functional teams.”

“In addition to enhancing the design process, AI and all of these new technologies hold the potential to democratize access to design tools and expertise. Cloud-based platforms and AI-driven design assistants empower individuals and organizations with limited resources to create sophisticated designs and bring their ideas to life.”